February 27, 2004

The Poetical Philosophy of William Wordsworth

(In Which I Take Up Cause Against the Illusions of Romanticism)

Yes, this is me posting another journal entry. This is just to prove how affected the tone of my writing can get when it doesn't matter what kind of grade I get on it and when I am pressed for time, burdened with a desire for sleep. I agree with the things I wrote, however; otherwise I wouldn't have written them.

If anyone can think of a better way to say what I say in here, then feel free to tell me. This is an issue that I'd like to revisit.(Pardon the non-gender-neutral language, however - I'm not really a fan of recasting all my sentences in generic plurals, or whatever other grammatical tricks have been developed to get around English's supposed masculinist bias.)

Sometime I need to work out my ambivalence to the Romantic poets. As it stands, I appreciate their motives, at least to some extent, but I think they were sadly deceived regarding the true nature of reality and how best to live one's life in it.

The Poetical Philosophy of Wordsworth: In Which I Take Up Cause Against the Illusions of Romanticism

To Wordsworth, the poet is a man among men; in his feelings, he shares the common life of all. The words he employs in his art are not foreign to everyday language, although the use of meter elevates them above the monotony of prose.

However, though Wordsworth’s poet shares the sympathies of the people, preferring the rustic scene to any other, in his capacity for feeling and expressing emotion, Wordsworth’s poet is the leader of all. His poetry possesses its power to please primarily because it articulates the longings which the mass of humanity lacks the ability to express.

Wordsworth considers the “Lyrical Ballads” to be an actualization of this philosophy, as it is outlined in his preface to them. I’m not sure if this is the case. The words which employs are not the words of my daily speech, much less that of the ploughmen and village children which he idealizes. If his words are like anything, they are like the words with which I opened this journal – slightly portentous, slightly affected. Give me something with dirt, with irony, with wavering between opinions – then I know you have given me real life.

Still, perhaps I am the wrong one to judge the success of the “Lyrical Ballads.” I am not sympathetic to the Romantics, generally; the aims of their art are not the aims of mine. I suppose one who looked only at our stated aims without considering the fruits of our artistic efforts might say that they are the same, however. In both cases, all that is produced strives toward one chief end – to reflect life. However, the Romantics’ view of life is not my own.

The Romantics regarded life as all glorious, at least when one is apart from the sordid life of the cities. I find glory only in the world that is touched by grace. The Romantics thought there was a kind of salvation in seclusion, a secularized form of monasticism. I see this as an illusion, a way of evading one’s responsibilities. It is only when engaged in the world that we can fulfill God’s calling upon us, the ministry of reconciliation.

I am not the optimist that Wordsworth was; I do not have his pantheistic leanings. If I looked out over the Wye and the ruins of Tintern Abbey, I doubt I would write, as Wordsworth did, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” There is only one sight – the face of Christ, once scarred and now exalted – that leads us “from joy to joy.”

Looking over what I have just now written, rescanning the lines of the poem I have just critiqued, I realize I sound like a dogmatician – as if I were attempting to win a prize for my theological correctness. I know my own experience. “The sounding cataract haunted me like a passion,” Wordsworth writes. Has this not been, at least occasionally, the experience of us all? The old glory, the old mystery, still haunts this world, and it would be dull and foolish to deny it. The other danger, however, is to see the beauty that lingers here as a source of salvation. In my writing, I must seek to succeed where Wordsworth failed, to depict the beauty of nature as a witness to the One to whom she groans for redemption. That means I will not attribute to nature any powers which she does not possess.

Posted by donovan at 1:39 AM | Category: Literature


This may be one of the most erroneous and superficial readings of Wordsworth I have ever encountered. You are off the mark by a mile or tens of thousands of miles. Either way you have missed the man and the meaning. Please do not confuse your views with literary criticism.

Posted by: Jack Russell at April 1, 2008 9:34 PM

I don't. Plus, this isn't my most recent essay on Wordsworth.

I am always amazed by the number of people who comment on posts that were written 4 years ago. I just happened to see your comment by chance.

Also, you didn't actually make a counterargument. You just contradicted me. I would be interested in your views (especially since I don't feel the same about Wordsworth anymore), but you couldn't be bothered to share them, I suppose.

Posted by: Evan Donovan at April 12, 2008 10:20 AM

he is a great charsi really

Posted by: Qasim at December 18, 2009 2:29 AM

so how DO you feel about wordsworth now??

I have my literature AS exam tomorrow, but at this point I'm really more interested in wordsworth's rise and fall than I am in getting an A grade. Not to sound too pompous, but I suppose this is how a true Literature enthusiast should feel.

P.S. How do you feel about Robert Frost? I always did love him more than Wordsworth...

Posted by: muminah at May 16, 2010 2:26 PM

@muminah: I feel much more positively about Wordsworth's poetry. I think I misunderstood him, at least in part. Later in life, he definitely saw nature in relation to the work of God, although his poetry of that period wasn't actually as skillfully done, perhaps.

I think Wordsworth's claim to use ordinary language was a bit exaggerated. (His language is not really that much different than, say, Pope's, and is definitely not as unaffected as Isaac Watts' or even perhaps Charles Wesley's.)

I definitely think that the Lyrical Ballads are beautiful, more beautiful than I would have thought in 2004. I still think that the Romantics overall were quite naive about many things, but Wordsworth not nearly so much as Coleridge.

I greatly prefer Blake over any of the later Romantics, however. His sense of the visionary was not coupled with a false dichotomy between the goodness of nature and the evils of the city, although I disagree with his Gnostic theology.

And as for "ordinary language," Frost definitely has all the Romantics beat. But he comes much later in the history of English literature, so that is, in one sense, to be expected. He has some great poems, but I prefer William Carlos Williams even more.

Posted by: Evan Donovan at May 17, 2010 9:31 PM

this is very good

Posted by: taruna at May 29, 2011 11:38 AM

William Wordsworth as a nature poet has highlighted that nature is to be worshiped,understood,enjoyed and spiritualy loved.And nature is the best teacher.

Posted by: Sandeep Kumar Toor at July 12, 2011 4:22 AM

This is a good post. By the way when one uses the phrase "true literature enthusiast" he can't help but sound pompous. Chuckle. Seriously even years later it's good reading.

Posted by: Alma at September 22, 2011 6:42 PM
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