William Wordsworth is considered one of the greatest poets during the English Romantic Period. He is also considered, only next to Shakespeare, one of the greatest sonneteers. There are some historians that even believe that William Wordsworth, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped launch the Romantic Period. This statement has been debated between historians, but one thing that they do agree on is, William Wordsworth shaped the literary era. The Romantic Period was a time that allowed artistic freedom. The early 60’s is the closest period of time that can be related to this time in history.
The creativity and experimentation of artists, poets, and ordinary people was beginning to bloom. That was a period of great change. The Classical Period was more controlling. There were strict laws of the Classical Period slowly began to change as Romanticism moved away from such control. The Romantic Period was also a movement of literary and intellectual thinking. Romanticism emphasized on imagination, freedom of feelings, and was mostly connected within the visual arts, music, and literature. Imagination was more important than logic. This period is mostly associated with the arts and poets like William Wordsworth.
William Wordsworth, the most significant poet of the English Romantic Period, was greatly influenced as a writer by his childhood, love of nature, and his many relationships. According to Judith W. Page, William Wordsworth was the ” central poet of his age” (Gale 1). William Wordsworth’s poetry was drawn from his amazing memory, and was mostly based on Nature, people he watched, and personal experiences. Leslie Brisman said of Wordsworth, “To call William Wordsworth a “Memory Poet” is to note how he substitutes personal memories for other assurances of continuity, natural or divine. (276-277). Because each encounter partly transmits and partly reformulates a myth of origins, William Wordsworth’s work seems easy to read, when in fact, he may be the most difficult of the English Poets (278). Many of his poems were based on his own life and his interpretation of it. The memories and encounters that William Wordsworth drew from, started when he was just a small boy. William Wordsworth was born at Cockermouth, Cumberland on April 7, 1770. He was the second of five children. His father was an attorney which allowed them to live a generous life style.
At home is where he learned to appreciate poetry. It was his father that gave him the gift of memory, by requiring Wordsworth to memorize poems or parts of poems, it help developed his powerful memory. Relying on his memory became the very basis of his art (Anderson 9). Growing up in the Lake District is where Wordsworth gained his early appreciation for the beauty of nature. The river that he would play in at the age of five, also had influenced his writing (Gale 2). He loved the countryside and the freedom he had to roam for long periods of time. During this time, his imagination began to bloom.
Although he enjoyed periods of solitude, he was adventurous, imaginative, and strong-minded (Aubrey 2). To all accounts, he had the perfect childhood till his mother passed away in March of 1778. He and his brothers were sent to a school at Hawkshead and his sister, Dorothy, was sent to live at Halifax. During his time at school, he only returned home for the holidays. He was well educated and prospered. When his father passed away he and his brothers spent the holidays with family who would patronized them and made them feel dependent (Watson 1577-1578).
It was back at school at Hawkshead where he was cared for and his direction for poetry is nurtured by William Taylor, the Headmaster at Hawkshead Grammar School. The classes at Hawkshead were well ahead of other school and were unusual for that time (Purkis 22). According to F. R. Watson, “The Prelude” early years is about his childhood at Hawkshead and not Penrith (1577). Geoffrey Hartman writes that nature for William Wordsworth was not an “object” but a presence and a power; a motion and a spirit; not something to be worshiped and consumed, but always a guide leading beyond itself.
Till 1804 Wordsworth thought that nature was guiding him. It was in 1804, that he discovers it was his imagination guiding him through nature. His imagination was his guide. This realization shakes him, but does not change his point of view (85-90). William Wordsworth love for nature started at an early age. Thomas Gale writes about Russell Noyes, who in his book William Wordsworth, recounted how Wordsworth credited the river with having influenced his poetic writing: “The sound of running water, he often felt, was almost part of his own being… ” (Gale 2).
During his college years, he disliked his classes and felt he did not fit in. He wrote in the “The Prelude” that he believed that he was “not for that hour,/nor for that place. ” (Aubrey 2). Although he did write the poem several poems while at school, one of the more famous one is “An Evening Walk”, which was meant for his sister, Dorothy. The year before graduation he went for a yearlong walking tour of France, the Alps, and Italy. Several of Wordsworth’s poems were created from this year long walk. His love of nature was magnified as he viewed glorious mountains, valleys, and other various landscapes.
The walk through the Alps inspired “Descriptive Sketches”. Wordsworth stated “…. Nothing that I ever saw in nature left a more delightful impression on my mind than that which I have attempted, alas! how feebly, to convey to others in these lines… ” (George 10). The walking tour also gave way to the sixth book of “The Prelude”. The tour gave him some of his greater imaginative experiences of his life. Michelle Lee writes how “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” were composed on a walking tour of the Wye River. He advocates the power of Nature. ” (245) He returned to college and graduated in 1791, without honors. After graduation, he climbed Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Great Britain. This was an important event that he later incorporates in the final book of “The Prelude”, giving it a great symbolic importance (Aubrey 2). After climbing Mt. Snowdon, William Wordsworth returned to France in November of 1792. During this time, the French Revolution was at its peak. This was also the time when he met and befriended Republican soldier, Michael Beaupuy.
With the growing friendship between the two men, Wordsworth enthusiastically embraced the revolutionary cause. This was also the time when he had an affair with Annette Vallon, who later gave birth to his daughter. These were times that began to change and shape Wordsworth and his poetry. In 1795 he meets William Godwin and is influenced by his ideas. This is also the year that he is reunited with his sister Dorothy, with whom he is very close to. The relationship between brother and sister is also cause for several of his poems.
Two years later the encounter that changes the Romantic Period, according to some historians, occurs when Wordsworth meets Coleridge for the first time. William and his sister, settled at Al Foxden in Somerset to be near Coleridge. Margaret Drabble writes that this was a period of intense creativity for both poets. This period produced the Lyrical Ballads, which was a landmark in the history of English Romanticism. The three friends, William, Dorothy, and Coleridge traveled and explored. They made new friendships notably with Sir W. Scott, Sir G Beaumont, and De Quincey (1085).
These were happy times and times when he was taken mental notes that would soon turn into poetry. It was the death of his brother in 1805 that changed his joy to sadness. The death of his brother inspired several poems including Elegiac Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle. With the passing of his brother, William suddenly becomes opposed to Romance and Realism (Hartman 91). His brother’s death was not the only death to inspire some of his greater works. The death of two of his children inspired his sonnet Surprised by Joy (Drabble 1085).
William Wordsworth died in April 23, 1850. It was after his death, his sister published “The Prelude”, his greatest work. His life, from start to finish, is expressed in this great piece of literature. Throughout William Wordsworth life, he went through many changes. He married his long time family friend, Marry Hutchinson and had a family. His view on religion changed, along with his thoughts on the political society. William Wordsworth’s poems are all created from the memories of his life experiences and the visions of his travels.
Through many friendships and emotional relationships, Wordsworth created some of the greatest poems of the Romantic Period. He was an influence on great poets such as; Samuel Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats. There is still a question of whether or not William Wordsworth launched the Romantic Period, but there is no doubt that he shaped the literary work of that time. William Wordsworth, who was greatly influenced as a writer by his childhood, love of nature, and his many relationships, is by far the most significant poet of the English Romantic Period.