William Wordsworth was one of the major poets of his time honored as England’s Poet Laureate. William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 at Cockermouth in Cumbria. Wordsworth’s childhood was a happy one in many ways. He was born and raised in a beautiful part of England – the Lake District – and enjoyed great freedom when it came to roaming about the countryside as a young boy. This time spent enjoying nature was to play a large part in the formation of the poet’s mind, and it is something we will deal with in more detail when we look at individual poems. He was also fortunate to have siblings who, to varying degrees, shared his poetic interests. However, the circumstances of his youth were not without their sorrows. He lost both parents at a relatively young age, and was raised by conscientious but largely unsympathetic relations. Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School, where his love of poetry was firmly established and, it is believed, he made his first attempts at verse.
After Hawkshead, Wordsworth studied at St. John’s College in Cambridge and before his final semester, he set out on a walking tour of Europe, an experience that influenced both his poetry and his political sensibilities. As a young man, Wordsworth developed a love of nature, a theme reflected in many of his poems. While studying at Cambridge University, Wordsworth spent a summer holiday on a walking tour in Switzerland and France. He became an enthusiast for the ideals of the French Revolution. He began to write poetry while he was at school. Wordsworth’s earliest poetry was published in 1793 in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. Equally important in the poetic life of Wordsworth was his 1795 meeting with the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Together the two poets began work on a book called Lyrical Ballads, first published in 1798. This collection of poems, introduced romanticism into England and became a manifesto for romantic poets.
Both Coleridge and his sister Dorothy were very influential in Wordsworth’s life and work. The three of them travelled together to Germany in 1797. Wordsworth was not happy in Germany, and it was there that he wrote four of the five ‘Lucy poems. The “Lucy poems” consist of “Strange fits of passion have I known”, “She dwelt among the untrodden ways”, “I travelled among unknown men”, “Three years she grew in sun and shower”, and “A slumber did my spirit seal”. The “Lucy poems” are written from the point of view of a lover who has long viewed the object of his affection from afar, and who is now affected by her death. A second edition of the Lyrical Ballads was published in 1800.In 1802 Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson and they have four children.
Wordsworth’s central works were produced between 1797 and 1808. The Prelude, his long autobiographical poem, was completed in 1805, though it was not published until after his death. His next collection, Poems in Two Volumes (1807), included number of famous sonnets. Thereafter, Wordsworth’s creative powers diminished. His poems written during middle and late years have not gained similar critical approval. William Wordsworth died at Rydal Mount on April 23, 1850, leaving his wife Mary to publish The Prelude three months later. It was not particularly well -received at the time, but is now recognized as one of the great masterpieces of poetry.
Romanticism (also the Romantic era or the Romantic period) was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Emotionally it expressed an extreme assertion of the self and the value of the individual experience together with the sense of the infinite and the transcendental.
In Britain, Romantic writers of the first generation included William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Lyrical Ballads, 1798), William Blake and Robert Burns. The second generation of British Romantics- Lord Byron, Persey Bysshe Shelley and John Keats absorbed these tumultuous influences, wrote swiftly, travelled widely and died prematurely. Their life stories and letters became almost as important for Romanticism as their poetry. Romanticism does not mean any one thing or one characteristic. It is, in fact, a collective term to mean certain features and characteristics, such as mysticism, humanism, supernaturalism, escapism, love of beauty, love of nature, love of equality, alienation, fanciful, melancholy, wonder, emotional intensity, rich imagination, subjectivism, simple diction, sensuousness, love for medievalism , etc. It wanted to free literature from tyranny of the rules of the ancients. English romanticism is both a revolt and a revival.
It is a revolt against 18th century traditions and conventions; it is a revival of medievalism and old English meters and masters of poetry. The Romantic Period in English literature is taken to begin with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads and end with the death of the novelist, Sir Walter Scott. No other period in English literature displays more variety in style, theme, and content than the Romantic Movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The chief characteristics of romantic poetry are as follows: All romantic literature is subjective. It is an expression of the inner urges of the soul of the artist. The poet gives free expression to his feelings, emotions, experiences thoughts and ideas and does not care for rules and regulations. The emphasis is laid on inspiration and intuition. Nature to the Romantics is regarded as something divine. It is something really living, something that has a soul and purpose; it can even share with the poet his joys and sorrows.
All poets were lovers of nature and looked at the beautiful aspects of nature. To them, nature was a friend, a lover, a mother, sister and a teacher. To Wordsworth, nature was both mother and sister. Romantic poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. Poetry to romantic poets is not craft but inspiration. The poet does not care for the perfection of form or clarity of expression. Most of the romantic poets in English are full of melancholy and pessimism. A romantic is dissatisfied individual. He may be dissatisfied with the circumstances of his own, with his age, with literary conventions and traditions of the day, or with the general fate of humanity. The romantic poets laid emphasis on imagination and emotion. The 18th century neo-classical poets had emphasized on reason and intellect.
I’ll analysis the poem ” I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” written by William Wordsworth In 1804, he wrote the poem ” I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, a poem also known as “Daffodils”. The inspiration to write this poem came while he was out walking with Dorothy near Lake Ullswater in Grasmere and they came upon some daffodils growing near the river. The poem was published in 1807 in Poems in Two Volumes. The poem “I Wonder Lonely as a Cloud” is not only a typical romantic poem, but it also tells us how a poem is written in the romantic sense. This poem is romantic is in its subject and theme, and in its expression and word game. The subject is that of the poet’s personal experience in nature. The expression is emotive and imaginative. The nature is personified. The poet felt that the daffodils were dancing better than the sea waves. They were happy like the children.
The title, ‘Daffodils’ is a simple word that reminds us about the arrival of the spring season, when the field is full of daffodils. Daffodils are yellow flowers, having an amazing shape and beautiful fragrance. A bunch of daffodils symbolize the joys and happiness of life. The poem contains four stanzas of six lines each. In each stanza, the first line rhymes with the third and the second with the fourth. The stanza then ends with a rhyming couplet. Wordsworth unifies the content of the poem by focusing the first three stanzas on the experience at the lake and the last stanza on the memory of that experience.
In the first stanza the speaker describes a time when he meandered over the valleys and hills, “lonely as a cloud.His choice of words is soft and gentle and it is almost as if there is silent music in the background to which the daffodils are dancing. He is admiring the beauty around him and capturing a beautiful snatched moment in time that nature has presented to him. It is as if the daffodils have come alive just for him and they have an gfralmost human like quality in the way they are behaving. In the second stanza the speaker goes into more detail about the daffodils. They reminded him of the Milky Way because there were so many flowers packed together that they seemed to be never-ending.. The speaker guesses that there were ten thousand daffodils, which were “Tossing their heads in sprightly dance”: Clearly, the poet has been profoundly enchanted by the daffodils’ beauty, accentuated by their alternating swaying movements.
The flowers, appearing full of life and beauty, have un-fettered the poetic imagination of Wordworth. In the third stanza, though he can see the waves of the river move as if in a dance it is no comparison to the performance the daffodils are providing just for him. They outdo the “sparkling” waves in a way that is exhilarating to him as he looks at the scene and the “jocund” company he is in. He cannot help but feel “gay” at the show presented to him and his choice of words like “sparkling” and “glee” and “jocund” reflect these feelings. The final line of the stanza is his indirect thanks to nature for providing him with “wealth” by putting up a show like this.
The final stanza confers poetic meaning upon the experience of the previous three descriptive and narrative stanzas.In the fourth and final stanza the poet describes what he gained from the experience. The poet describes how that scene has affected him because whenever he is indoors in his home and on his own “in the bliss of solitude” the memory of those flowers fills him with pleasure and it is as if his heart “dances with the daffodils”.
This is a beautiful but simple poem about the beauty of nature and how inspiring it can be. The images that Wordsworth uses to describe the scene are like an artist painting a scene vividly so the reader can see it with his mind’s eye. You can clearly visualise the day exactly how Wordsworth must have seen it all those years ago. It was interesting how Wordsworth gave the daffodils an almost human quality in the way they seemed to resemble dancers dancing in unison as if presenting a show. There are rhyming words at the end of every alternate line of the poem giving it both continuity and a sense of rhythm throughout.
1. English Literature from the Restoration Through the Romantic Period by J. E. Luebering 2. William Wordsworth by Geoffrey Durrant
3. An Outline History of English Literature By William Henry Hudson