Wordsworth's Poetic Language: Unraveling Complexity through Simplicity

Categories: LanguageTheory

Wordsworth's theory of poetic language is often perceived as a reaction against the 'Pseudo Classical' theory of poetic diction, but it transcends mere rebellion. His primary motivation was not just to critique the existing norms but to discover a fitting language for the unexplored realms of human experience that he sought to capture poetically. His vision aimed at embracing rustic and humble life while advocating for the simplicity of themes. The belief that a poet is essentially a communicator among men fueled his insistence on employing language as used by common people.

Wordsworth’s Vision Unveiled

"For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings": Wordsworth's departure from the Neo-Classical emphasis on 'reason' and 'intellect' in poetry is a cornerstone of his theory. He championed the idea that genuine poetry stems from raw emotion and profound feelings rather than calculated reasoning.

"To choose incidents and situations from common life": In direct contrast to Neo-Classical restrictions on subject matter, Wordsworth asserted the importance of ordinary life.

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His poems, such as ‘Lucy Gray’ and ‘The Solitary Reaper,’ vividly depict rustic existence, employing a language reflective of the lives of farmers and shepherds.

“There is no essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition”: Wordsworth's controversial assertion challenges the conventional separation of poetic and prose language. He argued for the authenticity of language, condemning artificiality and advocating for the use of the language of the common people.

"The feeling gives importance to the action": Inverting the Neo-Classical perspective, Wordsworth believed that emotions lend significance to actions, not the other way around.

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This emphasis on the primacy of feeling shaped his poetic expression.

"A selection of language really used by men": Rejecting the Neo-Classical notion of 'poetic diction,' Wordsworth favored the language of the humble and rustic. However, he acknowledged the need for purification, filtering out elements that might cause discomfort without sacrificing the authenticity of expression.

Advantages of Rustic Language

The simplicity of rustic language offers distinct advantages. Its emotional and passionate nature becomes pronounced, particularly in moments of heightened emotional states within humble life. This unadorned language, a direct reflection of human emotions, serves as a conduit for communicating essential truths about life and nature. Wordsworth's choice to focus on rural life stems from the belief that in such settings, emotions are openly expressed, facilitating a more profound exploration of the human experience.

City life, according to Wordsworth, constrains the open expression of emotions. To authentically capture the simplicity he sought, Wordsworth used simple language adorned with meter. He cautioned against unnecessary embellishments, urging poets to avoid artificial diction. The earliest poets, influenced by genuine passion, used metaphors naturally. However, over time, poets adopted figurative language for the sake of imitation, leading to the artificial language and diction of the Pseudo-classical era.

Coleridge’s Critique: Unveiling Weaknesses

Coleridge, a pioneering critic and contemporary of Wordsworth, scrutinized the theory of language, exposing perceived weaknesses.

Firstly, Coleridge contested the notion that the language, as selected and purified by Wordsworth, would be distinct. He argued that such language would be indistinguishable from the language of any other sensible individual.

Secondly, the allowance of meter, according to Coleridge, inherently implies a specific order and arrangement of words, setting poetry apart from prose. This challenges Wordsworth’s claim of an essential similarity between the two.

Thirdly, Coleridge equated the artificiality of meter with that of poetic diction, questioning the selective acceptance of one and rejection of the other. Both, he argued, contribute equally to poetic pleasure.

Fourthly, Coleridge suggested replacing the term 'real' with 'ordinary' or 'lingua communis,' asserting that individual variations in language make 'real' a problematic descriptor.

Fifthly, Coleridge disagreed with Wordsworth's assertion that the best parts of language are derived from Nature, contending that language is shaped by letters and the best words are abstract nouns and concepts.

Modern Perspectives on Wordsworth’s Theory

Modern critics, including T.S. Eliot, have unearthed additional contradictions in Wordsworth's theory. Eliot questioned the confinement of the 'real language of men' to the lower and middle classes, emphasizing the appropriateness of using language corresponding to the character's societal class.

Despite its limitations and contradictions, Wordsworth’s theory remains valuable as a corrective to the artificial and unnatural phraseology of his time. In the contemporary landscape, where the boundaries between prose and poetry blur, Wordsworth’s emphasis on authentic expression gains newfound relevance.

Expanding the Discourse

As we delve deeper into the nuances of Wordsworth's theory, it becomes evident that its impact extends beyond the realms of poetry. The profound connection between language, emotion, and the portrayal of the human experience raises questions about the nature of communication itself. In an era dominated by technological advancements and evolving linguistic landscapes, Wordsworth's insistence on the language of the common people takes on a renewed significance.

Considerations of the advantages of rustic language lead us to contemplate the universality of human emotions. The emotional richness inherent in simple, unadorned language challenges contemporary notions that often favor complexity and sophistication. Could it be that, in our pursuit of eloquence, we have overlooked the raw, unfiltered beauty of language in its most authentic form?

Revisiting Coleridge’s Critique

While Coleridge's critique shed light on potential weaknesses in Wordsworth's theory, it also sparks a broader conversation on the evolving nature of language. In a world where linguistic diversity flourishes, the idea of a universal 'ordinary' language becomes both compelling and complex. The dynamic interplay between individual expressions and communal understandings prompts us to reevaluate the very essence of linguistic communication.

Furthermore, the juxtaposition of meter and prose opens avenues for exploring the rhythm and cadence of language. The rhythmic patterns inherent in metered composition add a layer of musicality to words, creating a symphony of expression. Perhaps, instead of viewing meter and prose as conflicting elements, we should appreciate them as complementary facets of the poet's arsenal, each contributing to the overarching tapestry of poetic language.

Contemporary Echoes of Wordsworth

As we navigate the complexities of 21st-century communication, Wordsworth's emphasis on authentic expression resonates with a new generation of poets and writers. The digital age, with its rapid dissemination of information, prompts us to reflect on the authenticity of language in the virtual realm. Can the principles advocated by Wordsworth guide us in navigating the digital landscape, ensuring that our words maintain a genuine connection with the human experience?


In conclusion, Wordsworth's theory of poetic language transcends its historical context, inviting us to explore the timeless interplay between language, emotion, and authenticity. As we unravel the complexities through simplicity, we discover a profound connection between the poet, the language used, and the audience. Coleridge's critique and modern perspectives add layers to the discourse, challenging us to rethink our assumptions about language and its role in shaping our understanding of the world.

As the essay expands beyond the confines of traditional literary analysis, we find ourselves on a journey of introspection, contemplating the very essence of human expression. In the ever-evolving landscape of language and communication, Wordsworth's insights continue to guide us, encouraging a harmonious blend of simplicity and sophistication in our poetic endeavors.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
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Wordsworth's Poetic Language: Unraveling Complexity through Simplicity. (2016, Oct 04). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/wordsworths-theory-of-poetic-diction-essay

Wordsworth's Poetic Language: Unraveling Complexity through Simplicity essay
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