William Wordsworth is possibly the greatest Romantic poet to ever live. In his writings, his use of vivid descriptions, symbolism, and imagery are unmatched by any author past or present. Reading the poetry of Wordsworth is a unique experience that is both intellectual and enjoyable. His style of writing and themes captivate the reader and make him/her feel that they are experiencing the sights and sounds described in the poem.
Throughout this report, I will discuss the life of William Wordsworth. This includes his childhood, the tragic loss of his parents at a young age, reuniting with his sister, his close friendship with fellow writer Samuel T. Coleridge, and his various travels.
Also, I will discuss Lyrical Ballads, arguably his greatest work or “magnum opus.” Lyrical Ballads is a collection of 24 poems. I will explain what this volume of poetry contains, what some of these poems mean, and the literary techniques he uses to enhance his writing.
I will also examine The Prelude, which some also regard as his “magnum opus.” This poem is actually Wordsworth’s autobiography, which is a rather unique way to write about your own life. Once again, I will discuss what this poem is about, what it means, and the literary techniques that can be found throughout this poem.
Finally, I will survey The Ruined Cottage. However, it is more commonly known as The Excursion. This poem comes from The Second Volume of Lyrical Ballads. As with the other poems, I will discuss what this work is about, what it means, and the literary techniques that were used.
“William Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland.” His parents were able to send him to school as soon as he was old enough since his father had a good paying job. He began his schooling at Gilbank’s school for the first two years. In March of 1778, his mother died and his sister Dorothy, who he loved dearly, was sent to Halifax to live with relatives. William was distraught not only over the death of his mother but also from being separated from his sister. It was a very painful period in his life.
One year later, he entered Hawkshead Free Grammar School where he continued his education until 1787. During his time there, he receives the tragic news of his father’s death at Cockermouth in December of 1783. He realizes that he is on his own now.
After completing school at Hawkshead, he enrolled at Saint John’s College, University of Cambridge. While attending here, he developed a love for nature. During vacation time, he visited places known for their beauty. He received his degree in 1791 and began to write full time.
Although Wordsworth began to write poetry while attending school, not one of his poems was published due to his young age. “This changed in 1793 when he found someone to publish An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches.” These poems were original works but showed the formal style of the 18th century, which was no longer popular. Therefore, the public rejected these works. They wanted something new. Wordsworth realized he made a mistake in trying to rush himself and gain public recognition early.
Instead of becoming discouraged with the failure of his first published works, he tried harder to give the people a new style they would accept. In 1795, he published The Borderers, which was a moderate success. When he went to Halifax to visit his sister, she assisted him by raising his spirits and ensuring him of success. She began to accompany him wherever he went. Dorothy was the first influence on his writing. “In August of the same year, he met Samuel T. Coleridge.” Coleridge was the second influence on his writing. During the time they spent together, they planned to jointly release a volume of poetry which would be released at a later date. This volume of poetry, called Lyrical Ballads, was released in September of 1798 to much criticism and debate. The critics couldn’t sway public opinion, however, and Lyrical Ballads was a huge success. This collection made Wordsworth instantly famous and also started the literary movement known as Romanticism.
“In 1802, he married longtime friend Mary Hutchinson who was portrayed in many of Wordsworth’s latter poems.” Mary was the third influence on his writing. He wasn’t rich even if his poetry was successful. In 1802, he spent most of his time at Dove Cottage where he wrote 39 poems in that year alone. Wordsworth was very popular at this time in his life.
“For the next eleven years, he added to his long list of accomplishments by writing more of his poetry and starting a family with Mary.” “He moved to Rydal Mount in 1813 where they lived for the rest of his life.” Dove Cottage, the place where he wrote his best works, was a short distance away from his new home.
Throughout the next 24 years, he wrote and published many famous poems. He was universally praised for his contributions to literature by fans and critics alike. However, in 1837, his good friend Samuel T. Coleridge died and Wordsworth never fully got over his death. Except for a six volume edition of poetry published in late 1837, he never wrote again.
After his volume of poetry in 1837, Wordsworth went back to school and received his D.C.L. from Oxford in 1839. In April of 1843, he was named Poet Laureate by the English government. “On April 23, 1850, William Wordsworth died at his home in Rydal Mount.” He was buried at Grasmere Churchyard. “In July of 1850, The Prelude was published posthumously.” The Prelude was Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem and was a lifelong project. His family did this to honor his legacy and his contributions to the literary world.
Lyrical Ballads is perceived by some to be William Wordsworth’s most famous poem. Wordsworth was twenty-eight years old when he published this collection of twenty-two poems with his good friend Samuel T. Coleridge.
Many writers and critics alike believe this work started the movement of Romanticism. Every poem in this collection is lyrical, as the name suggests. “The distinct allure of the Lyrical Ballads in America was its focus on the mind in a state of excitement.” Some of these poems include The Convict, Goody Blake and Harry Gill, The Idiot Boy, The Last of the Flock, We Are Seven, and Anecdote for Fathers.
In The Convict, this person is escaping from prison when law officers begin giving chase. While trying to make his escape, the convict begins to question himself and the sins he’s committed. In the middle of the poem, he makes it known that he has killed a man out of anger and, in order to conceal his crime, hides the body in a forest and sets it on fire. As weariness and self-pity take control of him, the officers catch up to him and start to beat him. “In the end, he asks God and nature for forgiveness as he dies from the wounds he has received.” The experience is a sad one in that the person died but hopefully, he will be shown mercy and forgiveness from all those who he has hurt.
This poem is divided into 13 different stanzas of four lines, each called a strophe. In some stanzas, he uses different tenses and description in each strophe. For example, when he is being pursued, the present tense is used to show what is occurring as he is making his escape. Description is used to tell the speed of the man as he bypasses various things such as trees and buildings. However, when he is reminiscing about his past mistakes, the past tense is used to depict what his sins were and why he was imprisoned in the first place.
Description is used to accentuate past scenes such as the jumping flames of the forest fire and the crimson color of the deceased man’s blood. Imagery and Symbolism are also used predominantly throughout this poem. “Images of startling vividness flash by and melt unexpectedly into each other with the fleeting clarity of hallucinations and the poetic evocation of colors, movement, and the feelings of the convict pull directly at the reader’s senses.” Wordsworth uses strong language in his imagery to bring about a colorful and vivid picture to the reader. The convict goes through a variety of emotions such as sorrow, tiredness, and fear. That same strong language is used to convey emotion throughout the lines.
Rhythm and lyricism is contained in this selection as well. “A pounding rhythm drives the poem forward through enjambment across the verses, with internal rhymes and excited repetitions mounting on symbolism with the image of the burning forest.” In this poem, Wordsworth maintains a convict-nature relationship through symbols. He uses nature and compares it to the convict. For example, the burning of the fire symbolizes both the rage of the convict before he killed this victim and his desire to be forgiven. Overall, The Convict is one of the best poems in this entire collection.
Goody Blake and Harry Gill is a true story about the lives of Goody Blake and Harry Gill. Although their lives are different, Wordsworth shows the various similarities between their two personalities. Harry Gill is a young, rich man who has a good job and a happy family life. However, Goody Blake is an old, poor woman who no longer works and lives by his lonesome. As the poem progresses, the stanzas interchange between the events in Harry’s life and the events in Goody’s life. For example, in the first stanza, Harry Gill comes home from a hard day at work in the winter, is welcomed home by his family, and immediately curls up in a warm blanket around the fireplace. In the second stanza, Goody Blake is shivering from the cold because her blanket is not providing her any warmth and she cannot start a fire. She also feels lonely and longs for companionship. This is just one of the differences between their two lives.
“Throughout the poem, Wordsworth shows that even though the direction of their lives may be different, their humanness is the same.” They both have their own independent thoughts and feelings about various subjects such as the changing of the seasons and politics. Some similarities exist as well such as their longing to help others and their desire to love and be loved. One (Harry Gill) already experiences the latter feeling to a degree through his family while Goody Blake has no meaning of love. When their two lives cross, they seem to combine and become one and the same. No only does Harry Gill begin to love Goody Blake like a mother figure, he also fulfills his wish to help others who are in need. Goody Blake, in turn, learns to love Harry’s family and help them whenever possible. “At the end of this poem, as Goody Blake is lying on her death bed, she thanks Harry for giving her a chance to be human again.”
This poem is divided into 16 stanzas of eight lines each. “Parallelism is used to link the two lives of Goody Blake and Harry Gill together.” Using this technique links the two main ideas, willingness to assist and the desire to love and be loved. The theme of nature is once again prevalent in this poem. For example, Goody Blake is compared to an old hedge while Harry Gill is related to blooming flowers. Age is consistently used to distinguish these two subjects.
Rhymes as well as rhythm and lyricism are seen distinctly throughout. The rhyming pattern is seen in every other line. In lines one and three, matter and chatter are used while in lines two and four, Gill and still are used. “His rhyme scheme not only brings about more vivid description but also, surprising, more clarity.” The two lives are presented clearly, with Harry Gill living a happy family life and Goody Blake living a life of loneliness and despair. Alliteration helps to move the rhythm from one stanza to the next.
The Idiot Boy is one of Wordsworth’s stranger poems. It talks about a handicapped, single mother who depends on her son for everything. However, everything he does for her, such as shopping and cleaning, is never good enough for her. She constantly insults him, often about his mental capacity. Soon, this story spreads to the whole town and they begin to call him The Idiot Boy, hence the name of this work. Seeing as he is the only one in her mother’s life, he takes the insults without ever getting angry or annoyed. What he doesn’t know is that the whole town knows of these incidents and are secretly talking behind his back, never being brave enough to insult him to his face. It is discovered about a quarter of the way through the poem that he has a talent unknown to the town in that he is a great singer. However, he hides this in order to take care of his mother with no distractions involved. In hiding his talent, he also hides his dream, which is to perform in front of as many people as he can. One day, he overhears one of the townsfolk calling him the idiot boy. When he discovers that the secret of his mother’s beratings have been let out, he becomes enraged. He storms home and immediately yells at his mother, almost to the point of putting her into shock. He leaves home, vowing never to return. His mother foolishly thinks that he is just going to take a walk and come back. When he doesn’t return that nigh, she begins to worry. Days turn to weeks, which turn to months, which turn to years. Through these years, the mother mourns the loss of her son and wishes she had treated him better. Meanwhile, her son is realizing his dream and is singing in front of many people, yet he somehow feels a certain emptiness in his heart. While he knows that his mother was wrong for insulting him, he realizes that his reaction was just as wrong. He sets off for home, hoping it isn’t too late to make amends. As he returns home, his mother happily greets him and begs for forgiveness. He instantly does and even though he must abandon his dream again, he does it out of choice instead of necessity. Never again was he called the idiot boy.
This poem is one of Wordsworth’s longer poems, at 92 stanzas of five lines each. Symbolism is used to covey the emotions of the mother and her son. “Symbols such as the striking of the clock and the chirping of the birds show that the mother is always waiting for the day her son will return to her.” Throughout the poem, the mother is always checking the clock when the clock strikes at certain hours. The birds symbolize the beginning of a new day, a day that will hopefully culminate in seeing her son walk through the door.
In a surprising departure for Wordsworth, this is one of his few narrative poems. The Idiot Boy could’ve been easy turned into a short story. “Wordsworth decided to stick to his poetic roots and develop the story into stanza form.” While it is a difficult way to present a story, Wordsworth seemed to effortlessly make the story as a poem. Another shock is that with the exception of the birds, this is the only Wordsworth poem that doesn’t use nature as a theme. Instead, for one time only, Wordsworth opts to use the theme of conflict. “It would’ve been quite a difficult task to work nature into a purely human disagreement.” Throughout the poem, the tension mounts between the mother and son, finally ending in an outburst of anger and subsequent departure from home for the son. However, as in most if not all stories involving a conflict, everything is resolved at the end and the family is reunited once again. Rhythm once again presents itself to move the story along smoothly to each stanza.
The Last of the Flock is a story about a sheepherder who is careless and clumsy. The sheepherder never does his job properly, as he is either falling asleep or never paying attention. Basically, the sheep fend for themselves. Soon, someone begins to steal the sheep but the herder doesn’t care enough to find them. When one quarter of the sheep are gone, he begins to take notice but still doesn’t perform his job properly. As the days go by, more and more sheep are taken from his watch. When half of the sheep are gone, he shapes up and starts trying to do his job. “His ineptitude is apparent, as he no longer remembers how to care for the sheep.” Eventually, there is only one sheep left in the flock and the herder is determined to keep it. However, he dozes off and when he awakens, he finds that the last sheep has been taken. He immediately falls down to the ground weeping. “Since his flock is now gone, there is no further use for him and the poem ends with him wishing for another chance to set things right.”
The Last of the Flock contains 10 stanzas of ten lines each. “Satire is the predominant technique used throughout this poem, as he compares the sheepherder to government leaders and the flock to the people of a nation.” This poem was used to describe the events of the French Revolution. It sets some of the leaders of these revolutions on a pedestal on which Wordsworth shows their lack of leadership to the world. Wordsworth feels that these “leaders” were just spineless dictators who, going against their previously pledged beliefs, ignored the wishes of the people. The sheep robber is used to portray that another possible leader was using his influence to sway public opinion in his favor and weaken the power of the current dictator. By doing so, the government would be easily overtaken and a new government set up. This process would continue for a number of years until Napoleon took control and actually became the only one during this revolutionary period to listen to the needs and wants of the people. The flock, of course, referred to the people. They followed one leader until they became fed up with his mistreatment and left to join another uprising. Wordsworth used this poem not to mock the citizens of France, but to satirize the supposed “revolutionary leaders” who were supposed to bring equality to the people.
Once again, Wordsworth used the theme of nature to express his thoughts. As previously stated, the characters in the story were compared to a real life situation, that being the French Revolution. “He uses the wind as a force of nature in the poem to symbolize sweeping reforms with each new revolution that materializes.” He also establishes the mood and setting of the poem by using nature. The poem starts off in a sunny field that looks like a peaceful, happy place. By poem’s end, the mood is one of sadness and anger and the setting depicts storm clouds beginning to roll in over the fields. His use of nature enhanced the deeper meaning and feeling found in this poem.
We Are Seven describes a family as they go through a series of troubling circumstances. In the beginning, everything is peaceful within the house as the family gets along with each other very well. The tranquillity within the household is shattered as a fire is accidentally started. Thankfully, the fire is put out before any serious damage occurs. However, family infighting occurs as everyone begins pointing fingers as to who started the fire. This fighting goes on for several days. The children either blame one another for playing with matches, or the parents and/or maid for not putting out the oven properly. The parents and maid, in turn, start blaming each other and the children for the same reasons. While this fighting is taking place, a tornado starts heading their way and the family must band together in order to survive. As the wind is whipping furiously around them, they hold onto each other tight so no one gets lost. As the storm ends, another fire starts up. “It seems that the culprit was a candle that’s flame was blown by the wind onto some lingering hay in the kitchen.” Immediately, all is forgiven by all the members of the family and peace returns once again to the household.
This poem is compiled together into 17 stanzas of four lines each. Rhyme and suspense are the two primary literary techniques used. Once again, as in Goody Blake and Harry Gill, every other line is rhymed together (Jim and limb, breath and death). Suspense is used to capture the reader’s imagination and to leave them wondering what will happen next. In the thirteenth stanza, the fourth line is suspenseful (what should it know of death) in that it leaves you curious as to whether the family will survive the storm or not. An oxymoron is even used in line three of the twelfth stanza to describe the tornado. “Calling the wind of a tornado a series of gentle gusts leaves something to the imagination and will keep the reader guessing.”
Nature is the dominant theme again in this poem. He uses the destructive forces of nature in order to destroy the trust of the family, rebuild it, and learn from their mistakes. Just as the fire destroyed part of the house, it destroyed the family’s faith and trust in one another. As the tornado threatened to destroy their house and their lives, they banded together in order to survive thus rebuilding the trust. They learned from their mistakes of mistrust by witnessing the second fire as the candle started it. Wordsworth used nature not only to advance the story but also to teach a valuable lesson in life.
Anecdote for Fathers depicts a negative teaching experience from father to son. “This poem shows how the art of lying may be taught.” The poem begins as a boy is caught stealing from a neighbor. The father lectures his son about stealing from others. He tells his son that stealing is wrong but through lying, you can get away with anything. When his son presses for further details, the father provides them. The father says by gaining the trust of others, you can lie your way out of anything. He tells his son that if the neighbor trusted him and he lied to cover up for his crime, he would’ve got away with it because trust is a powerful ally in the world. Even if it the act is wrong and distrustful, you have to do what you must in order to get ahead in the world. He then tells the kid to break a vase on purpose and lie to his mother. He breaks the vase and lies to her about not doing it and she believes. The father tells him to use this well in his lifetime and he will get whatever he wishes.
Anecdote for Fathers is made up of 15 stanzas of four lines each. “The dominant techniques used are satire and rhyme.” There is a deep history involving the writing of this poem, as it is rather negative. While Wordsworth was growing up, one of his friend’s fathers told him that the basis for getting ahead in life is to lie your way to prestige. He uses this event not only to ridicule the father of his friend but also to hold in contempt lying in itself. Rhyme is used as in We Are Seven, with every other line being rhymed (such as old and mould, see and me).
Nature is the theme used in this poem as well. It is used primarily as a comparison piece between two unlike things, commonly referred to as similes and metaphors. “The father compares stealing to Mother Nature taking away a human life.” Both harm a person or a group of people and both are permanent. “The father also compares lying to snow falling on a grassy field.” Just as snow changes the look and landscape of the land, lying changes what actually happened during a particular event. The poem shows how brilliantly Wordsworth can weave nature into almost anything he writes.
Lyrical Ballads started a new literary revolution when released to the public. This collection was both innovative and original. “There is a connection between an experimental ‘natural’ language and the Romantic aesthetics of a visionary poetry, between innovative dialogue and the monologue of self-proclaimed renewal.” Fans and critics alike praised this compilation and made Wordsworth instantly recognized in the literary community. “It may be worth remembering that Lyrical Ballads is ambiguous in its innovations. Through this work, Romanticism began and the literary world would never be the same again.
The Prelude is Wordsworth’s other famous work and arguably his most famous. Wordsworth himself did not publish this autobiography. Instead, after his death in 1850, his family went and had this published in his honor. They knew that Wordsworth would have wanted the world to hear his life story.
The Prelude is made up of thirteen books, which depict an event or part of his life. “Wordsworth’s The Prelude is literally the autobiography of an orphan.” This poem was written throughout his life, with the last book being written in 1810. “We can interpret The Prelude as a question to Wordsworth’s querying fate: What will I do with my life? Where is my place in society? What kind of sold do I have and where will it finds its kindred spirits?” The Prelude is a journey of self-exploration that he used to be certain of his calling as a poet.
The Prelude begins with a declaration of his freedom and the question of what he will do with it. Book I then develops into the events of his early childhood and reminiscence of his parents and their sudden deaths. From the beginning, he relates emotion, cognition, and reflection in his concept of imagination, a technique that will be seen throughout this work. “Another relevant topic is how the reading of emotional literature affects judgment.” Certainly, Wordsworth conveys the emotions he felt when he lost his mother at the age of eight and his father at the age of thirteen. He also tells of the pain that he felt when he was separated from his sister. Through all the tragedies he suffered, it’s surprising that Wordsworth had a normal childhood.
As he moves to the next book of The Prelude, Wordsworth describes his life as he attended Hawkshead Grammar School. He was a carefree boy, who didn’t care about many things in the world. Throughout his schooling at Hawkshead, he was constantly thinking of his sister and wondered if he would ever see her again. “Dorothy was the driving force that kept Wordsworth hopeful for the future as he attended school.” His literary interests and writings are talked about for the first time in this section. Even as a young boy, he had a keen interest in writing. “Even though he never wrote about any subject in particular, writing helped Wordsworth’s imagination to foster and grow.” Book II ends with a letter to his sister, promising to see her again when he is able to make the trip to Halifax.
Book III starts off with his enrollment at the University of Cambridge. His emotion once again shows as he describes his first day at the college. He talks about the sights and sounds of the campus and a fistfight he took part in with another boy. “He describes attending Cambridge as his first taste of freedom.” The fistfight occurred because he was standing in someone’s way as he gazed around the campus. He regrets it now but at the time, he was enraged to the point of stooping to the other’s level. He encountered no more problems after the first day. At Cambridge is where he discovered his love of nature. Throughout his years at Cambridge, he had ample amounts of time just to sit and gaze at the serenity of the school grounds. He was amazed by everything he witnessed, from the swaying of the trees to the falling rain as it splashed and rippled in the lake. During prolonged school breaks and summertime, Wordsworth often visited places known for their natural beauty. This book ends as he graduates from the University of Cambridge with a new plan for his future.
Book IV, which is rather short, begins with the start of his writing career. Using his newfound love for nature, he wrote many a poem but never succeeded in having one published. He was determined to create a poem that would be seen by the public. “Poem after poem he wrote and he was met with failure after failure.” He was beginning to doubt his creativity and decision to be a full-time writer. However, after he wrote An Evening Walk, the publisher of a newspaper decided to give the kid a break and published it. Wordsworth waited for the letters of praise to start rolling in but they never came. He tried again and soon after, Descriptive Sketches was published in the same newspaper. Once again, no acclamation for Wordsworth. His first two published poems were utter failures because the world was growing bored with the style of writing Wordsworth used. Book IV ends with Wordsworth not only questioning his ability to write but also the choices he had made in life up to that point.
Book V begins with Wordsworth coming out of his depression over his failed works. His sister Dorothy helped him in doing so and accompanied him in order to keep his spirits up. Dorothy assisted Wordsworth in keeping his focus and to keep trying until he succeeds. He also goes into his first meeting with Samuel T. Coleridge, with him being supportive of Wordsworth as well. “Coleridge, at this time, was already a renowned author around the world and didn’t have to help Wordsworth but he did so anyway.” He advises Wordsworth about how times change and the people want a new trend to entertain them. They decide to work on and release a collection of poetry together. Book V ends with the release of Lyrical Ballads, the work that would change the literary world.
Book VI is a discussion by Wordsworth about the contents and success of Lyrical Ballads. The contents have already been discussed and Wordsworth could not believe how popular his co-authored work was. He praises Coleridge for his contributions to the collection and for helping him rediscover his love of writing. “Wordsworth surprised even himself when Lyrical Ballads became so successful.” Book VI ends with Wordsworth looking ahead to his future writings.
Book VII starts off with his marriage to Mary Hutchinson. He is on the top of the world right now because of his successes in the poetic world and his marriage. His marriage to his good friend seemed to put the icing on the cake. “Wordsworth and Coleridge begin to organize a second edition of Lyrical Ballads which will not only have new poetry but also the famous preface that would make the second edition so popular in the literary community.” However, after the release of this work, Wordsworth and Coleridge have a falling out over credit for some of the poetry contained in the second edition. Coleridge felt that Wordsworth assigned his name to poetry that he wrote, which Wordsworth vehemently denied. This event caused Wordsworth much pain and suffering, as he didn’t want to lose his friend over a false accusation. Book VII ends with Wordsworth mourning the fight between the two and hoping for amends.
Book VIII begins with the Wordsworths moving to Rydal Mount in order to better support the growing family. Wordsworth talks about his children at length, comparing them to the finer aspects of nature. While living at Rydal Mount, he moves back and forth between his new home and Dove Cottage, which is a short distance away. “Wordsworth had fond memories of Dove Cottage as his best work was written in that place.” Wordsworth writes Coleridge a letter, asking him to come to Rydal Mount in order to settle their disagreement. When Coleridge shows up, they go to Dove Cottage and talk at length for days about what happened. Coleridge admits that he was too rash in accusing Wordsworth. All is forgiven and the two become better friends than before. Book VIII ends with the two walking back to Rydal Mount talking about their future excursions into the literary realm.
Books IX through XII departs from the life of William Wordsworth. Instead, Wordsworth decides to talk about his theme of nature and its usefulness throughout his writings. In Book IX, he discusses his use of theme in the Lyrical Ballads. In Book X, he talks about how the theme of nature was used in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads. In Book XI, he explains how theme was used in The Excursion, also known in this report as The Ruined Cottage. In Book XII, he explicates his use of the theme of nature in this work up to this point. “Books IX through XII can be explained in one sentence: his theme of nature was used to bring clarity and interest to the forefront.” He sees nature as something that can be compared to anyone or anything. These books were used to describe the emotional attachment Wordsworth had to nature.
Book XIII is the last book in The Prelude. In it, he discusses what he will attempt to accomplish in the future. He can also successfully answer the questions he posed to himself in Book I, to which he can respond to all, ‘I am a poet.’” He uses heartfelt emotion to not only thank his contemporaries in the literary world but also personally thank his wife Mary, his sister Dorothy, and his best friend Samuel T. Coleridge. Without their assistance, he would’ve never become the writer he was at this point in his life. He ends The Prelude by thanking everyone who ever read his poetry and who had any faith in his abilities from the start. With this, he ends The Prelude.
Obviously, the theme he uses throughout this work is nature. Nature was used to make comparisons and to describe what he was seeing and feeling at a particular time. “Wordsworth uses a burning fire to describe the passion he saw in his son’s eyes to become a great writer just like his father.” He uses two bulls to symbolize the argument between Coleridge and himself. Both of the bulls were enraged over a minor incident and neither refused to budge from their positions because they both felt they were in the right. This comparison perfectly explains the situation that occurred between Wordsworth and Coleridge. He talks about the first eight years of his life being the eye of a hurricane. The eye of a hurricane is the calmest point in the storm and when the eye passed over him, a string of tragedies hit him, such as the losses of his mother and father to death and the loss of his sister to Halifax. He uses hot, scalding water being poured over his body as a symbol of his fight with Coleridge. Through his accusations, Wordsworth felt as if Coleridge was physically hurting him. Finally, another example of this theme was his use of a blooming flower to describe the birth of his first child. The blooming flower was used to explain not only Wordsworth’s happiness and new life as a father but also to celebrate the birth of his child. Nature was used to further describe the events of his life and to make the experience even more interesting for the reader.
Some of the literary techniques used throughout are free verse, epic convention, mood, and symbolism. Using free verse allowed Wordsworth to speak his mind about his life without having to take valuable time to rhyme words together. If he attempted to rhyme this work, it would’ve taken him from 1800 until the end of his life to complete it. He may be a great poet but that would be an impossible feat for anyone to accomplish.
Epic convention is also used. He opens Book I of The Prelude comparing his freedom to nature. He lists everyone and everything he knows in the first stanzas of Book I. Finally, his accounts of the past show that he uses, in spirit if not in writing, the method of epic convention.
Mood is also used in conjunction with the theme of nature. For example, he uses the brighter side of nature, such as the sun and birds singing, to enhance what he wants to say about someone, something, or a particular. By the same token, he uses the darker side of nature, such as rain and storm clouds, to show clearly the pain or other negative emotion that he felt when a something went wrong. “Without nature’s description of the mood, most of this autobiographical poem would be difficult to comprehend.” Symbolism, which has already been talked about, was used extensively in The Prelude.
The Prelude is one of the most interesting works in this time period. Through his efforts, Wordsworth was able to depict the events of his life from a poetic standpoint. These 13 books show clearly what Wordsworth wanted to accomplish in his life. He also showed the more personal insights into his life and through the descriptions of the tragedies he suffered, the public grew even fonder of the English writer. To think that this work was in danger of never being seen by anyone but Wordsworth’s family. Because of his family’s dedication in honoring his life, this great work was seen by all. By doing this, the family felt they helped put the finishing touches on a literary career that changed the world. The Prelude is an emotional, heartfelt account of the life of William Wordsworth. Through this work, Wordsworth’s name will forever be remembered in the literary world.
The Ruined Cottage, also known as The Excursion by some, is considered to be William Wordsworth’s best poem outside of his collections. This work is praised by fans and critics alike for its ingenuity and originality.
The Ruined Cottage is 14 stanzas of four lines, which uses a rhyme scheme in every other line. “The Ruined Cottage as a whole is remarkable for the extent to which Wordsworth has visualized the movements and positions of his characters.” Throughout the work, brief references are made to the setting, which is a run-down, old cottage. In the poem, Margaret and Samuel are arguing about the cottage. Margaret says that the cottage is too old and worn out to be used as a habitable living space. However, Samuel disagrees with her and says that the cottage only needs to be fixed a little and it will be good as new. As the poem goes on, Margaret begins to decline mentally and physically. She suffers physically due to the poor conditions inside the cottage. She suffers mentally from her brother’s stubbornness. Margaret declares herself to be the last human tenant of walls already ruined. Samuel refuses to acknowledge her sickness, believing her to be putting on an act in order to move somewhere else. In the last stanza, Samuel discovers Margaret dead, hanging from a tree. He falls down and mourns her death. He then realizes his own mistakes and is consumed by so much guilt that he drowns himself in the river. The last line of The Ruined Cottage describes the cottage crumbling to the ground as a gust of wind blows it down. The meaning behind this poem is that Samuel and Margaret kept the cottage alive and through their deaths, the cottage died as well.
Argument is the process used at wearisome length in The Ruined Cottage. “This noble poem may be described as a long sermon against pessimism, scarcely disguised by a story.” Though different speakers are introduced, their speeches are mere ventriloquism. Wordsworth, as the optimistic Pedlar, or Wanderer, assails himself as the Solitary, or the late enthusiast of the French Revolution. He uses all his eloquence to raise this other self to his own serene mood. “The Ruined Cottage too often reminds us of the debates between God and Satan at one time set forth in churches for the edification of the people, the rule being that Satan should have the worst of the controversy.” It is the same within Wordsworth’s Solitary, who is presented to us in unfavorable colors. His morals are not the best. When he vents his misanthropy, he does not seem to be quite so fearless, cogent, and impressive an exponent of his own views as he might have been. It cannot be helped to think that his viewpoints are weaker than they appear.
Nature is the primary theme used in this poem. Wordsworth compares Margaret to a songbird while he compares Samuel to a raven. Margaret is the vision of goodness in this poem while Samuel is seen as the evil. He also uses nature to enhance his writing. Description such as the tumbling brown leaves and the chilling blue water help to add to the experience of this poem. Finally, he uses nature to join the three focuses of this poem together, namely Margaret, Samuel and the cottage. “All three meet their fates through an act of nature” Margaret dies by hanging from a tree, Samuel dies by drowning in a river, and the cottage is destroyed by a strong gust of wind. Nature is used for three reasons: to compare, to enhance, and to link the three components together as similar.
Some of the literary techniques he uses are rhyme, setting, and irony. Rhyme is once again used to link together the first and third lines as well as the second and fourth line (rain and sane, sin and win). Setting adds to the mood of the poem. A dark, dank, run-down cottage should imply that the mood of this story is going to be sad and depressing. Irony is used thoroughly as well. “Wordsworth perplexes the reader’s mind by having Samuel, who is supposed to be the vision of evil, talk about doing things for the good of her sister’s well-being.” These literary techniques of rhyme, setting, and irony added suspense, a literary technique in itself, and interest to the story.
Overall, The Ruined Cottage is one of Wordsworth’s best poems. Arguably, it is the best poem outside of his collections of poetry. The ingenuity he uses such as comparing Samuel and Margaret to God and Satan, was ground breaking during this time period. His level of detail/description used may be even better than most of the other works he has written. The Ruined Cottage, although not one of his most well known works, is certainly one of his best.
Andrews, Harry. Wordsworth and His Poetry. Boston, MA: Rand McNally and Co., Ltd., 1983.
Comments: This book was of good use to me because it gave me a lengthy critical review of Lyrical Ballads. However, this was the only poem that I could get a critical review from in this book. Therefore, I had to look elsewhere for my other reviews.
Beacham, Walton. Literary Criticisms of Poetry. New York, NY: Bough
Publishers of America, 1986.
Comments: On a positive note, this source gave me a critical analysis of The Prelude that was positive. However, only one critical review on one of my author’s works was available.
Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s Major Poets: William Wordsworth. Broomal, PA:
Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.
Comments: This source gave me a full personal insight into what the author thought about The Ruined Cottage. However, this book spent the book of its time describing individual poems and since I have two collections to analyze, had to look elsewhere for sources.
Gill, Stephen. William Wordsworth: A Life. Chicago, IL: Claredon Press Co.,
Comments: This source provided the most information about my author’s life. The main reason for this is probably that Gill wrote a book instead of an excerpt in a collection of authors. A couple of errors were made, such as he lists Wordsworth’s year of birth as 1772.
Heath, William. Major British Poets of the Romantic Period. New York, NY: The MacMillan Company, 1973.
Comments: This source provided some crucial information and disproved some of the “facts” Gill stated in his book. However, he couldn’t discuss at length part of Wordsworth’s life (such as his childhood) since he was only writing an excerpt in a collection. Gill was unhindered in his description of Wordsworth’s life and therefore, provided the most information.
Magill, Frank N. Critical Survey of Poetry. Volume 7. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1982.
Comments: A positive of this collection is that it offered both a positive and negative view of Lyrical Ballads. As with the other books, however, this book only had critical reviews of this work at length and I was forced to look elsewhere for more critical analysis books.
Nemeron, Howard. Critical Reviews of Poetry. Volume 12. Toronto, Ontario: Golden Press, Inc., 1962.
Comments: This critical review book offered me my negative comments of The Prelude. Once again, I have the same complaint that I could only find reviews on this one work. I could make a fortune if I pulled all the literary criticisms together into one book. That way, people won’t get so frustrated looking for them in numerous books.
Smith, Peter. The Library of Literary Criticisms. Gloucester, MA: Moulton Publishing Co., 1959.
Comments: A small but helpful section about The Ruined Cottage. While it didn’t provide me with any major criticism, it did help me to better understand the story described by this poem.
Sundell, Michael G. The Romanticist Poets. Toronto, Ontario: General Publishing Co., Ltd., 1981.
Comments: Another small but helpful section that explained some aspects of Wordsworth’s life a little more clearly. However, this excerpt suffers the same fate as Heath’s, that it cannot compare to the amount of information that Gill has compiled in his book.