The Revolution of William Wordsworth

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A critical analysis of Williams Wordsworth's work.

Submitted: January 20, 2011

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Submitted: January 20, 2011



The Revolution of William Wordsworth Inspired by the Industrial Revolution, William Wordsworth revolutionized the Poetic world and forever transformed how it is that the Poet engages his Reader. No longer would there be a wall between the poet and his audience, for he felt that a true Poet is obligated to speak directly to the heart of man. In Wordsworth’s poems he implores his Readers to embark on a journey with him, one that he hoped would interest them permanently. It is clear in his overall remarks in “Preface”, that he believed that society, in general, and the Poet, specifically, had sold themselves out to the dogmatic desires and hierarchies of a society created by man. He remarks that “For a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discrimination powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor” (“Preface” 8). In setting the tone that would be followed by future Romantic Poets, Wordsworth sought to produce a “revolutionary energy at the core of Romanticism, which quite consciously set out to transform not only the theory and practice of Poetry (and all art), but the very way we perceive the world” (Blank 368) . To some it would seem that Wordsworth was a Pantheist; in fact, in his early years he may well have been. However, the answer is not in what he stood for, it is what he stood against. The one thing that seems evident about his early opinions is that “the Poet was against the established church in his early life” (Kim 272). Furthermore, it does not seem to be the message of the church that bothers Wordsworth, rather it is the method in which the message is carried that so disturbs him. Nonetheless, analyzing Wordsworth’s view on religion would only seem to muddy the waters of his works. Therefore, it is best to explore him without thinking much on this subject of specific religious beliefs; rather, it is best to focus on how he expresses his disdain for the dogma and its effects on an individual relationship with God, as seen through nature. As Kim states in On Wordsworth’s Religion of 1805, what Wordsworth protested “was not Christianity itself but the severity of the church” (257). Nonetheless, his ideas were daring and even with the revolution going on, still dangerous thoughts to be expressing. This is especially true, as it occurred in a time when the church and the aristocracy ruled with absolute authority. However, at some point, his frustration with the canon of absolutes, whether they were political, social, or religious finds its way to his prose, and in “Expostulation and Reply” and “Tables Turned “ it is especially profound. While the ambiguity that many find in his poetry is often attributed to his struggle with this new found beliefs and his search for structure, it seems more obvious that it is not due to his hesitation to believe as much as his caution about offending the audience to a point that would hinder the reception of his message. In fact he seems to state this clearly in his “Preface” as he explains why he is not disposed to ridiculing the poets who came before him. I cannot, however be insensible to the present outcry against the triviality and meanness, both of thought and language, which some of my contemporaries have occasionally introduced into their metrical compositions; and I acknowledge that this defect, where it exists, is more dishonorable to the Writer’s own character than false refinement or arbitrary innovations, thought I should contend at the same time, that it is far less pernicious in the sum of its consequences. (6-11) Wordsworth realized that by attacking his contemporaries for their views, he would only serve to cheapen his image and more importantly—his art. This theme continues through Wordsworth’s early poetry and explains much of the indistinctness in his works; it is not necessarily due to indecisiveness, but rather a product of his desire to in no way counter the message with the uncivil tone that was utilized by his contemporaries. To Wordsworth, the most effective revolutionary is the one who inspires without offending, so that the defenses natural to man are not awakened to their protective stance. Wordsworth in his love for the message was clearly taking steps to ensure that he did not ignite contempt, not so much for personal preservation, but merely to ensure that the message--the true purpose of his prose--found its way to the reader. In considering the mindset of Wordsworth, it seems only natural that he would choose as his proverbial canvas the landscape of nature and all its wonderful details, which in the imaginative style of the romantic, he explored with great vision. Keeping his promise, stated in “Preface”, that his prose would be that of rural life, Wordsworth chose to imitate the verbiage of the common man. He felt that those were the words that spoke most as the heart would, unaware of social rules of dictation and moral proclivities. “Poetry, for Wordsworth, is an act of communication that demands a self-conscious effort through common words and forms” (Easterlin 31). As he explains in his “Preface”: (The) Humble and rustic life, was generally chosen, because in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more empathetic language; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated. (13-18) It is in understanding this statement that we can most clearly see Wordsworth’s view of the world. In these few lines, he is clear that restriction and absolutes serve only to muck the waters of introspection, so much that we do not, in our search, find the truth. His statement concerning using the language of the common man can also been viewed as a metaphor for the removal of all things restrictive that overshadow the message, whether it be the high minded words of an egotistical poet or the Latin mass at the Catholic church. Consider that, at the time, neither were understood by the common man; he was expected to follow blindly behind those who were more learned. However, “the Poet is not commending paganism at the expense of Christianity, but contrasting its ‘Poetry’ with the deadly materialism of modern living which is out of tune with nature’s ‘powers’ and nullifies our own” (Hill 26). He asks that we seek our own answers through nature and not in the hidden passages of books. Ironically, it is in his prose that the truth of Wordsworth is hidden. In “The Tables Turned” and “Expostulation and Reply” we can see that Wordsworth is having a revolution of his own, one that implores him to look at the world through nature and to see it as he once did--before the restrictions of social structure and religious observation were imposed upon him. When exploring his new view of the world, in relation to the confines of the past and present, it seems appropriate to focus on the aforementioned works--especially as they relate to the freedom and knowledge he feels comes from actively experiencing Mother Earth and her mysteries. Wordsworth beseeches us to seek our own answers to life and its complex trivialities. As students of nature, he urges us to give up our predefined absolutes and open our minds to what nature seeks to teach us. For he was a believer that man would find his own answers from the bowels of Mother Nature, if only he would only stop to hear her reply; it is this belief which permeates all of his works. He expresses this profoundly in “Expostulation and Reply” “(which) is a lyric poem that expresses a principle of the Romantic Movement--namely that nature and human intuition impart a kind of knowledge and wisdom not found in books and formal education” (Cummings). However, first it important to explore the first few stanzas which perhaps indicate the nature of conversations he may have endured in response to his new view: Why, William, on that old grey stone, Thus for the length of half a day, Why, William, sit you thus alone, And dream your time away? Where are your books?—that light bequeathed To Beings else forlorn and blind! Up! Up! And the drink the spirit breathed From dead men to their kind. (1-8) It is easy to imagine that in response to Wordsworth’s new Romantic style he likely was approached by some who may have articulated the very objections of the unnamed speaker. As the speaker addresses William, the term “old grey stone” and “alone” contrast heavily in relation to the view of William and his new Romantic view, who likely sees that stone as a fellow creature of nature and who undoubtedly feels that he is not alone-- but in the company of the unknown presence that he feels when he is with nature. As he explains to the speaker: Nor less I deem that there are Powers Which of themselves our minds impress; That we can feed this mind of ours In a wise passiveness. (21-24) In the end, Wordsworth continued to believe that answers conceived by another, were in fact, not answers at all. For him, “beliefs, no longer assumed, become the object of conscious study and of personal preoccupation” (Easterlin 33). In Tables Turned he advocates this by stating:

One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can. (21-4) In this stanza, he appears the closest to attacking the system and its methods of teaching. In fact, it easy to assume that this lyric was a personal response to the criticism that had befallen Wordsworth and his new Romantic ways. However, his next stanza seems to show that this methodization that has hindered the learning of man is not something where blame can be attached to individuals or institutions, as it is the natural inclination of society. In addressing this he writes: Sweet is the lore which nature brings; Our meddling intellect Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:-- We murder to dissect. (25-9) In this stanza he keeps his promise, as stated in “Preface”, to not attack those he opposed, as his colleagues had; instead he uses the word “we”; still, making his point that by dissecting the world, in the sense that we feel we have the intellect to figure out the details, we altogether miss the point--the bigger picture, so to speak. Once again, Wordsworth saves the message by considering the reader and removing him from the defensive position by simply using the word “we.” What is interesting is that once the reader is off guard Wordsworth reconvenes the lyric with his final stanza, which implores change: Enough of Science and of Art; Close up the barren leaves; Come forth, and bring with you a heart That watches and receives. (29-32) With these last stanzas he has first given the reader a new idea and then he has joined the reader, simply by making himself also a member of the audience and finally, as if he were there holding your hand, he implores you to walk with him into this new experience. In fact, a similar pattern is found in “Expostulation and Reply”: Nor less I deem that there are Powers Which of themselves our minds impress; That we can feed this mind of ours In a wise passiveness. (20-24) Once again, Wordsworth includes his audience and in fact makes them the subject of the poem. By taking this “we” approach he is able to respond to the speaker in a manner that is not defensive. Thus, once again, the most profound part of the prose is not the argument itself, nor even the messenger--for Wordsworth-- it is always the message. It seems obvious that William Wordsworth was in fact a revolutionary. Not the obvious kind who fights with weapons and sharp tongues, but a new breed of revolutionary, one who sees himself not on one side of a battle, but as a sort of team leader who is cheering on his comrades--increasing their numbers as the battle wages. Out of his disdain for dogma and social control came the prose of the heart, of a man concerned more with his art then himself, a seeker urging his audience to seek with him. All these things and much more are William Wordsworth.

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