Preface to the Lyrical Ballads

The Preface to the Lyrical Ballads was written by William Wordsworth in 1800 and enlarged with the second edition of the "Lyrical Ballads" in 1802.

Although some of its individual ideas had antecedents in the later 18th century, the Preface as a whole deserves its reputation as a revolutionary manifesto about the nature of poetry. Wordsworth’s Preface implicitly denies the traditional assumption that the poetic genres constitute a hierarchy, from epic and tragedy at the top down through comedy, satire, pastoral, to the short lyric at the lowest reaches of the poetic scale; he also rejects the traditional principle of “decorum”, according to which the subject matter (especially the social class of the protagonists) and the level of diction are contrived by the poet to conform to the status of the literary kind on the poetic scale.

Wordsworth’s assertions about the materials and diction of poetry have been greatly influential in expanding the range of serious literature to include the common people and ordinary things and events, as well as justifying a poetry of sincerity rather than of artifice, expressed in the ordinary language of its time. He attributed to imaginative literature the primary role in keeping human beings emotionally alive and morally sensitive – that is, keeping them essentially human – in the modern era of a technological and increasingly urban society."

Major Arguments

On the 'Subject and Language of Poetry':

*"The principal object […] was to choose incidents and situations from common life." Wordsworth justifies this by adding that our elementary feelings and passions can grow better in a field of rural life, which is built upon elementary feelings, and they may also be contemplated and communicated better than any other writer at the time.
*"Describe [those incidents] in a selection of language really used by men." The rural men far from social vanity use their language to express feelings in a simple and unelaborated manner, more in connection with nature. He also claims that such a language is more permanent and philosophical because it results from "repeated experience and regular feelings".
*"Throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way."
*"Make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them the primary laws of our nature." ["Norton Anthology of English Literature", vol. 2, Seventh Edition.]

Notes

Bibliography

* Jones, Mark. "The 'Lucy Poems': A Case Study in Literary Knowledge". The University of Toronto Press, 1995.
* Murray, Roger N. "Wordsworth's Style: Figures and Themes in the Lyrical Ballads of 1800". Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.
* Rolfe, William J. "William Wordsworth, Select Poems of William Wordsworth" (New York: American Book), 1889.
* Woodring, Carl. "Wordsworth". Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965.

External links

* [http://www.online-literature.com/wordsworth Wordsworth biography and works]


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