William’s Wordsworth- born 250 years ago this month.

In the world of literary history, there are few bigger names than William’s Wordsworth!

He is the poet who changed the world with his poetry inspiring generations to think differently about languages, politics, psychology and nature.

Wordsworth rejected the highly wrought formalities of 18th century poetry, insisting that plain and simple language was more powerful, especially to explain the beauty of nature.

Wordsworth argued that everyday experiences, as well as heroic epic adventures, were a fit subject for great literature. He is remembered as a poet of spiritual and epistemological speculation, a poet concerned with the human relationship to nature and a fierce advocate of using the vocabulary and speech patterns of common people in poetry. 

With  Samuel Taylor Coleridge he helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature.

Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1890. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity.  It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education,  the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism, and nationalism.

Definition from wikipedia.

Wordsworth’s passion for rural pursuits began at a tender age. The second of five children born to John Wordsworth and Ann Cookson, William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in what is now named Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumberland,  part of the scenic region in northwestern England known as the Lake District. 

Wordsworth’s father was a legal representative of James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale and, through his connections, lived in a large mansion in the small town. He was frequently away from home on business, However, he did encourage William in his reading, and in particular set him to commit large portions of verse to memory, including works by Milton, Shakespeare and Spenser. William was also allowed to use his father’s library. William also spent time at his mother’s parents’ house in Penrith, Cumberland, where he was exposed to the moors.

Wordsworth was taught to read by his mother and attended, first, a tiny school of low quality in Cockermouth, then a school in Penrith for the children of upper-class families, where he was taught by Ann Birkett, who insisted on instilling in her students traditions that included pursuing both scholarly and local activities, especially the festivals around Easter, May Day and Shrove Tuesday. Wordsworth was taught both the Bible and the Spectator, but little else. It was at the school in Penrith that he met the Hutchinsons, including Mary, who later became his wife.

In the Lake District he’d spent several idyllic years lake- walking, cliff-climbing, ice-skating and boating (with walking being his favourite activity) – all these experiences that he recalled years later in his autobiographical poem ‘The Prelude’.

Read the full poem using the following link: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45542/the-prelude-book-1-childhood-and-school-time

Though Wordsworth, encouraged by his headmaster William Taylor, had been composing verse since his days at Hawkshead Grammar School, his poetic career begins with this first trip to France and Switzerland. During this period he also formed his early political opinions—especially his hatred of tyranny. These opinions would be profoundly transformed over the coming years but never completely abandoned. Wordsworth was intoxicated by the combination of revolutionary fervor he found in France—he and Jones arrived on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille—and by the impressive natural beauty of the countryside and mountains. Returning to England in October, Wordsworth was awarded a pass degree from Cambridge in January 1791, spent several months in London, and then traveled to Jones’s parents’ home in North Wales. During 1791 Wordsworth’s interest in both poetry and politics gained in sophistication, as natural sensitivity strengthened his perceptions of the natural and social scenes he encountered.

When he fancied a change from the Lakes Wordsworth sometimes took a holiday, as long as it could accommodate a good walk, usually travelling with his friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge- he covered vast swatches of land on foot in England, Scotland and Wales and he wrote as he went.

Often, his verses contain iconic descriptions of specific landscapes and landmarks that can still be observed today; his famous poem ‘lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey’ written in 1798 while on a walking tour of Wales is a good example.

In this poem Wordsworth doesn’t just describe the landscape but also contemplates and reflects on the last time he saw these landscapes and beautiful land formations and how they brought comfort to him.

Wordsworth’s poetry also featured a cast of colourful rural characters, for example; thinkers, peddlers, shepherds and peasants- he often seemed to link the simplicity of these people and their proximity to nature with moral virtue, following the trailblazing philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau who had written in praise of the ‘noble savage’ some decades earlier.

Wordsworth offered a new and original focus on the rustic language of the people he met during his rambles, along with the beauty of the landscape and his personal, often regarded as spiritual beliefs.

We can still learn so much from Wordsworth; often walking along the countryside to ease his anxieties to maintain what today we would call ‘good mental health’.

His outlook foreshadows the emphasis placed on the modern mindfulness movement on exercise and communication with nature.

Here are some examples of his beautiful poems!

Check out the following websites to read more of his work:

10 of the Best William Wordsworth Poems Everyone Should Read


The Eight Greatest Poems of William Wordsworth



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