Comparative Essay

Return to //Preface to Lyrical Ballads//
The Optimist
Wordsworth’s Attitudes towards Poets and Poetry
Wordsworth’s life occurred during the terribly disheartening Industrialization where the intellectual minds were reduced “to a state of almost savage torpor” (1500). Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads shows that he was hopeful, believing that “the time is approaching when the evil will be systematically opposed” (1500) and the creative mind will be accepted and preferred. Wordsworth’s high regard for the poet and his work pushes those to excel in revealing the deeper truth.

Wordsworth believes that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” (1498) and creative imagination gives insight to truth. This writing has a purpose. Wordsworth believes that his “habits of meditation have so formed [his] feelings…to carry along with them a purpose” (1498). This process of “long and deep” thought leads to a degree of personal enlightenment. Wordsworth’s faith in the ability of poetry to express the mind leads to an ultimate truth that is deeper than that which is tangible.

Wordsworth believes that “personifications do not make any natural or regular part of that language,” (1500) and “that they should be rejected as an ordinary device to elevate the style, and raise it above prose” (1500). “Little of what [Wordsworth] uses is called poetic diction” (1498) and the use of personifications rarely occur. Wordsworth claims that “there neither is, nor can be, an essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition” (1502).

Wordsworth writes of “low and rustic life” (1498) including common “incidents and situations” (1498). For in simple writing, Wordsworth believes the message is more accurately presented and easily comprehended, indicating that vanities are a non-issue. The common language that is used by these of “low and rustic life” is more permanent because it “arises out of repeated experience and regular feelings” (1498).

The language and topics of the art of poetry are ultimately decisions of the poet himself. Wordsworth believes the poet is someone who has the ability to be affected by absence. He is “a man pleased with his own passions… [and] rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life” (1502) and uses his imagination to create a presence which others cannot conceive. This view is intensely optimistic and shows the power of the mind in the world Wordsworth is subject to. He believes that poets have a greater ability to comprehend nature and they are “nothing different in kind from other men, only in degree” (1505).

Wordsworth has a humanistic view. It is evident the ability of the human mind is held highly by Wordsworth. Wordsworth’s optimism is evident by his lenience in reason, his certainty of the power of imagination and his hope for social growth. Overall, it appears as if the transition from Pope’s views to Wordsworth’s was inevitable. As the times change, so do literary trends. It is evident, too, that a hint of optimism yields to development and growth among the world of literature.

Return to //Preface to Lyrical Ballads//

Resources: Greenblatt, Stephen.The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol 2. (pgs. 1498-1505).