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William Wordsworth: A Wordsmith for All Time
Harold Bloom in his book Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds says "Wordsworth remains, in the twenty-first century, what he has been these last two hundred years: the inventor of a poetry that has been called, at intervals, Romantic, post Romantic, Modern, and Postmodern, yet essentially is one phenomenon: the replacement of subject matter by the poet's subjectivity" (377). It is for this reason that Wordsworth was chosen as the subject of this paper.
This paper will focus on some of the important events in Wordsworth's life as well as analyze two of his works, The World is Too Much with Us (1807) and It is a beauteous evening, calm and free (1807). Furthermore, the paper will examine Woodworth's reputation over time.
William Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770 in Cumberland, a place in the Lake District of England. He was the second of the five children of his father John Wordsworth, a legal representative of James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, and his mother Ann Cookson. Throughout his life, William remained close to his sister Dorothy, who was one-year-older and shared the same passion for nature and poetry. His other siblings were Richard, a lawyer, John, a poet, and Christopher a researcher. Wordsworth lost his mother in 1778 at the age of eight and five years later in 1783, he lost his father (Burra). After his mother died, Wordsworth was sent to Hawkshead Grammar School for his primary education though he had attended a few local schools where the educational emphasis was on the Bible. While at Hawkshead he met Mary Hutchinson who would later become his wife. Wordsworth published his first sonnet in 1787 and in that same year, enrolled in St. John's College in Cambridge. He was awarded a B.A. degree in 1791, and subsequently returned to Hawkshead (Gill).
In 1791, Wordsworth visited France, which was engaged in war with Britain at that time. During his stay there, he fell in love with a French woman Annette Vallon and in 1792 their daughter Caroline was born. Because of the ongoing war between the two countries Wordsworth returned alone to England and the two could not see each other for the next ten years. There are indications that Wordsworth was depressed over the separation and in 1802 he and his sister Dorothy traveled to France to see them. Wordsworth continued to support both child and mother in the best possibly way for the remainder of his life.
In 1793, Wordsworth's first poetry collection was published. Though his poetry was well received his financial condition remained suspect. In 1795, he received a legacy from Raisley Calvert which lessened his hard pressed financial situation. That same year he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, another poet, and the two developed a life-long association. Together they published Lyrical Ballads, a collection of romantic poems, in 1798. The collection met with a remarkable success however, Coleridge, who intimately doubted not his poetic genius but whether he could sustain it, invariably hailed Wordsworth as his master. Wordsworth, who required the admiration, agreed. So much so that when they collaborated in Lyrical Ballads, he insisted on appearing as the sole name on the title page and retained sole copyright, even though five poems, including "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," were Coleridge's.
In his later life, Wordsworth began working on his philosophical poems, which he intended to publish in three parts. Meanwhile, he had started working on his autobiographical poem which was known as poem to Coleridge, though it was published posthumously as The Prelude. In 1807, his Poems in Two Volumes was published which gave him further recognition. In 1813, Wordsworth was appointed as Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland making him financially secure. That same year he moved with his family to Royal Mount in Ambleside where he spent the rest of his life (Gill).
In 1838, Wordsworth was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law Degree from Durham University. He received the same honor from Oxford University in 1839. In 1842, he was awarded a civil list pension from the government which ensured an annual income. In 1843 he was made Poet Laureate of England. Wordsworth died on April 23, 1850 and was buried at St. Oswald's church in Grasmere. His Poem to Coleridge was published posthumously as The Prelude ("William Wordsworth").
Poem One: The World is Too Much With Us
The World is Too Much With Us (Wordsworth 206) was published 1807 is thought to have been composed around 1802. This sonnet is one of a number written in the early 1800s that are critical of what Wordsworth saw as the material cynicism. This sonnet is an angry account of the poet's theme of communion with nature, and demonstrates how far the early nineteenth century was from living out his ideal. The sonnet is important for its rhetorical force. It shows Wordsworth's increasing confidence with language as an implement of dramatic power and is representative of other poems of Wordsworth's.
This was a time when the Industrial Revolution was beginning to take hold throughout Europe. It was a time of new machines and factories as well as new technologies and new ways of thinking. In the poem Wordsworth asserts these new things are working to make people forget about their spirituality. He believed that people could find this spirituality in nature (Cummings).
The poem is written in first-person in the first eight lines and part of the ninth, using we, ours, and us. At the end of the ninth line first person singular is used. Wordsworth uses this technique cleverly to allow him to make his point without seeming either preachy or sanctimonious as he includes himself in the reprimand. The message endures after two hundred years: when the world becomes too hectic one must stop and smell the flowers. The modern world with its literalism and consumerism holds no charm for this latter-day pagan who watches the roiling waves and remembers a young earth long before the coming of factories, steam engines, big cities, and mammon (Thompson 180).
The poem refers to many examples in nature; the sea, a meadow, the moon, and flowers. Wordsworth intent is to infer that we have lost touch with nature, "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; / Little we see in Nature is ours; / We have given our hearts away…" (Lines 2-4). He is alluding to the fact people are too involved with buying things and have become greedy and wanting. This quest for material gain and preoccupation with worldly affairs has usurped our ability to perceive what is truly important. Lines ten to twelve, "A pagan suckled in a creed outworn; / So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, / Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn…" suggest Wordsworth feels he would be happier as a pagan than in the modern world.
Poem Two: It is a beauteous evening, calm and free
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free is also written in the form of a Petraccain sonnet. Published in 1807 the work is believed to have been written in 1802 and is addressed to his illegitimate daughter Caroline, who he was visiting in France where she was living with her mother. The work uses imagery to demonstrate the symmetry between nature and God and is set on the beach in the evening.
A line by line analysis offers the following interpretation: 1) "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free" -- setting the scene and fairly straightforward. 2) "The holy time is quiet as a Nun" -- sunset is a sacred or holy image in many of Wordsworth's poems and in conjunction with a holy Nun and the stillness or "quiet" indicates a hallowed moment. 3) "Breathless with adoration; the broad sun" -- suggests the innate power and energy of nature and adds to the image of the sunset. 4) "Is sinking down in its tranquility;" -- further emphasizes the calmness and image of the perfect sunset. 5) "The gentleness of heaven broods at the sea;" -- this suggests heaven has nested (broods) on the sea and creates an image of heaven above the sea thinking. A sense of the energy of the sea is also invoked and the verb broods portends a change. 6) "Listen! The mighty Being is awake" -- is an indication of the manifestation of God through nature. 7) "And doth with his eternal motion make" the image of the movement of the ocean's surface suggests constant change and evolution. 8) "A sound like thunder -- everlasting" -- the crashing of the waves on the beach. Thunder is symbolic of power and strength as indicates the eternal might of nature. 9) "Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here," -- This is the first reference to his daughter Caroline. The use of the word dear is demonstrative of his affection for her. 10) "If thou appear untouched by…[continue]
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"William Wordsworth A Wordsmith For All Time", 13 December 2012, Accessed.20 October. 2016, http://www.paperdue.com/essay/william-wordsworth-a-wordsmith-for-all-105824