Poetry has existed as a popular art form for many years. The following discussion will focus on what poetry, poets, and the lyric mean to William Wordsworth as related in his PREFACE to Lyrical Ballads. The research will also connect John Stuart Mills and Roman Jakobson's definitions of poetry to that of Wordsworth.
Poetry Poets and Lyric according to Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was one of the preeminent poets of the 20th century. He possessed powerful beliefs about the meaning of poetry poets and lyric which he expressed through his Preface to Lyrical Ballads. The initial paragraphs of the preface acknowledge that the type of poetry presented in the book differs greatly from the type of poetry that the general public, at the time had become familiar with reading. For this reason Wordsworth felt the need to explain the poetry. Wordsworth then goes on to explain that authors of the past made a contract of sorts with their readers to oblige familiar habits of association and that certain types of concepts will be found in the literary work. The author also ensures that certain other ideas will not be found in the book. This type of contract has existed throughout the ages and has become generally accepted as a norm. However, Wordsworth asserts that the Lyrical Ballads contained in the book do not necessarily honor the aforementioned contract.
"They who have been accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will, no doubt, frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title (Wordsworth)."
Instead of utilizing "Inane phraseology" Wordsworth asserts that the ballads will contain situations and experiences from everyday life. In addition the language used will be consistent with the language used in real life. However, Wordsworth contends that the language will be imaginative and thought provoking. He also asserts that the experiences reflected in the ballads would be that of humble and rustic life. This was chosen because such conditions tend to bring out the most heartfelt and sincere emotions. In addition such experiences tend to lend themselves to the use of simple but resounding language. Wordsworth further contends that the rustic and humble condition of life encourages the presence of feelings that are the most elementary. He also asserts that the nature of such an existence allows for greater amounts of contemplation. Additionally he asserts that the character of rural occuapations is easier to comprehend and more lasting. Finally he asserts that the beauty of the natural environment and the rudimentary passions of men are combined in a rustic setting.
The language, too, of these men has been adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust) because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions. Accordingly, such a language, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who think that they are conferring honour upon themselves and their art, in proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle appetites, of their own creation (Wordsworth)."
In other words poets use fancy words because they want to be recognized as great poets. They do not necessarily write in a manner that is comprehended by their audience. Wordsworth seems to be annoyed by this practice. He contends that true poetry should contain a philosophical language. This philosophical language, Wordsworth asserts, is most evident in repeated experiences and regular feelings.
In the preface Wordsworth also condemns the use of outrageous stimulation in literature. He explained that a great deal of modern poetry and modern writing reflected on the ever-changing landscape of the cities in which they live. These subjects include the growth in the population and national events. Wordsworth seemed to believe that writing about these events had taken over the literature of the day and that these things served as nothing more than outrageous stimulation. Instead Wordsworth wanted to focus on the simplicity of life and gleam from it the important aspects of human nature and the human condition.
The next point that Wordsworth makes is about purpose in writing. Wordsworth explains that even though some poets falter in the manner in which they write or the craft of writing, in most cases they did have a worthy purpose. Of his own work, Wordsworth asserts that he has not always started off writing with a purpose but through meditation he has found purpose for writing. He contends that writing without a purpose is detrimental to the writer and the reader. Wordsworth also declares that anyone who fails to write with a purpose cannot truly call himself a poet.
In addition to purpose, Wordsworth also speaks of style in the preface. He asserts that they style of the poems is not an elevated form. Rather, he sought to use the language of the common man throughout the lyrical ballads. When discussing style Wordsworth explains that
"My purpose was to imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt the very language of men; and assuredly such personifications do not make any natural or regular part of that language. They are, indeed, a figure of speech occasionally prompted by passion, and I have made use of them as such; but have endeavored utterly to reject them as a mechanical device of style, or as a family language which Writers in metre seem to lay claim to by prescription (Wordsworth)."
The author further explains what a poet is contending that poets are men who speak to mankind. He contends that poets are born with more lively sensibility, tenderness and enthusiasm. Wordsworth also posits that poets have "a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them (Wordsworth)." In other words poets are people who possess a great sensitivity towards those things that affect the human condition. In addition these individuals feel the need to share what they understand through verse and prose. Wordsworth also declares that great poets are usually "proverbially ignorant of life. What they know has come by observation of themselves: they have found within them one, highly, delicate and sensitive specimen of human nature, on which the laws of emotion are written in large characters, such as can be read off without much study (Wordsworth)."
Finally as it pertains to lyrics, Words worth asserts that they should be simple. Simplicity gives the reader the opportunity to explore emotion at a fundamental level. In doing so, the truth of what is important in life is fully exposed. Lyrics should not be convoluted or too grand because the use of such language does not lend itself to the type of exploration that is the ultimate objective of poetry.
So then the primary points of Wordsworth's preface are the simplicity of language, conforming to a plainer way of speech and communication as opposed to using inane phraseology. Wordsworth also emphasizes purpose in writing and style. He also defines the characteristics of a poet.
Poetry as a "spontaneous overflow of feelings"
Additionally Wordsworth believed poetry to be a "spontaneous overflow of feelings." Wordsworth explains "For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply (Wordsworth)."
There are several interpretations that this assertion can take on. Amongst them is the belief that the writing of poetry is a cathartic experience which necessitates the pouring out of one's soul -- ones feelings. In other words, for many poets the writing of poetry serves as an outlet through which their deepest and most intimate feelings can be explored.
Wordsworth further explains that through spontaneous overflow writers find their true voice. He asserts that such spontaneous overflows, when done consistently, become more refined and focused. Eventually, there is a connection made between the spontaneous outflow and…