William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

William Wordsworth was born in Cumberland in 1770 and educated at Cambridge. Like Coleridge, he graduated from the University without taking a degree. Like Coleridge, he was fond of the French Revolution, and his creative work started under its influence. Like Coleridge, he was disappointed in it some time later. Like Coleridge, he escaped from the urban way of life and sought for inspiration in nature. Thus he met with Coleridge in the Lake District in the North of England. Like Coleridge, Wordsworth was a romantic poet and philosopher. The term “Lake School” (“Lake poets”, “Lakists”) ap­plied to them by their contemporaries and still used by the critics, though the difference between them is no less important.

Wordsworth is at his best in descriptions of natural scenery:

The birds around me hopped and played,

Their thoughts I cannot measure: —

But the least motion which they made

It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,

To catch the breezy air;

And I must think, do all I can,

That there was pleasure there.


Lines Written in Early Spring”

I travelled among unknown men,

In lands beyond the sea;

Nor, England! Did I know till then

What love I bore to thee.


I travelled Among Unknown Men”

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the spring of Dove,

A Main whom there were none to praise

And very few to love.

A violet by a mossy stone

Half hidden from the eye!

Fair as a star, when only one

Is shining in the sky.


She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways”

Wordsworth and Coleridge together composed and published a small volume of poems under the title “Lyrical Ballads”. The bulk of the volume was composed by Wordsworth. Coleridge contributed the poem of “The Ancient Mariner” and four short lyrics to the “Ballads” that were published in 1798. They called their ballads Lyrical, because of the importance of their mood and their imaginative treatment.

Wordsworth borrowed his subjects from “humble and rustic life … because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity … and speak a plainer and more emphatic language.” (Preface to “Lyrical Ballads”).

It’s interesting to mention that other Lakists, Robert Southey (1774-1843) and Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859), both were educated at Oxford. Thomas De Quincey, like Coleridge, became an opium addict. Like Coleridge and Wordsworth, he left the University without a degree. Both Southey and Quincey, spent most of their life in the company of the “Lake poets”.

Southey was good at ballads (“Bishop Hatto”, 1799) and romantic epics (“Roderick, the Last of the Goths”, 1814). Quincey sympathized with all miserable creatures (“Confessions of an English Opium-Eatery”, 1821).

The Lakists” were conservative in their world outlook. Even though they had welcomed the French Revolution and its appeal to freedom and equality for all at the beginning, later they turned away from revolutionary ideas. They tried to avoid the contradictions and wrote about the life of the countryside in a popular form of verse, known and understandable by all.

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