Romanticism: Preface to Lyrical Ballads by W. Wordsworth

Omar EL MOUZ is a high school teacher of English. He Got his BA from the department of  English at Ibno Zohr university, Agadir. He is interested in writing articles and stories, translating written works from English to Arabic or Arabic to English.

Agadir, Morocco

It is worth saying that poetry has gone through several changes and has passed through many transformations and shapes.  Romanticism is one trend that shaped the way poetry was read, analyzed, and criticized. ‘Preface to Lyrical Ballads’ was one of the main tools by which the romantic leader and proponent William Wordsworth set new principles of poetry and overthrew the way it had been dealt with before. He developed a new paradigm that prepared the ground for the romantic poetry to maintain its advancement by introducing a set of commandments and rules that he considered to be a must for poetry to have its real existence. The preface revolves around some aspects which show how Wordsworth led a campaign of his own to cut away from his predecessors, namely the neoclassicists.

First, Wordsworth has made it clear in his preface that he tried to make the reader aware that something new was coming in the field of poetry. He came up with a new definition of poetry different from the one the reader had been accustomed to before. He portrayed poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. This definition entails many cryptic messages about his view of poetry. He stressed that poetry should be viewed as the production of feelings and sensations of the laymen who should be given a status similar to the one of the elite or the educated. Poetry according to him is primarily based on experience. The poet seeks pleasure and self satisfaction in his poems. Wordsworth also noted that poetry is the first and last of knowledge. More importantly, the relationship with nature and the emotions recollected in tranquility is emphasized to a great extent in Wordsworth’s preface. 

Second, reading Wordsworth’s preface provides us with an idea about the content of the poetry he wanted to establish. According to him, a poem should tackle incidents and situations from the rustic and humble life ‘because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity’. Also, ‘in that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of great simplicity’. Itscontent entails the use of imagination.  In addition it should reflect some sense of excitement and emanate reality and truth. Therefore, the romantic poem created its own unique content that made it different from its predecessors.

Third, the poet is looked at as a man speaking to men. On this basis, the poet is too close to his reader. Being more sensitive and more knowledgeable of human nature, the poet is there for other men to generate emotions and true feelings in an awkward and unusual way. According to Wordsworth, the poet should make his words heard in the same way other men express themselves for the sake of exciting rational sympathy. His role is in creating feelings and sensations ‘where he doesn’t find them’. Equipped with that ability of creation, he is always there with his volitions to bring passions in the universe to the individual.

Fourth, Wordsworth came up with a set of characteristics of the language used in the romantic poem. The diction used in the poem is as simple as the one used by laymen. The choice of a simple language has played an essential role in reducing the gap between the poet and the reader, making the former’s words more acceptable and more welcome. As declared in the preface, since the content is about the simple life, the language should follow the same pattern of simplicity to convey its message with a positive impact on the reader.

In a word, ‘Preface to Lyrical Ballads’ has shaped the features of poetry which affected different dimensions. The poet is redefined and given a new meaning along with poetry itself. Also, the content of the poem shifted to tackle our rustic life using a very simple style and an easily grasped diction to reveal strongly felt emotions and sensations.

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