In Preface to Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth expresses his opinion about the function of a poet and the subject matter of poetry. He rejects the classical concept in his attitude towards poet and poetry. He holds a romantic view in both the cases.
The Neo- classical poets have expressed their allegiance/ obedience to the classical rules as set by Aristotle. According to the rules the poets are to depend on reason and arguments. There is no scope for any imaginative expression of feeling and emotion. Therefore, the subjects of the classical poets don’t consent the common human feelings. They are of separate type reflecting only the lives of the Aristocratic people of the society. William Wordsworth has painfully observed this sad picture of English poetry. Therefore he makes an attempt to extend the area of poetry by including subjective elements and describing the natural objects that are contributing silently to our lives and supplying different feelings to our senses and sensibilities.
William Wordsworth says that he has selected incidents and situations of common life. He describes them by selection of incidents and situations of common life. He describes them by selection of language really used by men. In the past this ordinary life of the ordinary people has never been a subject of poetry. For the first time he democratizes poetry and gives a universal appeal to it. People living in the modern cities are very much artificial and far away from the simplicity of nature. Therefore, they don’t express the reality of human life. They suffer from social vanity. Artificiality predominates in them. But the villagers are very simple and free from social vanity. Wordsworth says that in Lyrical Ballads, humble and rustic life has been chosen as the theme of poetry because the essential passions of the heart find a better soul in which they can attain their maturity in the humble state of life. Wordsworth comments that humble and rustic life holds simplicity, serenity and tranquility. The rustic people express their feelings and emotion through simple, unelaborated and unsophisticated way. Their language is more passionate, more vivid and more emphatic. The language of the rustics, according to William Wordsworth is more philosophical and permanent than the language used by the city dwellers and the earlier poets.
Poetry should express common human feelings and there should be no restriction in the expression of the experiences of the senses and sensibilities. Wordsworth defines poetry as the spontaneous overflow of the powerful feelings. It is the poet’s business to embody in their poetry the general passions of men. Wordsworth avoids the use of personifications of abstract ideas and serious diction in his poems so far as possible for making poetry intelligible to all types of readers. The language of his poetry is near to that of prose. The incidents of life, the natural objects around us and the common feelings of men as well as our sorrows and happiness, failure and success should get a ready appeal in poetry without false description. Wordsworth says, “Poetry sheds no tears, such as angels weep, but natural and human tears.” Another important idea of Wordsworth about poetry is that the function of poetry is to give pleasure to readers by presenting the incidents and situations of their lives in a fascinating and unusual way with a color of imagination. Therefore Wordsworth agrees with Aristotle, “Poetry is the most philosophical of all writings. The subject of poetry is general and operative truth which is its own testimony.” According to J. C. Smith, an eminent critic, “The nature of poetry will appear more clearly when we have considered its end or purpose, or the function of the poet in a civil society.”
Wordsworth establishes a relation between man and nature in his poetry. Therefore he opines that poetry is the image of man and nature. It is an acknowledgement of the beauty of the universe. Poetry, to Wordsworth, is a powerful media of supplying knowledge and pleasure to mankind. He considers that man and nature are essentially adapted to each other. Therefore, man has emotional, philosophical, moral and spiritual connection to nature. The poet’s business is to describe human life in its very form and to establish a relationship between man and universe. So, Wordsworth says that poetry is the first and last of all knowledge- it is as immortal as the heart of ma.
Wordsworth defines a poet as a man of more comprehensive soul. A poet is different from other men, because he/she has a more lively sensibility. And his emotions and passions are more enthusiastic, tenderer and more powerful. He has a greater knowledge of human nature. The poet is a man speaking to men. But the poet is not only a social instrument but an individual, pleased with his own passions and volitions. The poet has a greater degree of imaginative power than other men, a power of looking from heaven to earth and earth to heaven.
The insight of the poet is higher than other people. That is why, a poet can create new ideas and present them to us with images and symbols. The poet’s curiosity and interest in life is intense. Therefore, the poet depicts human life in different ways. His responsibility is great because, what other people can’t think or see, he is to present the incredible and invisible images to the readers. Other people also feel and think that but they don’t have the diversity of their sense perception as the poet has, that is why, the poet’s soul is very powerful and creative. The poet must have the knowledge of human life and human society because his main study is man society. The poet seeks the truth about life and nature. His main purpose is to give pleasure by painting out the different branches of knowledge of this vast universe.
The poet creates characters and the characters are the spokesmen of his ideas. Wordsworth’s idea about the poet is romantic ad democratic. He says that the poet shouldn’t live in a lofty height. Rather he must be one of the common human beings. He should feel what others feel and accordingly he should describe the common feelings and passions. Like the scientist or any other creative man the poet rejoices over his own invention because the purpose of all inventions and discoveries is to give pleasure. The poet also describes the real incidents that we are facing daily. Moreover, by the power of his creative imagination, the poet creates significant images to sharp our senses ad sensibilities, and to enhance our knowledge about life.
Thus Wordsworth elaborately describes the function of poetry and of the poet in his critical essay Preface to Lyrical Ballads. In both the cases he avoids classical tendencies and adopts romantic attitude.