Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads as a manifesto of Romantic Movement


Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads declares the dawn of English Romantic Movement. Wordsworth and Coleridge, with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads, break away with the neo-classical tendencies in poetry. As the reading people are not familiar with his new type of poetry, Wordsworth puts forward a preface to this book. In this preface, he tells us about the form and contents of this new type of poetry.

Wordsworth, in the beginning, states the necessity of bringing about a revolution in the realm of poetry as the Augustan poetry has become cliché. He painfully notices that the Eighteenth century poets have separated poetry from the grasp of common people. He resolves to liberate this poetry from the shackles of so- called classical doctrines. He, in collaboration with his friend Coleridge, begins to write poem for the people of all classes. Wordsworth thinks that the language of the Augustan poetry is highly artificial and sophisticated. That is why he suggests a new language for Romantic poetry. This is why he suggests a new language for Romantic poetry. This is why he suggests a new language for Romantic poetry. These attempt chiefly deals with Wordsworth’s views of poetry.

Wordsworth thinks that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. To him, the intensity of feelings is more important than the form.

To make poetry life like, he wants to use the language of common people as the common people express their feeling unfeignedly. But he tells about a selection, because common people use gross and unrefined language. So, he will purify the language of rustic people until it is ready for use.

Wordsworth seems to contradict his own views as he prefers a selection to the original language spoken by the rustic people.

T. S. Eliot, in his The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, objects to Wordsworth’s view. Eliot tells that a poet should not imitate the language of a particular class because he ought to have a language of his own. Eliot’s view gains ground as Wordsworth in his later poems, fails to use his prescribed language. His diction is, in fact peculiar to him.

But Wordsworth’s definitions of poetry ad the poet are unique. He maintains that poetry is more philosophical than any other branch of knowledge. He likes the poet to a prophet who is endowed with a greater knowledge of life and nature.

The neo-classical poets consider the province of poetry to be the world of fictions. But for Wordsworth the province of poetry is the world of truth, not a world of make-believe. Wordsworth like Samuel Johnson believes that only “the manifestations of general truth” can please all people. That is why he rejects the hackneyed poetic style of the Augustan period.

Wordsworth differs with the neo-classical writers in his belief about the process of poetry. The neo-classical writers think that the poet’s mind is a sensitive but passive recorder of a natural phenomenon. But Wordsworth strongly opposes this view and thinks that the mind of the poet is never a passive recorder. In his view, the poet’s mind half creates the external world which he perceives. The external world is thus, in some degree, the very creation of human mind. Wordsworth seems to establish the fact that the poet’s mind and the external nature are both interlinked and interdependent. Wordsworth unlike the classicists can not separate the mind which suffers from the mind which composes.

Wordsworth points out the common characteristics of both poetry and science. But he places poetry over science for the fact that the large part of poetry is based on imagination. He beautifully discovers that science only appeal to intellect while poetry appeals to heart. For this, the pleasures of science are shared by few while the pleasures of poetry are open to all. Again the truth of science is subject to change while poetry does not suffer from such threat.

Wordsworth breaks with the classical theory of poetry when he advocates for the intensity of emotion. To him, reason is not at all important. This is a subjective view.

It cannot be said that Wordsworth is absolutely right in his theory of poetry. But it must be recognized that his views are innovative and creative.

His rejection of classical doctrines leads to the creation of a new type of poetry which prefers him emotions to reason. As a result a group of talented poet’s has emerged in the province of English poetry. At the same time, he has contributed to the field of literary criticism. If Blake is considered to be the precursor of romantic poetry, Wordsworth and Coleridge are the two early exponents of romantic poetry. And it is wise of Wordsworth to form a ground for this new poetry through the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.