William Wordsworth: A Profound Nature Poet

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770–23 April 1850)

Famous English poet born in Cockermouth. His father, John Wordsworth, was a lawyer interested in study and collection, and for this, he encouraged his children to complete their studies. His mother, Anne, died in his youth, specifically in 1778. After her death, Wordsworth was sent to a grammar school far from his home to complete his education.

His father did not stay long after the death of his wife, he died in 1783, and then John’s sons found themselves in the care of their uncles, who were not happy with that. After Wordsworth graduated from the school, he was sent to Cambridge University to complete his education and graduated there.

Wordsworth went to England and spent there was a short period after which he returned when he felt he needed the money and then published two of his poems that were not well received by the public, namely, Descriptive Sketches and An Evening Walk. He made a volume containing romantic poems called Lyrical Ballads, in which they tried to use ordinary language in poetic form. After a while, their friendship ended due to Coleridge’s drug addiction and behaviour changes.

In 1802, Wordsworth received his share of his father’s inheritance, which was sufficient to marry his childhood friend Mary Hutchinson. Then, William Wordsworth moved with his wife Mary and his sister Dorothy to live in a village located in the county of the Grasmere River, and they lived in short-lived happiness, as two of Wordsworth’s four children died within a year.

Wordsworth’s work is one of the prominent signs in the history of human poetry and one of the founders of the Romantic movement in English poetry at the end of the eighteenth century. He had a progressive vision that made him rebel against the heritage of classical poetry and brought about a real revolution in poetry at the level of form and content, opening more broad horizons for poets in the sincere expression of man. His task was not easy at first, and he endured the neglect of readers and the ruthlessness of critics before gaining universal recognition and becoming Prince of England’s Poets for seven years before his death, and his works became a powerful source of inspiration for generations to come.

Childhood and Early Life

William Wordsworth was the son of John Wordsworth and Anne Cookson. John Wordsworth was a legal agent for James Luther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, while Anne Cookson was the daughter of a linen weaver. He had three brothers and a sister, Dorothy. He was the closest to his sister, with whom he had an intense, lifelong friendship.

As a child, he attended grammar school near Cockermouth Church and Anne Burkett School in Penrith. After his mother’s death in 1778, he was sent to Hawkshead Grammar School in Lancashire. His father died in 1783. The sudden death of his parents separated him from his beloved sister, who was sent to live with some relatives. It was during his time at Hawkshead Grammar School that young William realized his intense love for poetry.

Early Writings

He was fond of nature since his childhood and was keen to visit places famous for their beauty on foot on holidays, so his poems were crowded with the names of flowers and plants, and he relied on them in the formation of his metaphors and metaphors. This obsession with nature became one of the main features of the Romantic movement, and it took “Learn from Nature” as its slogan.

In 1807 Wordsworth published two volumes of poetry for himself for the second time, which were met with criticism and indifference from some people. Then, he was appointed to a job as a philatelic distributor in Westmorland, which brought him enough money to continue writing poetry. Although his poetry was met with criticism, it gave him wide popularity. However, his lack of success in poetry made him turn to writing, and he published A Guide to the Lake District, in which he proved his popularity.

The publication of the sonnet in the European Journal in 1787 began his career as a poet. While studying at St John’s College, Cambridge, he set out on a tour of Europe. This experience profoundly affected his interests and sympathies in life improved him with the problems of the common man and had a severe effect on his poetry.

He published his poetry collections Evening Walk and Descriptive Drawings in 1793, which furthered his career. Together with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whom he met in 1795, he produced the most critical work of the English Romantic movement, Lyrical Ballads, in 1798.

His Peak

At the peak of his career, he published Poems in Two Volumes in 1807. He published A Guide to the Lakes in 1810, followed by The Promenade in 1814 and Laodamia in 1815. Introduction, generally considered Wordsworth’s masterpiece, was a self-published posthumous poem in 1850. His big work, Lyrical Ballads, published with Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798, remains one of his major works to date.

The poems themselves are some of the most influential in Western literature, but the poet’s views, as expressed in the preface to the second edition, have the honour of being the most critical work of the English Romantic movement. Introduction, he had not had a title until the time of Wordsworth’s death. It was the product of a life he had been working on since he was 28 years old. It was named and eventually published by his widow Mary three months after his death.

Wordsworth’s vision turned into a charter for the new movement that relied on the different feelings generated as a result of intense experiences in writing the poem, especially feelings of fear and panic, and not just love, as some imagine. It was a romantic word used in the eighteenth century to describe the beauty of nature, and not the emotional relationship as is the case at the moment, and the first to use it was the German Friedrich Schlegel in 1800 in his book Dialogue about Poetry.

The Romantic Movement

The movement raised the value of the individual over institutions, the value of nature over industrial society, and the imagination over science and philosophy. Of course, the emergence of Romanticism came as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, which overshadowed the human spirit and obliterated the imagination.

The poets of the Romantic movement were initially viewed suspiciously by English society, seeing their poetry and practice as a challenge to established social values, and critics rose up to attack this new form that did not adhere to the prevailing norms of poetry; Therefore, the literary circles received Wordsworth’s first bureaus at the beginning of the nineteenth century with great coolness, but he continued to write and defend his new vision of what poetry should be.

After many years of perseverance, his poems gradually began to gain attention, and many of his contemporaries saw in them the ability to express the spirit of the age and the human anxiety caused by its sharp fluctuations. Wordsworth has published several books, but his main book, The Introduction, was not published until after his death. It is a massive poem of an epic nature, published in fourteen books, in which he tells his autobiography and his philosophy of life.

He began writing this poem in 1799 as an introduction to a large collection entitled The Hermit, in which he expresses his view of man’s relationship with nature and society, similar to Milton’s famous poem “Paradise Lost”. It includes some details of his personal life. The poem recounts the many trips the poet has already made to Europe, but at the same time, it is used as an expression of man’s journey through life.

The significance of this poem is that it is an attempt to restore the confidence of modern man, Especially after the complete failure of the French Revolution to achieve its goals, in the words of Samuel Coleridge.

His Travels

In 1790, he decided to go on a walking tour of Europe and visited Italy, Switzerland and France, where he stayed for some time, and left them forced due to financial difficulties, in addition to the strained relations between England and France. This visit had a great impact on shaping his vision of the world and poetry, and he met a number of the poles of the revolutionary movement that paved the way for the French Revolution and got acquainted with their ideas on freedom, fraternity and equality among human beings.

His poems and the poems of the movement’s poets were imbued with these ideas. Wordsworth returned to England again and soon published his first book, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, in 1793, which no one cared about. He was frustrated as a result of the failure of his first poetic collection and the continuing financial difficulties he faced, but he obtained an inheritance in 1795, so he was able to devote himself to continuing to write poetry.

His Legacy

In the same year, he met the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who many critics see as Wordsworth greatly influenced by his ideas. Together, they wrote Lyrical Songs in 1798, which served as a cornerstone towards the formation of the Romantic movement. In the preface to the third edition, Wordsworth put his conceptions of new poetry that takes nature as a teacher and uses the language of the common man.

He tried to break free from the restrictions of meter and rhyme and from the poetic dictionary of the poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He also put his famous definition of poetry as «A spontaneous flow of intense feelings, the source of sensations, which the poet gathers afterwards in moments of relaxation». This definition was a blow to the logic of classical poetry, which is overworked and lacks imagination.

Interest in his works has increased since 1820, and critics have turned to his first poems, and then he got his proper position because of his poetic legacy. In 1839 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Durham and received the same honour from the University of Oxford the following year, and the state gave him an annual pension of three hundred pounds sterling.

His students and admirers of his poetry increased dramatically during that period, and in 1843, he was chosen as Prince of England’s Poets, as the culmination of a long effort and unremitting attempts in search of new, more honest and expressive ways of human being, and a real addition to human heritage.

Personal Life

As a student, he toured France and fell in love with a French woman, Annette Fallon, who had a daughter, Caroline. Although he did not marry Annette, he did his best to support his daughter. In 1802, he married his childhood friend Mary Hutchinson. The couple had five children, three of whom preceded their father. His sister Dorothy lived with him all his life. After the death of his daughter Dora in 1847, the devastated father stopped writing poetry entirely.   

In 1978, a film came to light depicting this unique relationship between William and his sister, called William and Dorothy. Wordsworth also appeared in several fictional films as a character in Mister Christian 1996, The Eyre Affair 2001, The Grave Tattoo 2006, and The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere 2008.

His Death

William Wordsworth died after a short illness on 23 April 1850. His main legacy was to introduce a new attitude towards nature as he introduced images of nature in his work, providing a new view of the relationship between man and the natural world. As a poet, Wordsworth delved into his own feelings as he traced the growth of the poet’s mind in his autobiographical poem The Prelude.

Wordsworth not only created some of the finest poetry of his time but also placed poetry at the centre of human existence, declaring that it is «immortal as the human heart is». In 2020 a collection of postage stamps were issued by the Royal Mail, marking the 250 anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth.

Samples of Wordsworth’s Most Famous Poems

Here is a selection of the famous poems of William Wordsworth to learn more about his writings and enjoy his delicate style:

1.      I wandered lonely as a cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

2.      London, 1802

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:

England hath need of thee: she is a fen

Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,

Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,

Have forfeited their ancient English dower

Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;

Oh! raise us up, return to us again;

And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:

Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:

Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,

So didst thou travel on life’s common way,

In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart

The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

3.      The Prelude: Book 1: Childhood and School-time

—Was it for this

That one, the fairest of all Rivers, lov’d

To blend his murmurs with my Nurse’s song,

And from his alder shades and rocky falls,

And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice

That flow’d along my dreams? For this, didst Thou,

O Derwent! travelling over the green Plains

Near my ‘sweet Birthplace’, didst thou, beauteous Stream

Make ceaseless music through the night and day

Which with its steady cadence, tempering

Our human waywardness, compos’d my thoughts

To more than infant softness, giving me,

Among the fretful dwellings of mankind,

A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm

That nature breathes among the hills and groves.

When, having left his Mountains, to the Towers

Of Cockermouth that beauteous River came,

Behind my Father’s House he pass’d, close by,

Along the margin of our Terrace Walk.

He was a Playmate whom we dearly lov’d.

Oh! many a time have I, a five years’ Child,

A naked Boy, in one delightful Rill,

A little Mill-race sever’d from his stream,

Made one long bathing of a summer’s day,

Bask’d in the sun, and plunged, and bask’d again

Alternate all a summer’s day, or cours’d

Over the sandy fields, leaping through groves

Of yellow grunsel, or when crag and hill,

The woods, and distant Skiddaw’s lofty height,

Were bronz’d with a deep radiance, stood alone

Beneath the sky, as if I had been born

On Indian Plains, and from my mother’s hut

Had run abroad in wantonness, to sport,

A naked Savage, in the thundershower.

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