William Wordsworth as Founding Father of Romantic Poetry

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Although love may occasionally show itself as a muse of Romantic poetry it has very little to do with Romanticism. Romanticism is considered to be an international artistic and philosophical movement that redefined the fundamental ways in which people in Western cultures thought about themselves and about their world.(Brooklyn College) The early Romantic period begins with the first edition of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth – co-written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I’m going to specifically refer to three poetic works by Wordsworth when referring to the imagination, nature, and emotion used as components of Romantic Literature: “The Tables Turned”, “My Heart Leaps Up”, and “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud.”

Imagination was considered to be one of the highest faculties of the mind during the Romantic era. The Romantics used their imaginations as the ultimate shaping tool for their literature. It was their creative power in that it was dynamic, active, and provided many functions for creating all art. Wordsworth suggested that it is also the faculty that helps humans to constitute reality for we not only perceive the world around us, but also in part create it. The Romantics are also extremely concerned with the healing nature of the imagination in that it can reconcile differences and opposites in the world of appearance. It inextricably enables us to “read” nature as a system of symbols. (Brooklyn College)

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Wordsworth uses all aspects of the Romantic view of imagination in “The Tables Turned.” I am specifically drawn to the healing aspect of the imagination that he is trying to push on the person whom this poem is written for in the first two stanzas.

“Up! up! my friend, and quit your books,

or surely you’ll grow double.

Up! up! my friend, and clear your looks;

Why all this toil and trouble….

Books! ’tis a dull and endless trifle:

Come here the woodland linnet,

How sweet his music! on my life,

There’s more of wisdom in it….”

I picture Wordsworth in almost a drunken state of euphoria when he is speaking these lines. I picture him speaking to a workaholic who can’t be pulled away from his books. I picture him jumping on top of the workaholic’s desk when he is persuading him to let go of his toil and trouble and listen to the sweet music. He believes in the healing state of the sweet music so much that he bets on his life that there is more wisdom to be found in it.

The aspect of nature meant many different things to the Romantics. It is also regarded as a healing power, and is often times used as a source of subject and image. The Romantics looked at nature from an organic viewpoint and would give great attention both to describing a natural phenomena and to capturing a particular landscape, however, those descriptions were not always completely accurate because Romantic nature poetry was essentially “a poetry of meditation.” (Brooklyn College)

I feel as if “My Heart Leaps Up” is a prime example of the use of a natural scene as its subject, and the organic view and over exaggeration of a natural phenomena.

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky.

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety. (Wordsworth)

When I read this particular poem I feel as if Wordsworth is looking back on his life in a sort of mid-life crisis state. I think one can take this poem at face value and say that Wordsworth was just finding the euphoria in the beauty of nature. It is that beauty that soothed his soul.

Wordsworth eschews the use of lofty, poetic diction, which in his mind is not related to the language of real life. He sees poetry as acting like Nature, which touches all living things and inspires and delights them. Wordsworth calls for poetry to be written in the language of the “common man,” and the subjects of the poems should also be accessible to all individuals regardless of class or position. (Rider)

Wordsworth is going back to his childhood where he first appreciated nature in simple things like rainbows. I believe he’s implying that he hopes he continues to love and appreciate nature as he did when he was a child. I also believe that when Wordsworth is writing of his views as a child he is showing his belief that poetry should be understandable to anybody living in the world.

Emotion may be one of the most important components of Romantic literature. The Romantic era has been said to be the “age of revolutions.” (Brooklyn College) Emotion is entertained with imagination and nature to provide a greater emphasis on the importance of feelings and instinct.

Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. When this emphasis was applied tot the creation of poetry, a very important shift of focus occurred. Wordsworth’s definition of all good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” marks a turning point in literary history. (Brooklyn College)

“I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” is written in sonnet form and Wordsworth used this poem to express his ideas about poetry being the spontaneous overflow of emotion.

For oft when on my couch I lie

in vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils (Wordsworth)

This stanza comes after he has meditated on the natural world that the night creates. This is a wonderful example of how emotion correlates with nature in Romantic poetry. It isn’t until after Wordsworth has had a chance to sit and rest that he is able to fully comprehend how beautiful and majestic his experience was. “This remembrance brings him a wave of emotion, and it is out of this second flood of feline that the poem is born.” (Rider)

Judging from Wordsworth’s definition of poetry, I believe that he things if one doesn’t tap into their emotions they cannot consider themselves a poet. “The formal recognition of it will not make a man a poet… one of these may be indicated, though not fully expressed, by saying that the endeavored always to work out an emotional motive from within.” (1902 Encyclopedia) While emotion may be the glue that holds Romantic poetry together, one can undoubtedly conclude, as I have shown in three separate pieces of literature, that it is also through the imagination and organic state of nature that Romantic poetry is derived.

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William Wordsworth as Founding Father of Romantic Poetry. (2016, Nov 14). Retrieved from


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