William Wordsworths description of his poetry in Preface to Lyrical Ballads gives the impression that it feel much like a modern newspaper to a reader; basic and with wide appeal. He emphasizes the idea of simplicity and familiarity of both topic and language, arguing the superiority of a poem that appeals to the common person. However, despite the value placed on simplicity, his poems are far above what many readers would perceive to be elementary. This is demonstrated by the fact that his poems are still a valuable piece of literature for study.
The reason for this is that although he does put a large amount of weight on using common language, Wordsworth also counterbalances his style of poetry by striving to throw over [poems] a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way(241). An excellent example of this balance is in his poem Nutting, published in the second version of Lyrical Ballads.
It balances creativity with the ordinary which, when combined with common setting and speech, elevates Wordsworths work above many of his contemporaries, and increases its appeal to commoners and scholars alike.
Wordsworths devotion to the ordinary things in life can be fully seen in his poem Nutting. The poem tells the story of Wordsworth as a youth, going into the forest in search of hazel nuts, an activity that would have been very familiar to anyone reading the poem at the time. The diction of the poem is a very customary language, as Wordsworth settles comfortably into his self-imposed formula. However, while this style may be attractive to many, it is his ability to weave common speech into imaginative patterns that truly makes the poem exceptional. Wordsworths talent in expression is notable in Nutting as he describes himself beneath a perfectly undisturbed hazel nut tree. He takes simple words, and a conventional setting, then spins them into innovative phrases. When describing himself finding the tree he writes, a little while I stood,/ Breathing with such suppression of the heart/As joy delights in; and, with wise restraint/ Voluptuous, fearless of a rival, eyed the banquet(21-25). While the language is common, and the scene familiar, the creative way in which Wordsworth puts the sentence together stimulates the mind without confusing it. It provokes the reader to imagine Wordsworths feelings, almost sharing with him the emotions everyone feels when pleasantly surprised by something. There are several other ways Wordsworth could have expressed this same experience. He could have used figurative speech, pulling hard on metaphors, similes and personifications to force the reader to imagine his emotions in a more abstract way. Alternatively, he could have rearranged similar words, perhaps writing the sentence something comparable to I stood there for a while, breathing as one does when experiencing joy. And I wisely restrained myself from the pleasure, and fearing no one, I eyed what would be a feast. The effect of this would be dull and unentertaining, requiring little thought and encouraging little excitement. This use of language corresponds perfectly to his ideals set forth in Preface to Lyrical Ballads, where he claims that the goal of ideal poetry is to illustrate the manner in which our feelings and ideas are associated in a state of excitement. But, speaking in language somewhat more appropriate, it is to follow the fluxes and refluxes of the mind when agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature(242). By applying this ideal to the actual verse, Wordsworth demonstrates one effective method of imaginative writingWordsworth continues his assault on conventional, flashy poetry written in his time, as he pulls the reader further into his secure world using a masterfully crafted passage describing himself pulling down the hazels, destroying the perfection he was just admiring. He writes: Then up I rose,And dragged to earth both branch and bout, with crashAnd merciless ravage: and the shady nookOf hazels, and the green and mossy bower,Deformed and sullied, patiently gave upTheir quiet beings (43-48):Once again, the style is read with ease, but the actual image stimulates thought. The frequent use of the word and causes the reader to link together many ideas, which would ordinarily be separate. This unique wording supports Wordsworths original idea of making his poems imaginative and unusual, and does so in a way described in Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Here, he talks about the way he writes, calling good poetry the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings(242). To Wordsworth, this poem is as much about what he was feeling as it is about the actual event. This linking of ideas in the passage, this run of emotion, is what separates it from other parts of the poem, and the poem from other poets of his time.
This poem, expectedly, relies heavily on Wordsworths self-created style of writing a poem. By eliminating unnecessary figurative speech, writing in a language which people actually spoke, and piecing sentences together in new and innovative ways, Wordsworth was able to write poetry which has lasted hundreds of years, and brought pleasure to countless readers. His style, well defended in Preface to Lyrical Ballads, is the reason why he stands out among so many. Although Wordsworth talks of poetry as being a powerful overflow of emotion, his words are perfectly sculpted to provide exactly the emotional image that he wants his readers to experience, and he does so in a way that is perfectly accessible to everyone.
Works CitedWordsworth, William. Preface to Lyricical Ballads. 1802. Rpt. in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume 2. Ed. A.H. Abrams. New York. W.W Norton and Company, Inc 2000. 239-246.
Wordsworth, William. Nutting. 1800. Rpt. in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume 2. Ed. A.H. Abrams. New York. W.W Norton and Company, Inc 2000. 258-259
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