Diction and Language in William Wordsworth Poetry

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      In his preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth thus sets forth his aims. “The principal object proposed, in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them throughout in a selection of the language really used by men, and at the same time, to throw over them a certain coloring of the imagination whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect”. He goes on to say that “humble and rustic life was generally chosen because in that condition the essential passions of the heart find a better soil, in which they can attain their maturity, realism under restraint and speak a plainer and more emphatic language. In the above statement, we get some important points regarding Wordsworth’s theory of poetic diction.

      Firstly, in the choice of subjects or themes, Wordsworth goes straight to common life, and, by preference to humble and rustic life (Cf-Michael, The Solitary Reaper).

      Secondly, Wordsworth describes his themes taken from humble and rustic life as far as possible in a selection of language actually used by ordinary men. He does not look with favor upon the pompous and stilted circumlocution of the eighteenth-century writers who delighted in using gaudy language.

      Thirdly, Wordsworth says that while choosing his themes from common and rustic life and describing them in the language of the common people, his object is to “throw over them a certain coloring of the imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect”.


      Wordsworth held certain theories of language and poetic diction which deeply influenced his work. He disliked intensely the artificial diction employed by the 18th-century poets. Loving as he did Nature and the simple ways of rustics who hourly communed with the beautiful objects of Nature, he considered simple language to be a better medium for poetry than the conventional diction used by poets of the time. In his famous Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, he enunciated his theories. He said that he was going to use “a selection of the language really used by men”, and this chiefly “in humble and rustic life,” and “at the same time to throw over (the incidents described) a, certain coloring of imagination”. He also said that “there neither is nor can be any essential difference between the language of prose and verse.”

      Wordsworth Occasionally Violates His Theory. In actual practice, whenever Wordsworth tried to imitate the simplicity of rustic speech, he produced some of his worst effects. In some of his poems, he cultivates simplicity of diction no doubt, as he does in his Solitary Reaper. But even in that poem, the diction is touched with imagination so that we have suggestive lines. The diction of Immortality Ode and Tintern Abbey is not simple and does not come anywhere near the language of prose. In his practice, Wordsworth did not follow the theory he enunciated. His poetic instinct saved him from that blunder. However, it must be admitted that, on the whole, Wordsworth is more simple in diction and more sparing in the use of imagery than the other Romantic poets.

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