Language of Man Illustrates in Lyrical Ballads

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      Introduction: Wordsworth was a poet with a program. His aim was to wean public taste away from the poetry of the eighteenth century. In his Preface and, earlier in his Advertisement, to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth clearly stated his proposal to use in poetry “a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation” and to “imitate....and adopt the very language of men”. He declared boldly that there should be no essential difference between the language of prose or of common speech and the language of poetry. He was against mannerisms and circumlocutory expression. As any pioneer setting out to change the existing system is bound to do, Wordsworth, too, carried his reaction too far; for instance, when he declared that the ordinary speech of the humble rustics, purified of its crudities, is fit language for poetry.

      Simplicity of Style and Diction: It is a fact that Wordsworth’s poems bear a simplicity of style and diction as a result of which they assume a stark grandeur. This is to be seen is Resolution and Independence. In simplicity lies the lyrical beauty of the “Lucy poems”. None of the words which he uses is out of the ordinary. How effective is the “catalog form” of an ascetic style in Composed upon Westminster Bridge, as he describes the city in the early morning. She was a phantom of delight is another illustration of the unostentatious diction. The words are quiet and effective.

      Simplicity Lapsing into Banality: When, however, Wordsworth carried simplicity too far, it could result in banality—as in the line, “The silent heavens have goings on”. The thorn is famous for the prosaic lines measuring the pond. But it was only at his uninspired moments that he produced flat sounding lines. It has to be remembered, however, that most of the flatness is part of his fearless search for a diction which would take a sort of photograph or recording of experience itself, not just the scene but the emotion connected with the scene.

      Theory not Always Practised: When we say that Wordsworth did not always practice his theory, we refer to poems such as Tintern Abbey, the Immortality Ode, or Simplon Pass, etc. Here, too, however, there is no bombast; the style is not complicated but there is a sonorous “trumpet tone” which is not quite in keeping with his decision to select the real language of man. Here the language is a far cry from the language of humble and rustic life. Many a time, he uses Latinised vocabulary—“incommunicable sleep”, “diurnal course” “unimaginable touch of time”, etc. In his sonnet London 1802, he seems to have realized the virtues of ornate diction. There is a marvelous imaginative music in the words: “Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free”. There is nothing much ordinary with lines such as:

And O ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills and Groves
Forebode not any severing of our loves.

      In Resolution and Independence, he uses the term “sable orbs”— which is perilously close to the eighteenth-century poetic diction he condemned.

      Conclusion: Wordsworth’s poems cannot be considered as uniformly adhering to his theory of reproducing the language of “conversation in the middle and lower classes of society”. He often ignores his own dogmatic utterances of his Preface. But in several of his poems, he shows us that ordinary words of plain significance can be used with force and skill to express simple thoughts and feelings. Generally, his language is worthy of his themes. At its best, it has restraint, quietness and integrity, and a refusal to be clever or fanciful merely to attract the reader.

University Questions

Wordsworth declared in his Preface to the “Lyrical Ballads” that he proposed to imitate, and as far as possible adopt the very language of men. Does he practice his theory in the poems you have read?

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