Theory & Purpose of Wordsworth Poetry

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      Wordsworth’s conception of poetry is given in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads when he says: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity”. Poetry thus evolves from the feelings of the poet and there is an unforced quality (spontaneity) about it. Powerful feeling and emotions are fundamental to poetic creation. This is a theory which is a sure departure from eighteenth-century practice—thus Wordsworth had to create a taste for the kind of poetry he was to write. He was a poet with a program to wean public taste from neo-classical tenets.

      Four Stages in Composing Poetry: Poetic creation involves recollecting the original object of observation, contemplation, renewal of the original emotion evoked, and finally composition when the feeling is intense and overflowing. The purpose of poetry is to communicate the feelings to the reader and thus impart pleasure which will also teach something.

      Poetry Illustrates Wordsworth’s Theory: The sight of natural objects or a common human being leaves an impression on the poet’s highly sensitive mind. Wordsworth never composed poetry as soon as he saw something which impressed him. We get to know from Dorothy’s diary that they both met a leech-gatherer long before Wordsworth wrote Resolution and Independence. It was only on remembering the meeting—“recollected in tranquillity” - that Wordsworth wrote the poem. Then the incident is transmuted, colored by Wordsworth’s imagination, purified of extraneous elements and reduced to its elemental factor. The leech-gatherer is placed in the vast desolate moor to stand for courage, resilience, dignity and strength of mind, to create a feeling first of wonder and then of consolation in the poet’s heart.

      Similarly, The Simplon Pass was born out of Wordsworth’s journey across the Alps. But it recreates the feelings evoked by the mountain, sky, waterfalls and winds, the tumult and the peace. In Tintern Abbey, we read of how the scene the poet once saw is recollected by him and helps to evoke the same feeling of peace and comfort in him. Elegiac Stanzas also derives from Wordsworth’s personal experience. He speaks of how once he saw Nature only as calm and joyful. However, he has later realized the truth of feeling evoked by George Beaumont’s Picture of Peele Castle in the storm. Contemplation of the scene evoked by his memory brings about an overflow of feeling, and in that emotional state, he composes his poetry.

      Purpose of Poetry: Poetry is ultimately to do good by extending the domain of sensibility for the delight, honor and benefit of human nature. Mere reason cannot be a true guide. It is instinctive feeling which reveals the ultimate truth—“Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge.” The symbolic thorn-tree and the terrible misery of the woman moaning beside it teach us pity as well as the need of courageous resilience in the face of sufferings. The leech-gatherer roaming alone in the vast moors teaches us strength of mind and dignity. Lucy, growing up in the lap of Nature, conveys to us the significance of clouds, tree, flower, wind and sky. The poet, being a man speaking to men as well as a man with more than ordinary sensibilities, can convey the impressions and feelings evoked by Nature and the simple folk in close communication with Nature.

      Conclusion: Thus Wordsworth had a definite theory of poetic creation, different from earlier theories. Of course, an expressive theory, and one based on “communication”, it is often illustrated in practice by his poetry.

University Questions

State briefly Wordsworth’s conception of the nature and purpose of poetry and consider how far his poems illustrate it.
“Wordsworth was that rare phenomenon in English literature—a poet with a program.” What was this program and how far is it illustrated in his poetry?
Discuss briefly Wordsworth’s assertion that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion re-collected in tranquillity”.

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