William Wordsworth Biography His Life and Works
His Life and Works[William Wordsworth Biography]
William Wordsworth was born in 1770 at Cockermouth, in the north of the lake country. He was the second child of a fairly prosperous attorney-at-law. William lost his mother at the age of eight and his father at the age of thirteen. His only companion was his sister, Dorothy Wordsworth. He spent his early childhood in Lake Districts, the natural scenes of which influenced him to a great extent. He had his education at St. John’s School, Cambridge, and remained there till 1791. He started his poetic career quite early in his life. In 1813 he was appointed as a stampdistributor. Gradually, his reputation as a poet increased. He was honoured with a state pension in 1842 and the laureateship in 1843. He died in 1850.
Wordsworth’s chief works are Descriptive Sketches (1793), Lyrical Ballads (1798), Michael (1800), The Prelude (1799-1805), The Excursion (1814), etc.
He, too, was a literary critic of eminence, and his Preface and Appendix to Lyrical Ballads are noted contributions to English literary criticism.
Wordsworth as a Poet-His Creative Wonders
Wordsworth remains a standing example of the miracle of poetry—the miracle that invests the world with the light that was never before. His is the figure of a powerful and original poet in whose lines poetry and philosophy, nature and man, are found fused and blent, and have almost a cosmic harmony.
Wordsworth is basically a poet of Nature. But it is not the love of natural scenes, however enthralling these may be, that is seen in his poetry. He is a devotee of Nature one who finds in her hills and dales, springs and rivers, birds and flowers, joy infinite and quietude immense.
A study of such poems as ‘The Prelude and ‘Tintern Abbey clearly reveals that there were three distinct stages of Wordsworth’s education by Nature and an equal number of phases of his love for her. During the first of these stages, he says, Nature was a matter of physical pleasures or animalish activities to him”But secondary to my own pursuits
And animal activities, and all
Their trivial pleasures.”
These activities and pleasures gradually lost their charm and yet his love of Nature, for her own sake, grew deep and intense. Wordsworth found it difficult to describe this second phase of his love for Nature:
“I cannot paint What then I was. The sounding cataract Haunted me like a passion.” The tall rocks and mountains were to him then “an appetite”. The second phase lasted, by his own account, until he was more than twenty-two.
Then occured the crisis of his political thought which shook his faith in man and life to its foundations. For a time he immersed himself in Godwin’s Political Justice in which the gymnast Reason is made the governor of all human actions. But that was all in vain, and very soon, though gradually , the love of Nature returned to him under the influence and loving care of Dorothy and Coleridge. In this third phase, Nature had lost its old despotism, and was subdued to a dominant scheme of deep thought and divine contemplation. Wordsworth’s love for her became spiritualised and co-existent in his mind with his love of man. He found in Nature a deep mystic significance, but Man, as a whole, at the same time, found in Wordsworth’s mind, his due place in the scheme of creation. From now on he became as much the poet of Man as of Nature. Nature now became a religion with him and he realised that “there is a spirit in the woods.” He was now, what he had called himself, “a worshipper of Nature.” He began to believe that men should turn to Nature for spiritual and moral teaching and guidance, and came forward with his unequivocal, though somewhat strange, doctrine, “Let Nature be your teacher”. Books appeared to him “a dull and endless strife” and a very poor teacher, when weighed in the same balance with Nature. “One impulse from a vernal wood,” he boldly asserted, might teach “more of moral good and evil” “than all the sages can.” Every natural object appeared to him to have a moral life of its own:
“To every natural form, rock, fruit, or flower, Even the loose stones that cover the Highway,
I gave a moral life.”
His deep conviction now was that “every flower enjoys the air it breathes,” and “the meanest flower” moved him to the emotion that lay “too deep for tears.” In the sonnet, beginning with “The World is too much with us,” he gave vent to his indignation against the Englishmen who, on account of their materialistic shallowness, found nothing in Nature to appreciate. That was why, he was deeply definite of the lasting effect of a lovely spot of Nature on him just at present and the future to come: “But that I
know, where’er I go,
Thy genuine image, Yarrow! Will dwell with me to heighten joy,
And cheer my mind in sorrow.”
Or in his emphatic assertion
“While here I stand, not only with the sense Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts That in this moment there is life and food For future years”.
To Wordsworth the education of Nature meant something very real and not a mere poetic fancy. In Ruth, he spoke of the influence of natural surroundings on one’s temper and character. The poem shows “how winds, tempests, the splendours and languors of the tropics, nourished wild impulses and voluptuous tendencies in the heart of the young soldier.” In one fine Lucy lyric, he eulogized the education of the girl who had grown three years “in sun and shower.”
The renewed love of Nature brought Wordsworth also to a love of Man, and he evolved a sort of pantheism in which both Man and Nature became co-equals and co-existent in the scheme of creation. He reduced Man to his lowest terms and, in his poetry, dealt with the unsophisticated man, unspoilt by social conventions, or with the simple child who was to Wordsworth a “mighty prophet” and “seer blest”. The decrepit old leech-gatherer taught Wordsworth the lessons of Revolution and Independence, the old Cumberland Beggar taught him that ‘the meanest of Nature’s creation is not useless’ Wordsworth thus became a poet of Man and Nature, depressing Man to the level of Nature and raising Nature to the level of Man. “He sees Nature full of sentiment and excitement; he sees men and women, as parts of Nature, passionate, excited, in strange grouping and connexion with the grandeur and beauty of the natural world.”
Wordsworth is a poet of contemplation. It is with the help of his contemplation, impassioned contemplation—that he seems to commune both with Nature and with Man.
Wordsworth’s view is that poetry should be ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’, taking ‘its origin from emotions recollected in tranquility’ , and not the mere satisfaction of a taste for imagery and ornament. His aim, as revealed in his poetry and criticism, “is to show the poet as a man appealing to the normal interests of mankind’, bringing poetry closer to man and living in Nature in whose bosom he has an ideal setting. As such, the language of poetry, in his view, is the language of common life
“….I have chosen subject from common life, and endeavoured to bring my language near to the real language of men”.
“My purpose was to imitate, and, as far as is possible, to adopt the very language of men.”
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