The True Voice of Feeling: Studies in English Romantic Poetry

By Herbert Read | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
A Complex Delight: Wordsworth

[i]

From the time of his share in the composition of the Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth was a self-styled experimentalist in verse. 'The majority of the following poems', declared the Advertisement of 1798, 'are to be considered as experiments'--a joint declaration with Coleridge, it is true, but the word was retained by Wordsworth in his Preface of 1800, and experiment was then defined as a 'fitting to metrical arrangement' of 'a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation'. It must always remain uncertain to what extent Wordsworth derived his ideas about the form of poetry from Coleridge. The moral force that Wordsworth exhibits in the Prefaces is obviously his own; his, too, is the historical criticism embodied in them--the references to classical and to Elizabethan poets. But when Wordsworth begins to write about 'the primary laws of our nature', then he is either interpreting Hartley's psychology, or expounding Coleridge's. Phrases like 'the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings', 'organic sensibility', 'influxes of feeling', passions and volitions', are at any rate common to Coleridge and Wordsworth, and I cannot conceive that their origin was other than those German writings to which Coleridge alone had direct access. But the question of the origin of Wordsworth's experimental attitude is not so important: what matters is the poetic result.

Wordsworth's theory, as he admits in the 1800 Preface, led

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