William Wordsworth, a Poetic Life

William Wordsworth, a Poetic Life

William Wordsworth, a Poetic Life

William Wordsworth, a Poetic Life

Synopsis

Wordsworth: A Poetic Life is a new biography of the great father of British Romanticism. It is new in several ways, most notably in the way it approaches the life of the poet. Paying its proper respect to the classic lives of Wordsworth by Mary Moorman and Stephen Gill, it attempts to tell the story of the life through a more rigorous reading of key and representative works of the poet, through careful blending of life and poetry. Wordsworth offers the story of the literariness of the poet's life - childhood and adolescence in the Lake District, education at Cambridge, love and political radicalism in France, the long period of residence in Grasmere and Rydal, celebrity, and national and international recognition. Its reading of the poems, in tune with current theoretical practice, offers a sense of the continuities in Wordsworth's career as it moves away from familiar theories of a Golden Decade of creativity and a period of long decline. The book also works closely and rigorously with Wordsworth's poetry as a method of dramatizing the essentially poetic character of the poet's life.

Excerpt

Studying the life of William Wordsworth, 1770–1850, for many readers the high priest and master spirit of what has come to be called the Romantic Movement in England, the promulgator of many of its central tenets, a poet who wrote steadily from his earliest school days at Hawkshead to his final years as the Squire of Rydal Mount—a career of some sixty, even seventy years! The idea boggles the mind, quite properly, not just because of the enormity of the task, but also because two major biographers have, relatively recently, achieved a degree of success in the ways they handled that task.

How to deal with a writer whose career moves from the age of Johnson to the age of Victoria; who writes from adolescence to old age, from a period of youthful radicalism to middle-aged moderatism to later-life conservatism; whose emotional range—at least on the surface—develops from early optimism about the possibilities of human nature, when a young and free and healthy imagination can explore and find meaning in the beauties of nature, to later periods of deep anxiety and even profound doubt about the power of mind as it confronts the claims of the great world beyond? How, without the burden of preconception or a fixed mode of critical discourse, to find, or perhaps not to find, the sense of a life, of certain persisting concerns, dominant themes and images in descriptive and narrative poems like An Evening Walk, Descriptive Sketches, and Guilt and Sorrow: Incidents Upon Salisbury Plain; rustic ballads like “Goody Blake and Harry Gill,” “Simon Lee,” “We Are Seven,” and others; poems of the interior life extending from Tintern Abbey and the epic-autobiographical Prelude; the wonderfully varied poems of his two 1807 volumes, Ode: Intimations of Immortality and Ode to Duty; sonnets ranging from the more personal “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” to the more public “The world is too much with us,” still other forms like those of “The Solitary Reaper,” “Elegiac Stanzas,” and the “Celandine” poems; later work as different as the narrative-dramatic . . .

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