William Wordsworth | British Poet | Biography

William Wordsworth came of a family that had been established in England before the Norman conquest. He possessed the fundamental seriousness, the enduring tenacity and the rigorous asceticism which are the characteristics of the Northern races. Above all, he possessed an instinctive pride in the dignity assigned to him as a human being.

William Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770, at Cockermouth on the River Derwent in the Lake District of Cumberland. His father was an attorney and his mother died even before he was sent to school. Five years later, he lost his father as well. William was the second of the three brothers and he had a sister Dorothy, spent the major part of her life in service to him. He spent many of his boyhood hours in roaming over the mountains and boating on the lakes and as he grew intimate with the vast horizons of Cumberland countryside he developed a sense of freedom and rebelliousness against the opposition of any kind.

At the age of eight, he was sent to Hawkshead School and later to St. John’s College, Cambridge in the year 1787. He took his B.A. degree in January 1791 and went to London for some months. During his college days, he stayed in constant communion with nature and decidedly he grew up to be a poet.

In 1791, Wordsworth went to France to learn the language, There at Orleans, he came in close contact with Kichel Beanpuy, a revolutionary and Annette Vallon who through her love, taught him the language of the poetry of the earth that never dies. Beanpuy was a disciple of Rousseau. From him, Wordsworth came to know about the philosophy of the great Genevan which ultimately became an important clement in shaping his thought.

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However, he came back to London in 1793. In the same year, his first two volumes An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches were published. These two, written in rhymed couplet show the influence of “Graveyard School of Poetry”. By this time he had lost his faith in revolution.

In January 1795, his friend and admirer Raisley Calvert left him a legacy of £ 900 that enabled him to devote himself freely to poetry. Another friend offered him a home at Race down. Dorothy came there to keep house for him. At this time he came in contact with Coleridge and they decided to stay near each other. So, William Wordsworth ultimately settled at Alfoxden.

In 1798, William Wordsworth and Coleridge jointly published The Lyrical Ballads. The same year Wordsworth, Coleridge and Dorothy went to Germany. In the following year, Wordsworth and Dorothy settled in Dove Cottage in Grasmere. In 1802, he married Kary Hutchison. He had five children, two of them died in early childhood.

He continued to tour over the valleys and mountains and to write poetry that would reflect “union of deep feeling with profound thought.” He believed that a poet is ‘a man speaking to men’, so he wrote in simple diction. It is said The Lyrical Ballads formally inaugurated the Romantic Movement. To him the creation appeared as a whole-tumult and peace, light and darkness are all alike, the workings of one mind, the features of the same face, the face of mankind which is but a troubled and imperfect image of the face of God.

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Wordsworth lived with little interruption in the Lake Country till the end of his life. He had won his fame as a spokesman for liberalism. But the “perfect moment” for his inspiration slowly passed out. His fame advanced, he became the poet laureate, but his liberalism retrogressed. He allied himself with the Forries. He became a reactionary both morally and politically. As a poet he became silent. At the age of eighty, in the year 1850, his presence faded like the air leaving to memory the fragrance of his verse.

The great poems by William Wordsworth include Ode on Intimations of Immortality, The Excursion, The Prelude, Lines on Tintern Abbey, Ode to Duty, The Solitary Reaper, Yarrow Visited, Yarrow Revisited, We are Seven, She was a Phantom of Delight, The Education of Nature, Michael, I wandered lonely as a cloud also known as daffodils, She dwelt among the untrodden ways and many others.

With Wordsworth, the Romantic Revival in English poetry got a pace and a strong foothold. His poetry is based upon an effort to convey by simple means the impression of intensity. The deeply felt tone reveals the hidden tension and brings into play the suggestive power of the simple words he uses. He saw a man in the setting of nature. A revolutionary ardour, a spirit for universal brotherhood framed his mind. He took familiar reality as the object of his study exalting it through the strength of reflective sensibility. This is the reason for calling him a poet of Nature and Man.

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In nature he discovered a “presence” a soul that ‘disturbs with joy’ and in the man he found divinity. Wordsworth believed that every poet is a teacher, a seer, a perceiver of truth. Living in harmony with Nature is the root of happiness according to William Wordsworth. Poetry to him is a spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling as well as thoughts or reflections recollected in tranquillity. Most of his poems are autobiographical. His strong sense of morality makes the range of variety of subject limited. But he is not always a reformer. In Tintern Abbey, Ode on Intimations of Immortality and many other poems his voice sounds ardent.