William Wordsworth, the “father” of British Romanticism, has been called a poet of spiritual and epistemological speculation in addition to being concerned with the human relationship to nature (Brodsky). Before embarking in the art of poetry, Wordsworth started and lived his early life very close to his family. He attended Hawkshead Grammar School, where it is believed that he began to practice poetry. However, at the age of eight, his mother passed away. Soon after, his father passed too, leaving him an orphan along with his other four siblings. This was the source of inspiration dealing with much of his later work regarding religion and childlike innocence.
After his primary schooling, Wordsworth attended St. John’s College in Cambridge.
In his last semester of school, he travelled throughout Europe during the era of the French Revolution. His experience in college and on his adventures greatly influenced his poetry dealing with political sensibility and the “Common Man.” His earliest poetry was published in 1793 in “An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches.” This was a solo project. Soon after, he wrote “Lyrical Ballads” in 1795 with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s aid. These poems became some of the most influential in Western Literature (Poets). In turn, Coleridge and Wordsworth were said to be the creators of British Romantic poetry. British Romanticism was an era of literature that lasted from 1800-1850. It started during rebellions and violence throughout Europe, so while focused on nature, most poets believed they were chosen to “guide” others through the changes and turmoil.
As a way to incite hope, poets believed something existed beyond the physical world. They used this to write about supernatural energy and beauty. The poet also believed they were only at “peace in nature” (the British Library). Specifically, William Wordsworth believed poetry should be democratic, and he advocated for the common man. For this reason, he tried to give a voice to those who tended to be marginalized and oppressed by society. This included the poor, discharged soldiers, widowed women, the “insane,” and children (The British Library). However, as he grew older, he became more conservative in his outlook. Because of this, he was ridiculed for “selling out” to the Establishment during the revolutions. This led him to begin writing more about the spirituality of nature rather than politics.
Some of Wordsworth’s most popular poems have dealt with the politics and revolutions occurring during the peak years of British Romanticism. In his poem titled “London, 1802”, Wordsworth explored the loss of English morals and tradition. Throughout the poem he used an apostrophe by the name of “Milton”, and he explained that he believed the deceased “Milton” can give the lost foundation back to England through his writing. His lines of “Milton! Thou should be living at this hour: / England hath need of thee: she is a fen / Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen” (Wordsworth) utilize an apostrophe, while describing the predicament England is in. Through these lines, he explains that England needs Milton as “she” has different altars (religion), sword (military), and pen (art) then when Milton was there assisting the arts, and Wordsworth believed that the time Milton was on Earth was better. Through his symbols of altars, swords, and pens, Wordsworth conveyed that he thought that England had lost their tradition and values during the European revolutions and that Milton could help.
Additionally, Wordsworth wrote the political piece titled “Character of the Happy Warrior”, written in the trochaic tetrameter, that explored the characteristics of a good, English, common man. Wordsworth describes men of power and explores the theme, how strong leaders can repair a broken society, through his use of symbolism and spiritual rhetoric. He questions who the “Happy Warrior” is, continuing on to answer his own question throughout his work. He says that the “Happy Warrior” has “high endeavours of an inward light / That makes the path before him always bright” (Wordsworth). Along with this, he describes them as men that “rise to the station of command / On honorable terms” (Wordsworth) and men that “do not stoop, nor lie in wait / For wealth, or honours, or for wordly state” (Wordsworths). These lines describe the ideal character of a strong, powerful, representative English man, specifically a politician, that would give his nation honor.
His poems not only call on the morals of his country and ask if they are there, but they also help out the marginalized groups of England. The effects of the French and the Industrial Revolution on the common people was prevalent in Wordsworth’s writing, and he was keen on portraying lives of common people, including children, making it realistic and representative of of authentic contemporary society (Choudhury). However, it can be argued that some of Wordsworth’s most vital poems deal with his use of political positions, like ones advocating for the respect of oppressed children alongside his use of nature and spiritual beauty to portray marginalized groups in a new light. For example, Wordsworth writes about children in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”. It is argued that this poem is about “the natural insight and purity of the child” before he/she ages (Eager).
There is simplicity to the rhetoric, almost childlike, that is essential to showing that the poem is about children while using themes derived from nature and spirit. However, as the poem goes on, the writing gets stronger and Wordsworth questions what happens to the innocence and dreamlike quality children have in the lines stating “Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” (Wordsworth). He argued that this diminishes as we age and the children abandon God as they age in the lines that say “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: / The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star / Hath elsewhere had its setting, / And cometh from afar: / Not in entire forgetfulness, / And not in utter nakedness, / But trailing clouds of glory do we come / From God, who is our home” (Wordsworth). He also states that “There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, / The earth and every common sight, / To me did seem / Appareled in celestial light, / The glory and freshness of a dream. / It is not now as it hath been of yore;— / Turn wheresoe’er I may, / By night or day, / The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” (Wordsworth). In his lines describing the past, Wordsworth is arguing that the children stray further from God because of English values and strict religious policies, not because of their own faults. In this argument, he pleads that this is not the England he knew.
Collectively, Wordsworth argued that the only way to regain the true foundational policies of England is to reevaluate the country’s morals at the time. His writing that advocated for marginalized groups and questioned the Establishment using natural and spiritual elements of British Romanticism has been his most impactful, and arguably most important. It truly was used to guide citizens through the turmoil of the constantly changing society, giving off a sense of hope and prosperity if one looks for the “light” and puts their trust in spirit and natural beauty.
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