Lecture: 18th and 19th century British Wordsworth poetry: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a literature class. The professor has been discussing 18th and 19th century British poetry. Professor: Before we end, I want to say a few words about your readings for next class, which is a selection of poems by William Wordsworth. I'd like to talk a bit about Wordsworth's poetry, really, his vision, his ideas about poetry. Now Wordsworth is best known for his lyrical and dramatic poems. On the surface they're about common objects, ordinary situations. He wrote about his sister Dorothy, about nature, rainbows, birds, daffodils ... the beauty of nature. He wrote about simple rural people, who represented, he connected rural life with the truth about human nature, what it means to be human, what humans heed for happiness. There was something about nature and about rural life that was emotionally and spiritually central for him. And he felt that because he was writing about ordinary things, he should write in simple ordinary language. Poetry was to be directed towards regular people, so for him it shouldn't be written with special vocabulary, specialized language that only certain highly educated people could understand. It was these features that made him not just the central figure, but really the beginning of British romanticism. Now, by romanticism, we're not talking about images of love. This is Romanticism with a capital R, not, you know, romance between two people. Romanticism is an artistic and literary movement characterized by an interest in nature and an emphasis on the individual, the individual's emotions and imagination. Actually it's a little misleading to call it a movement, I mean there was no self-styled romantic movement at the time. Wordsworth didn't call himself a Romantic poet. It's just our way of characterizing the period and the poetry, and to distinguish it from what preceded it, which was Neoclassicism. The Neoclassicism of the 18th century, which we've touched on a bit, was known for what? For its concern with order, and balance and idealizations, and the elevated tone of its language. Neoclassical poets tried to sound as learned as possible. You've read some, did any of them use the word bird? Or did they use an expression like feathered people? Would they be more likely to refer to the sky above as sky, or as a blue expanse? To the romantic poet, neoclassical language was downright excessive. It was too preoccupied with elaborate expression and form. Wordsworth and other Romantic poets like Coleridge rejected the Neoclassical concerns with ideals and balance and its tendencies towards excessiveness of language, its intellectual orientation. So Wordsworth doesn't write about uncommon things, or about ideas that are accessible only to the highly educated. He writes about humbler matters, like children and nature. It was his poetic purpose, really, to choose ordinary things, ordinary situations and to describe them to clarify, cut away all the decorative language and to reveal their essential nature. with his early lyric poems, Wordsworth introduced into poetry a new attitude toward the individual, and a new attitude toward nature, one that amounted to a new philosophy. It wasn't just that he used imagery from nature in his poems. He believed there was an organic connection between nature and the fulfillment of human satisfaction, happiness, between nature and the human mind. It's actually something I share. In fact, when I'm out taking a walk just enjoying the outdoors, I'II often think of a Wordsworth poem. Like, To the Daisy, or By the Sea they kind of, they articulate that concept so well. In any case, regardless of your feelings about that, it's undeniable that Wordsworth's ideas were revolutionary in opening up what poets could be written about. It could be about common experiences we all share as humans.And they can be depicted realistically. OK? Many people divide his work into three periods, he wrote the lyric poems, the poems he's best known for in his so-called early period. In his middle period, he wrote works that were pretty harshly criticized by the literary critics of his day. They thought Wordsworth had moved away from the sources of his original inspiration. And in his late period, he did a lot of revising of his earlier work. He revised his earlier poems again and again. His work the Prelude, for example, went through four different versions before it was finally published. So how much was improved by all these revisions? Well, most readers and critics feel that the earliest version of the Prelude is the best, and so it's commonly held that the quality of Wordsworth's poetry fell of over time, which unfortunately is not something you'll get to judge in this course. we only have enough time for a sampling. So we'II stick with the lyric poems from his early period, which, well, I hope you'H see their beauty, if not how revolutionary they were.