The Truth between Man, Nature and Mortality in Preface to Lyrical Ballads

In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth renounces the “overly artificial language” of neo- classical poetry comprised of lofty pastoral imagery and complex language in verse and states:

“I have taken as much pains to avoid it as other ordinarily take to produce it, this I        have done for the reason already alleged, to bring my language near to the language of men, and further, because the pleasure which I have proposed to myself to impart is of a kind very different from that which is supposed by many persons to be the proper object of poetry”(Joseph et al., 212; Wordsworth, 226).

This was a radical renouncement of classic literary convention, as the “increasingly marginal position of the poet in society”, coupled with this claim that “low and rustic life” is where “the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity”, completely rejected the well- established poetic notions of high society, proper education and religious instruction as the best means of attaining a good life(Wordsworth, 224).

Wordsworth puts into question not only the value of poetry, but “the perplexity and obscurity which in childhood attend our notion of death, or rather our utter inability to admit that notion… with the great and beautiful objects of nature”(225). In Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth uses nature as a tool to come to terms with the notion that we will all one day become but the dirt beneath our feet at the mercy of the elements. This greatly contrasts from pre-established poetic promises of eternal salvation and a heavenly body beyond our physical world. The poetry of Lyrical Ballads chooses to embrace our carnality as something that makes us akin to the earth. The admittance of a final moment on earth makes the poet an honest messenger, as Wordsworth himself struggled with experiencing loss at a young age.

It was understood that those who “would read with more than common pleasure” were the literate elite and patrons; the social order of the poet and the audience were not under scrutiny. The role of poetry and the poet as they relate to readers was reconfigured. Wordsworth desired to revolutionize the authenticity of poetry for his audience as it was not high society, but “the manners of rural life” and the colloquial language of laymen and farmers from which “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” on the sublimity of nature truly derived(224, 225). These emotions could only be “recollected in tranquility” in Nature where “The Poet thinks and feels in the spirit of the passions of men”(228).“If The Poet thinks and feels in the spirit of the passions of men… how then, can his language differ in any material degree from that of all other men who feel vividly and see clearly”- in desiring to bring his own language closer to the “language of men”, there exists the acknowledgement from the poet that in contemporary society poetry exists for man and to express his most sincere, pure, unmediated self.


Works Cited:

Wordsworth, William. From Lyrical Ballads, 1800, 1802 Preface. Ed. Joseph Black,

Leonard Conolly,Isobel Grundy, Don LePan, Roy Liuzza, Jerome J. McGann,

Anne Lake Prescott, Barry V. Qualls, and Claire Waters. 2nd ed. Vol. 4. Toronto:

Broadview, 2012. Print.


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