William Wordsworth

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William Wordsworth - World Poets

William Wordsworth has come to be thought of as Wordsworthy, as though he were always the older man with a face like a sober civic gentleman who just happened to have a decent poem about daffodils, and an odd-looking closeness to his sister, in his distant past. That Wordsworth comes across as less glamorous (whatever that means) than his Romantic duo partner Coleridge may be true, if, accidentally or on purpose, you use contemporary values as a measure of true worth. The true worth of Wordsworth, which can be grasped by seeing him as a man of action, is often simply ignored. His record as man and poet until at least his mid-thirties is captivating. At the ages of 20 and 22, he was twice in France during the Revolution, was politically active, and fathered a love-child. Before he was 30, he had become at least half of the driving force and vigorous inspiration for the greatest revolution in poetry that England has ever known, and helped Coleridge get started on his ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. That his sister Dorothy helped Wordsworth write and live and be happily and productively is beyond doubt. On the page he is a man of elemental and fertile stamina: his vast autobiographical masterpiece The Prelude is one of the most beautiful, engrossing, accomplished, sustained, expansive and invigorating poems in our, or any other, language. It is among the finest examples ever of the grace-giving power of nature, the recoverable buried treasure of memory, and the utterly engaging companionability of commentary as he makes space for us to walk beside him. The Prelude’s accounts of crossing the Alps and climbing Snowdon make it so much harder for us not to go and do them both for ourselves, and look sharp about it. His famous stealing of a boat under cover of night and taking it out on a lake is pretty contagious too: Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on; Leaving behind her still, on either side, Small circles glittering idly in the moon, Until they melted all into one track Of sparkling light. What happened next is one of the most haunting moments in all poetry. Wordsworth’s absolute devotion to his beloved Lake District is a luminous celebration of the vital spirit of place and how to express deep gratitude for belonging there. What is more, Wordsworth’s at-first-sight-formidable output is embraceable as we walk and climb, stop, look, listen, breathe and feel with him everywhere he goes; and that very act of being in his company becomes empowering of the heart and mind to be newly in the world and in our own remembrances more fully than ever before.

“Feel that I’ve met Wordsworth both again and for the first time. School-Wordsworth I learnt by heart. Now he makes much more sense to me”.
Susie Barrett, after Wordsworth Night in Taunton
"We enjoyed it very much, and your method of expressing your thoughts".
John Grantham, Dorset
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Top picture:  Strobilomyces, Dove Cottage – home of William Wordsworth (near Grasmere) from 1799 to 1808

Lower picture: A hand-written manuscript of the first version (written 1804 in three verses, published 1807) of William Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ also known as ‘Daffodils’ (which we know now in the 1815 four-verse revised version). It was inspired by a visit to Ullswater. © The British Library Board 065858. BL Add. MS 47864

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