Lyrical Ballads (1800) appeared in two volumes,
the first one reissuing – with revisions – Lyrical
Ballads (1798) and the second containing a
somewhat uneasy mixture of the Grasmere
poems of 1800 with the Goslar ones written in
1798–9. The second edition of the book shows
Wordsworth’s name as the author.
Paramount among those changes made in the
first volume of 1800 was Wordsworth’s
addition to it of a critical manifesto, a PREFACE
providing a lengthy theoretical justification for
unshakeable faith in his own greatness and
originality created the Preface to Lyrical
Ballads to instruct his readers how to read
those poems.
Wordsworth defines poetry as “the
spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it
takes its origin from emotion recollected in
tranquility”. He also explains his views on the
elements on modern poetry.
This Preface to Lyrical Ballads is considered a
central work of Romantic literary theory. In
it, Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the
elements of a new type of poetry, one based
on the "real language of men" and which
avoids the poetic diction of much 18thcentury poetry.
Wordsworth explained in the Preface that he
sought to use vernacular language and to
write about simple uneducated country
people as that, to him, was a more "poetic"
and "truthful" language than the more formal
poetic diction of his day, which he thought
artificial and insufficient to "celebrate" the
beauty of the natural world.
He also said:
"The majority of the following poems are to be
considered as experiments. They were written
chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the
language of conversation in the middle and
lower classes of society is adapted to the
purpose of poetic pleasure."
On the 'Subject and Language of Poetry':
"The principal object […] was to choose
incidents and situations from common life.“
Wordsworth justifies this by adding that our
elementary feelings and passions can grow
better in a field of rural life, which is built upon
elementary feelings, and they may also be
contemplated and communicated better than
any other writer at the time.
"[D]escribe [those incidents] […] in a
selection of language really used by men.
The rural men far from social vanity use
their language to express feelings in a
simple and unelaborated manner, more in
connection with nature. He also claims that
such a language is more permanent and
philosophical because it results from
"repeated experience and regular feelings".
"[T]hrow over them a certain colouring of
imagination, whereby ordinary things should
be presented to the mind in an unusual way.“
"[M]ake these incidents and situations
interesting by tracing in them, truly though
not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our
But in the long view other aspects of his
Preface have been no less significant in
establishing its importance, not only as a
turning point in English criticism but also as a
central document in modern culture,
Wordsworth feared that a new urban,
industrial society's mass media and mass
culture were threatening to blunt the human
mind's "discriminatory powers“ and to "reduce
it to a state of almost savage torpor."
He attributed to imaginative literature the
primary role in keeping the human beings
who live in such societies emotionally alive
and morally sensitive. Literature, that is,
could keep humans essentially human.
The Preface also contains his now famous
definition of poetry as being,
"the spontaneous overflow of powerful
feelings from emotions recollected in
In his concentration on nature, Wordsworth
showed love of nature at its most sublime, of
mountains and of wild scenery, and this was in
sharp contrast to the view that nature only
after it had been manipulated by human
hands, such as in landscape gardening, could
then be considered a suitable subject for art
and poetry.
The final edition of the Wordsworth Lyrical
Ballads was published in 1805.
NATURE: in all its forms, was important
to Wordsworth, but he rarely uses simple
descriptions. Instead he concentrates on
the ways in which he responds and
relates to the world. He uses his poetry
to look at the relationship between
nature and human life, and to explore
the belief that nature can have an impact
on our emotional and spiritual lives.
Throughout Wordsworth’s work, nature provides
the ultimate good influence on the human mind. All
manifestations of the natural world—from the
highest mountain to the simplest flower—elicit
noble, elevated thoughts and passionate emotions
in the people who observe these manifestations.
Wordsworth repeatedly emphasizes the importance
of nature to an individual’s intellectual and spiritual
development. A good relationship with nature
helps individuals connect to both the spiritual and
the social worlds.
Wordsworth saw imagination as a powerful,
active force that works alongside our senses,
interpreting the way we view the world and
influencing how we react to events. He believed
that a strong imaginative life is essential for our
well-being. Often in Wordsworth's poetry, his
intense imaginative effort translates into the
great visionary moments of his work
Wordsworth is often considered to be an egocentric
poet interested only in himself, his experiences and
his development, but this is not quite a fair
reflection. He supported social reform and believed
in what were popularly known as The Rights of Man,
the rights to individual freedoms of thought and
expression, the right to justice. Society was
undergoing huge changes, and the drive for
economic prosperity led to an increase in both urban
and rural poverty. Wordsworth explores the impact
of such changes on the emotional and spiritual lives
An emphasis on the emotions (a fashionable
word at the beginning of the period was
‘sensibility’. This meant having, or
cultivating, a sensitive, emotional and
intuitive way of understanding the world).
Exploring the relationship between nature
and human life.
A stress on the importance of personal
experiences and a desire to understand
what influences the human mind.
A belief in the power of the imagination.
An interest in mythological, fantastical,
gothic and supernatural themes.

William-Wordsworth - Erciyes University