William Wordsworth

Simon Bainbridge

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
William Wordsworth

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William Wordsworth (b. 1770–d. 1850) was one of the most important poets of the Romantic period and is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest poets writing in the English language. He was born in Cockermouth in the Lake District and went to Hawkshead Grammar School in the same area. His mother died in 1778, and the death of his father in 1783 left him and his siblings, including his sister Dorothy, in financial difficulties. Wordsworth studied classics at St. John’s College Cambridge, after which he spent time in London, France, and southwest England, where his friendship with fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge became a vital inspiration. In 1798 the two poets published jointly the first volume of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth’s own claims for which contributed to a debate about the volume ushering in a new age of poetry, a debate that continues to this day. After a brief stay in Germany, William and Dorothy returned to the Lake District, settling in Grasmere, an event celebrated in the poem “Home at Grasmere.” Wordsworth lived in the Lake District for the remainder of his life, and the poet and the region continue to be strongly associated. In 1799 Wordsworth completed the first version of what would become his poetic masterpiece, the epic autobiography The Prelude, a work that he continued to expand and revise and that wasn’t published until 1850, after the poet’s death. He married Mary Hutchinson in 1802 and the couple had five children, though two died in 1812. Poems in Two Volumes (1807) and the long work The Excursion (1814) were published to mixed receptions, and Wordsworth’s acceptance of the government-funded role of Distributor of Stamps for Westmoreland in 1813 seemed to some contemporaries to be symbolic of the poet’s increasing orthodoxy and conservatism after his radical, nonconformist youth. Wordsworth’s critical reputation improved from the 1820s on, culminating in his appointment as Poet Laureate in 1843, seven years before his death. The strange and often disturbing power of Wordsworth’s poetry has always been recognized, though contemporaries were often critical of the poet’s choice of “low” subject matter and of what John Keats defined as the “egotistical sublime” character of his verse, qualities that since have been recognized as central to Wordsworth’s poetic achievement. Wordsworth has been central to discussions of Romanticism and English literature more generally and continues to stimulate a wealth of critical readings and theoretical approaches.

Article.  17731 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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