An autobiographical poem in blank verse by Wordsworth, addressed to Coleridge, and begun in 1798–9; a complete draft in 13 books was finished in 1805, but it was several times remodelled, and published posthumously in its final version in 1850. The full text, showing the work of Wordsworth on it in his later years (which increased the number of books to 14, toned down some of the earlier political views, tidied up structure, syntax, etc.) was published by de Selincourt in 1926. The poem was originally intended as an introduction to ‘The Recluse’ (see Excursion, The).
Although profoundly autobiographical, the poem does not proceed in terms of strict chronology; it deals with infancy, school days, Cambridge, his walking tour through the Alps, his political awakening in France, and consequent horrors, etc., but (for example) the passage describing the ‘visionary dreariness’ of a highly charged moment in his early boyhood is delayed until Book XI (‘Imagination, How Impaired and Restored’) and the landscape there described is immediately linked in the immediate past with his sister Dorothy and Coleridge, both of whom are intermittently addressed throughout the work. The tone is similarly flexible and variable; conversational and informal in some passages, narrative and naturalistic in others, it rises at points to an impassioned loftiness. A constant theme throughout is Wordsworth's sense of himself as a chosen being, with an overriding duty to his poetic vocation. Apart from its poetic quality, the work is remarkable for its psychological insight into the significance of childhood experience, a theme dear to Romanticism, but rarely treated with such power and precision.
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William Wordsworth (1770—1850) poet