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William Wordsworth

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William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was one of the founding fathers of the Romantic movement, and his poetry played an important role in establishing the genre, along with the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Blake. William Wordsworth's poems, such as 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' (1815), 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey' (1798), and 'The Prelude' (1850) cemented his place as a classic Romantic poet, and he is still recognised as such today. Let's take a look at Wordsworth's life and death, poetry, and themes.

William Wordsworth: biography

William Wordsworth was born on the 7th of April 1770 in Cumberland (England), to parents John and Ann. William Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School, and it was around this time that Wordsworth began to write his first poems. Following this, Wordsworth attended and graduated from St John's College, a constituent for Cambridge University. In 1790, whilst the French Revolution was ongoing, William Wordsworth visited France.

Wordsworth considered himself to be a democrat, and he sympathised with and supported the ideals of the French revolutionaries. Wordsworth had a daughter with a woman named Annette Vallon in France, but Wordsworth left shortly before she was born.

The French Revolution started in 1787, and lasted until 1799. During this time, revolutionaries in French society denounced the monarchy, and rose against the oppressive institutions of the state and the church. The revolution sought to mobilise working class individuals in establishing social justice, declaring a new society built upon the ideals of liberty (freedom), solidarity (togetherness), and fraternity (brotherhood) among all.

William Wordsworth: later life

In 1798, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published a collection of poems, entitled Lyrical Ballads. This collection of poems played an enormous role in establishing the Romantic literary movement, as well as Wordsworth's role as one of the classic Romantic poets. In 1802, William Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, who was a close childhood friend of his, and together she and Wordsworth had five children. Sadly, two of their children died at a young age. Wordsworth returned to France on numerous occasions, and even built a relationship with the daughter he had with Annette.

Romanticism was a literary, artistic, and intellectual movement which took place circa 1800 until 1850 in Europe. Romanticism encouraged freedom of expression, imagination, love and respect for nature and the arts.

William Wordsworth: cause of death

William Wordsworth died on the 23rd of April 1850 of lung condition, pleurisy. Wordsworth is buried in the village of Grasmere in Cumbria (England), at St Oswald's Church.

William Wordsworth: poems

Let's explore some of Wordsworth's famous poems.

William Wordsworth: 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' (1815)

First published in 1815, 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' is one of William Wordsworth's best known poems. The poem begins with the speaker walking solitarily among the landscape. Whilst walking besides a lake, the speaker notices a row of daffodils dancing. True to Romantic poetry, this poem is pastoral, illustrating the beauty and magnificence of nature.

The speaker in the poem is referred to as cloud-like, detached from this landscape, yet still able to witness its beauty.

The image of the clouds floating also contrasts with the daffodils that are anchored into the landscape, and the speaker admires the way in which they are, literally, down to earth. Towards the end of the poem, we come to see that the speaker no longer feels lonely, but instead, feels the peace and tranquillity of solitude.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought (l.13-18)

William Wordsworth: 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey' (1798)

William Wordsworth's 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey' was first published in 1798. In the poem, the speaker has come to revisit the Banks of the Wye with their sister. The speaker describes their surroundings, and remarks that they have not been in this area for five years. The speaker reflects upon the beautiful landscape, for example, the waters and the cliffs, and takes it all in.

Although having not been in the area for five years, the speaker recalls the times in which they have often thought of it from afar; the picturesque landscapes have been imprinted in their memories, and it is not a place they have forgotten. The speaker reflects on their younger self, and how carefree they were in life. Not only this, but the speaker also reflects on how nature has always been an important part of their life, whether that be in them admiring nature, or in nature comforting them.

Five years have past; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.—Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky (l.1-8)

William Wordsworth: 'Extract from The Prelude' (1850)

'The Prelude' was published after William Wordsworth's death, in 1850. 'The Prelude' is an epic poem written in blank verse, and is an autobiographical narrative on Wordsworth's life. 'Extract from the Prelude' is an extract that has been taken from the full poem, in which Wordsworth recalls having stolen a boat during his childhood. In this poem, we see not only the grandeur of nature, but also its dark and menacing side.

After having stolen the boat, Wordsworth's persona rows across a lake, and observes his surroundings. One mountain in particular appears to be growing larger and more threatening, overshadowing the beauteous and picturesque images of nature that he is used to seeing. By the end of the poem, Wordsworth notes that this experience always remained with him, both during his waking life, and in his dreams.

A poem that is written in blank verse does not rhyme, but does in fact have regular, metrical lines. Blank verse poetry is usually written in iambic pentameter

An epic poem is a long, narrative poem which recounts the heroic deeds and adventures of extraordinary characters

When, from behind that craggy steep till then

The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,

As if with voluntary power instinct,

Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,

And growing still in stature the grim shape

Towered up between me and the stars, and still,

For so it seemed, with purpose of its own

And measured motion like a living thing,

Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,

And through the silent water stole my way

Back to the covert of the willow tree (l.21-31)

William Wordsworth: themes

Now we will look at the main themes in Wordsworth's works.

Nature

As a Romantic poet, the theme of nature is one which recurs in Wordsworth's poetry. In many of his poems, Wordsworth describes nature as beautiful, and powerful enough to move and alter one's experiences.

However, in some of his poetry, Wordsworth also describes nature as being intimidating and illustrates how it at times comes into conflict with humanity. For example, in 'Extract for the Prelude', Wordsworth feels as though he is being punished for stealing the boat, long after the episode has taken place. Nature continues to haunt him for his transgression long after his childhood has passed.

Solitude

In many of Wordsworth's poems, we see the theme of solitude through his explorations of nature and the environment. At times, Wordsworth appears to be alone with his thoughts, observing his surroundings, whilst in other moments, we see peace and contentment in Wordsworth, in his being able to experience the world alone, through the lens of a poet.

In his poem 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud', we see the theme of solitude through Wordsworth's speaker, who is walking alone and observing his surroundings. The speaker's solitude also seems to be contrasted with the unity of nature, in particular, the grouped daffodils that are dancing together.

Power

The theme of power is explored in Wordsworth's poetry especially through the grandeur and magnificence of nature. We also see the power of memory in Wordsworth's poetry, especially in poems in which he recalls his childhood experiences.

We see the power of memory, particularly in the poem 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey', in which the speaker has returned to the Banks of Wye. In the poem, we see how the picturesque landscape has imprinted itself on the speaker, not only as they are presently exploring it, but also from their previous memories of the place.

Individual Experience

The theme of individual experience is present throughout Wordsworth's poetry. In particular, Wordsworth muses on his experiences growing as an individual, from childhood until adulthood. In addition to this, we see in his poetry his experiences with nature, whether this be pleasant or haunting, no two experiences are the same.

We see the theme of individual experience especially in 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud', particularly through Wordsworth's encounter with the daffodils. Whilst some individuals may have just seen a bunch of flowers and forgotten about them afterwards, Wordsworth reminisces on the wondrous sight of the daffodils, and remarks that in hindsight, the experience has brought a lot of wealth to him.

Innocence

We see the theme of innocence in a variety of ways in Wordsworth's poetry. For example, we see the child-like innocence and naivete of Wordsworth in 'Extract from the Prelude' in his stealing the boat. This innocence contrasts with the maturity of nature, which Wordsworth feels is judging his childish act of theft. Likewise, we also see the loss of this innocence and naivete, especially in the way that he feels nature is punishing him after this theft, and nature's continual haunting of him throughout the rest of his life.

William Wordsworth: facts

Take a look at these interesting facts about William Wordsworth:

  • Wordsworth spent some of his summers hiking in the Alps which further established his connection to nature.
  • In addition to poetry, Wordsworth also wrote one play, The Borderers (1796).
  • William Wordsworth wasn't the only writer in the family - his sister, Dorothy, was also a poet and a diarist.

William Wordsworth: relevance to literature

William Wordsworth enjoyed a successful career as a poet during his lifetime, writing somewhere between 300 and 400 poems. Wordsworth is still well renowned for his contributions to Romantic poetry, and his poetic legacy has lived on far beyond his death. Wordsworth's poetry continues to be read and studied, even today.

William Wordsworth - Key takeaways

  • Wordsworth was born on the 7th of April 1770 in Cumberland (England)
  • Wordsworth was one of the founding fathers of the Romantic movement, and his poetry played an important role in establishing the genre
  • Wordsworth is still recognised as a classic Romantic poet today
  • Wordsworth considered himself to be a democrat, and he sympathised with and supported the ideals of the French revolutionaries
  • Wordsworth died on the 23rd of April 1850 of lung condition, pleurisy
  • Wordsworth is buried in the village of Grasmere in Cumbria (England), at St Oswald's Church

Frequently Asked Questions about William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere, Cumbria (England)

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was one of the founding fathers of the Romantic movement, and his poetry played an important role in establishing the genre 

Among his most famous poems are 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' (1815), 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey' (1798), and 'Extract from the Prelude' (1850)

Nature played an important role in the life and development of Wordsworth, and his experiences with nature lasted in his memory long after his childhood

William Wordsworth sympathised with and supported the ideals of the French revolutionaries

Final William Wordsworth Quiz

Question

When was William Wordsworth born?

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Answer

William Wordsworth was born on the 7th of April 1770 

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Question

Where was William Wordsworth born?

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Answer

William Wordsworth was born in Cumberland (England) 

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Question

What was William Wordsworth's attitude towards the French Revolution?

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Answer

William Wordsworth sympathised with and supported the ideals of the French revolutionaries 

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Question

When was the French Revolution?

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Answer

The French Revolution started in 1787, and lasted until 1799 

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What was the French Revolution?

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Answer

Revolutionaries in French society denounced the monarchy, and rose against the oppressive institutions of the state and the church. The revolution sought to mobilise working class individuals in establishing social justice, declaring a new society built upon the ideals of liberty (freedom), solidarity (togetherness), and fraternity (brotherhood) among all 

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Question

What was the name of the collection of poems published by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798?

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Answer

Lyrical Ballads

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How many children did William Wordsworth have?

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William Wordsworth had six children

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What is Romanticism?

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Answer

Romanticism was a literary, artistic, and intellectual movement which took place circa 1800 until 1850 in Europe. Romanticism encouraged freedom of expression, imagination, love and respect for nature, and the arts

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Question

What is blank verse?

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Answer

A poem that is written in blank verse does not rhyme, but does in fact have regular, metrical lines. Blank verse poetry is usually written in iambic pentameter 

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Question

What is an epic poem?

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Answer

An epic poem is a long, narrative poem which recounts the heroic deeds and adventures of extraordinary characters 

Show question

Question

From which of William Wordsworth's poems are the following lines taken?


When, from behind that craggy steep till then 

The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge, 

As if with voluntary power instinct, 

Upreared its head. I struck and struck again, 

And growing still in stature the grim shape 

Towered up between me and the stars, and still, 

For so it seemed, with purpose of its own 

And measured motion like a living thing, 

Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned, 

And through the silent water stole my way 

Back to the covert of the willow tree (l.21-31)

Show answer

Answer

'Extract from the Prelude'

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Question

From which of William Wordsworth's poems are the following lines taken?


Five years have past; five summers, with the length 

Of five long winters! and again I hear 

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs 

With a soft inland murmur.—Once again 

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, 

That on a wild secluded scene impress 

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect 

The landscape with the quiet of the sky (l.1-8)


Show answer

Answer

'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey' 

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Question

From which of William Wordsworth's poems are the following lines taken?


The waves beside them danced; but they 

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: 

A poet could not but be gay, 

In such a jocund company: 

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought 

What wealth the show to me had brought (l.13-18)

Show answer

Answer

'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' 

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Where did William Wordsworth live?


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William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere, Cumbria (England)

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Who is William Wordsworth?

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Answer

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was one of the founding fathers of the Romantic movement, and his poetry played an important role in establishing the genre 

Show question

Question

What is William Wordsworth's most famous poem?


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Answer

Among his most famous poems are 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud', 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey', and 'Extract from the Prelude'

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Why did William Wordsworth write about nature?

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Answer

Nature played an important role in the life and development of Wordsworth, and his experiences with nature lasted in his memory long after his childhood

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When was 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' written?

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Answer

1798.

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What collection of poetry is Wordsworth's poem from?

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Answer

Lyrical Ballads.

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What form is 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' in?

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Answer

Ode.

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What metre is 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' in?

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Blank verse.

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What rhyme scheme does blank verse use?

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Unrhymed.

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What are two key themes in this poem?

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Answer

Nature and the past.

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What two literary devices does Wordsworth use in this poem?

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Enjambment and metaphor.

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What kind of imagery is frequently found in 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey'?

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Natural imagery.

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What is enjambment used for in this poem?

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To parallel the interconnectedness and unity of nature.

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What is the definition of a metaphor?

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When something is used to represent something else, although neither thing has any link between them. 

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What is an ode?

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A poem that offers praise.

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How many iambic feet are in a line of iambic pentameter?

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Five.

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Why does Wordsworth use blank verse in this poem?

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Because it mimics natural speech and this emphasises the natural connection between nature and humans.

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What is the tone of 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey'?

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Awe-filled, respectful, wise.

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How does Wordsworth regard his youth in which he had a much simpler view of nature?

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Fondly.

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When was 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' written?

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1804

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When was 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' published?

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1807

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What was the name of the collection in which the poem was published?

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Answer

Poems, in Two Volumes

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What is the title that the poem is sometimes called?

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'Daffodils'

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What was the artistic movement that Wordsworth's poetry belonged to?

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Romanticism

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What is an example of a figure of speech used in the poem?

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Personification, metaphor, and alliteration

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What is the key example of personification in the poem?

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The daffodils dancing

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What does the 'inward eye' (l. 21) refer to?

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Memory

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What are some of the themes of the poem?

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The individual's relationship with nature, spirituality and memory

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What is the poetic structure of the poem?

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Answer

Iambic tetrameter

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What is the rhyme scheme of the poem?

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Answer

ABABCC

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