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About this book

Written in an age of revolutions, Lyrical Ballads represents a radical new way of thinking - not only about literature but also about our fundamental perceptions of the world. The poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge continues to be among the most appealing and challenging in the rich tradition of English Literature; and Lyrical Ballads, composed at the height of the young authors' creative powers, is now widely acclaimed as a landmark in literary history.

In this lively study, detailed analysis of individual poems is closely grounded in the literary, political and historical contexts in which Lyrical Ballads was first conceived, realised and subsequently expanded into two volumes. John Blades examines poetry from both volumes and carefully reassesses the poems in the light of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's revolutionary theories, while Part II of the study broadens the discussion by tracing the critical history of Lyrical Ballads over the two centuries since its first publication.

Providing students with the critical and analytical skills with which to approach the poems, and offering guidance on further study, this stimulating book is essential reading.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
Hazlitt’s comments on Wordsworth’s ‘genius’ imply that he is of his age but only of his age, that he was relevant only to his own era. From our privileged viewpoint here over 175 years on, we can say that he was only partly correct. Wordsworth was certainly the man of his moment, but he speaks to all eras — a poet speaking to mankind.
John Blades

Analysing Lyrical Ballads

Frontmatter

1. Childhood and the Growth of the Mind

Abstract
In this chapter I want to begin our discussion of Lyrical Ballads by concentrating on one of the major themes of Wordsworth’s poetry, that of childhood, and to focus in particular on his special interest in the development of the mind of the child. As well as being a major theme, childhood is also for Wordsworth an important location for a discussion of wider philosophical ideas involving the imagination and nature, which are discussed in subsequent chapters. Accordingly, although I have treated these (and other themes) in separate chapters it is important to be aware of their interrelatedness.
John Blades

2. Imagination

Abstract
Chapter 1 touched briefly on Wordsworth’s conception of the role played by the imagination in childhood development. We can extend that discussion now by analysing the concept of imagination itself in the work of both Wordsworth and Coleridge. The imagination is highly important for both poets, and critics have traditionally regarded the special significance accorded the imagination by Romantic verse and thought as one of its major defining characteristics.
John Blades

3. Old Age: a ‘vital anxiousness’

Abstract
Following the moderate commercial success of the first edition of Lyrical Ballads, an expanded, two-volume edition was published in 1800. Volume I retained almost all of the poems in the 1798 edition and volume II contained the additional material that included a number of new poems whose subjects referred explicitly to and illustrated the theme of old age.
John Blades

4. Social Issues: ‘the mean and vulgar works of man’

Abstract
Wordsworth is often and popularly thought of as a ‘nature poet’, one whose primary concern is scenery, the mountains, rills and ghylls, wandering clouds and, of course, those daffodils. But the poet himself always regarded his true subject matter as the study of mankind itself.
John Blades

5. Nature and the Supernatural: ‘the strangeness of it’

Abstract
On his momentous walking tour of the Swiss Alps in 1790, Wordsworth encountered in its dramatic landscape an awesome, harrowing beauty, the most extreme expression of that power and majesty in nature that had been his close and companionable form since childhood. As book VI of The Prelude declares, he was profoundly inspired by ‘unapproachable forests’, ‘majestic floods’ and ‘solitudes sublime’; in short he was transported wholly and exultantly into the colossal realm of nature’s ‘awful power’.
John Blades

The Context and the Critics

Frontmatter

6. The Politics of Wordsworth and Coleridge

Abstract
As we have seen in previous chapters, the poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge are highly sensitive to the social and political context of their day. In this part of the book I want to explore this context, that is the broad historical and literary landscape of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
John Blades

7. Reading and Writing in Eighteenth-Century England

Abstract
A thrilling time for political activity, the turn of the century was a key moment in the history of literature, criticism and the printed word in general. Wordsworth’s Prefaces to Lyrical Ballads are infused not only with a strong awareness of his reader but also with the overt intention of changing the reader, indeed they aver that the great artist creates the taste by which he or she is to be judged.
John Blades

8. The Poet as Critic and Theorist

Abstract
In addition to their deep and abiding commitment to the practice of verse, Wordsworth and Coleridge were both preoccupied with developing poetic theory. In this chapter I want to discuss their early ideas on poetics, looking closely at two key documents: first, Wordsworth’s Prefaces to the 1800 and 1802 editions of Lyrical Ballads, and then Coleridge’s reply to this, in Biographia Literaria, published in 1817.
John Blades

9. Dorothy Wordsworth and the Lake Poets

Abstract
In this letter, written a year before his death, Coleridge speculates, as many have done since, on what might have been Dorothy’s success as a writer had she not lived in the shadow of her brother’s fame. Although she vehemently rejected any idea of herself as a serious poet, her journals and letters do reveal that ‘in a different style’ she was in fact a highly gifted poetic writer. Coleridge’s letter strikes at three of the key elements that recur in discussions about Dorothy: her devoted dedication to William, her contribution (‘absorption’) to his success and the possibility of her own success as a poet if circumstances had been more propitious.
John Blades

10. Critical Responses to Lyrical Ballads

Abstract
In this chapter I would like to take a look at the way in which Wordsworth and Coleridge have been received by critics over the period since the first appearance of Lyrical Ballads. One reason for this is to try to show how their reputations have grown while another is to present some alternative critical attitudes towards these poets and their work. None of them is final or conclusive but are offered, as indeed the comments in this book are, as a challenge and a stimulus to your own ideas. The chapter begins with a survey of the critical reception of Wordsworth and Coleridge during the past 200 years, and then focuses closely on the views of four critics in particular: I. A. Richards, Robert Mayo, Geoffrey H. Hartman and Paul de Man.
John Blades
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