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Sunday, 23 September 2018

What, according to Wordsworth, is the true nature and function of a poet ?

"Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth is an epoch-making contribution to English literature. It is a landmark of literary criticism. In this critical piece, Wordsworth throws much light on the nature and function of a poet. He is highly conscious of the distinction between a common man and a man of genius. This difference is worth considering. It has a certain degree. This leads Wordsworth to analyse the qualities of a poet. His concept of poet is new.
nature and function of a poet

Wordsworth in his "Preface" asks first "What is a poet?" He also asks several other questions about a poet. Then he ventures to answer them as his own. According to him, a poet is a man speaking to men. He is a man like other men. He has a social function to perform. He writes not only for his own pleasure but also for communicating his emotions and feelings to others. He tries his best to communicate them to the public. In this respect, Wordsworth says-----

      "The poet thinks and feels in the spirit of human passions." 

A poet is a flesh and blood. His language should be the same to the language of common men. Thus the critic represents himself as a real lover of man.

A poet must feel the pulse of the common man. He is the poet of common humanity but not for the poets only. In this respect, we can mention Edmund Spenser. He is called the poets' poet in the Elizabethan Age. When we go through his poetry, we feel that he does not write it for ordinary man but writes only for the poets and the elites. In the Neo-classical Period, we see that the poets composed poems in describing the decorated drawing room, coffee houses etc. Personifications of abstract ideas are salient features of the eighteenth century. There is no room for common people in their poetry. Wordsworth disapproves such tendency of the poets. He says-----

        "But poets do not write for poets alone but for men."

He says that poets should not write only for poets. Poets have to write for only common men in common or rustic language.

Wordsworth wants to say that there is no difference between a poet and a common man. A poet differs from an ordinary man not in kind but in degree. Because he has a comprehensive soul which rustic people do not have. He is endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness. He has a greater knowledge of human nature and a more comprehensive soul. He has a greater imaginative power. So he can feel and react emotionally to the events and incidents which he not directly experienced. He is affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present. He can share the emotional experiences of others and identify himself with the emotions of others. He can express the emotions of others easily. Moreover, a poet has a great power of communication. He can communicate even those thoughts and feelings which arise in him without any immediate external excitement.

The man who has all these qualities cannot be similar to the rest of mankind. The totality of these differences is so significant as to constitute a difference of kind. A man is habitually impelled to create. This impelling is enough to institute a difference of kind. The difference between a poet and an ordinary man is similar to that between imagination and sensation. This difference is realised by realising emancipation from the accidents of space, time and casuality.  A poet is pleased with his own passions and volitions. Here he is not active like the rest of mankind. He is self-satisfied  and yet is more alive to life. He observes human activities. So he takes an unusual delight in communicating them in a mood of tranquillity.

A poet has a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and feels. This alone makes him a poet in the strict technical sense of the term. Thus he is capable of entering into the feelings of others. He identifies his own feelings with their feelings. In this sense, he has a more than usual organic sensibility. At the same time, he must have thought long and deeply. This deep thinking is no other than the process of recollections and contemplation.

The Poet who has such qualities looks at the world in the spirit of love. He is always guided by the particular feelings. He develops sympathy and understand that man is organic to the universe. He binds together the vast human empire. In this respect, Wordsworth says------
     
"The poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time."

A poet is not a particular passion or particular society. His feeling and knowledge are of universal category. He binds the whole human society with them. His world is vast and does not live in a desolate world. His feelings and his thoughts must not be mystical to the readers. He must think and feel as a man thinks and feels.

In considering the nature and functions of a poet as Wordsworth has revealed in his famous critical essay, "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads", we may criticise him in some respects. He does not produce any well-knit definition of a poet here. He only ventures to identify some qualities or ideas of a man who intends to get himself included in the class of poets. Moreover, his concept of the language of a poet is worth criticising. T. S. Eliot says that " emotion recollected in tranquillity " is an inexact formula. Besides, Wordsworth himself often fails to maintain all these quatilities of a poet in his own poetry. Yet his initiation to explain the functions and qualifications of a poet is praiseworthy..

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