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"Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth has got immense significance in the history of English critical theory. It raises a wall between the Neo-classical tradition of English poetry and that of the Romantic Age. It is to be considered a milestone of the Romantic Revival. In this "Preface", Wordsworth deals with the nature and function of poets and poetry. His theory of poetic diction is also remarkable. It strikes a blow at the root of the artificial poetic diction of Neo-classical poetry. Wordsworth's theory of language is also of immense value. On the whole, the whole " Preface " serves as a document of Romantic poetry.

In the Neo-classical Age of English literature, poetry was actually a product of the head. In the metrical composition, the poet did his best to expose himself with artificial rhetorical devices and poetic diction. Emotion or passion had practically no place in classical poetry. In fact, Neo-classical poetry was based on reason but not on emotion. But Wordsworth strikes a severe blow at the root of this well-nourished tradition. He declares that poetry should be the outcome of the poet's emotion. So he gives a definition of poetry anew too. According to Wordsworth, "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." He declares that not the head but the heart will dominate poetry. The poet's feelings and working of mind should come or should be reflected in his product. Thus he has brought about a historical change in the conception of poetry.

Wordsworth's conception of poetry and language is also remarkable. Before Wordsworth, the poets were considered to be 'Vates' or 'Bards' or somewhat extraordinary. They used to soar in the sky. But Wordsworth declares that a poet is a man speaking to men. He again declares that though the poet soars in the sky of imagination, his feet are always fixed upon the firth earth. There is only a difference between a poet and an ordinary man. A poet has the promptness to think readily. He has a higher sensibility and a comprehensive soul. In the question of language, Wordsworth says that poetry should be written in the language of the common people but it must be refined and purified. Inane phraseology or artificial rhetorical devices should be avoided. Metre is not very much essential. It is superadded. But it may be used for the unification of thoughts.

In the question of Poetic Diction, Wordsworth wants to bring about a historical change in English poetry. He declares that there is no essential difference between the language of prose and the metrical composition. Actually, he opens a new gate of poetry by declaring all these things and discusses  Assessing the importance of the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads in the development of English criticism.

Besides, according to Wordsworth, the function of poetry is to produce excitement in co-existence with the over-balance of pleasure. The choice of subject matter is also important. He believes that the rustic people and their way of life should be the subject matter of poetry. Because in the lap of nature, our emotions or feelings get better soil to be matured. Actually, Wordsworth does all these only to bring poetry near the flesh and blood. It is noteworthy that Neo-classical poetry was only for the aristocrats. The Poetic Diction, choice of words, use of intricate allusions, etc. made their poems quite mystical. For example, Milton's  Paradise Lost is quite inscrutable to the average reader. Even ordinary educated persons did not dare to recite those poems of the Neo-classical Age. But Wordsworth has brought about a historical change when he declares that a poet is a man talking to men. The language of poetry should be that of the common people.

But Wordsworth's "Preface" is severely attacked by a host of eminent critics. Even Coleridge pounces over it at first. He criticizes Wordsworth's theory of poetic diction in particular. Wordsworth does not clarify what he means by language. Language is a matter of words, syntax, style, etc. Wordsworth says that the language should be purified. So if it is purified, it will be that of every class of people, not only of the common class. According to Wordsworth, there is no essential difference between the language of the prose and the metrical composition. Besides, he also permits to use of metres. If the meter is used, the order of words or the arrangement of words will be different also. T. S. Eliot attacks Wordsworth's definition of poetry. Eliot says that not emotion but concentration is essential for poetic composition.

To conclude, we can say that the somewhat erroneous is in "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth. But as a first attempt to strike the artificiality of the long nourished Poetic Diction of Neo-classical poetry, it is an epoch-making contribution to English literature. Wordsworth wants to reach poetry even the solitary reapers. In this respect, he opens a new era. He creates a new school of poets. The Victorians are deeply influenced by him. Even Matthew Arnold is deeply and profoundly influenced by Wordsworth. Thus it may be said that the "Preface" has immense historical value.


Unknown said...

Very helpful answers

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