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Monday, 24 September 2018

What does Wordsworth say about the language of poetry?

"Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" by William Wordsworth is an epoch-making contribution to English literature. It is a landmark of literary criticism. Wordsworth has declared a break of the Neo-classical tradition in English poetry through this piece. He has discussed the characteristics of a poet, his functions and his dominions elaborately. His famous theory of poetry is highly expressed in this "Preface". His remarkable definition of poetry and the use of language in poetry are obviously highlighted. During the Neo-classical Age, the language of poetry was decorated and figurative. It dealt with the aristocratic way of life. But Wordsworth revolts against it. He changes the classical theory of poetry. He declares that a poet is a man speaking to men. The language of poetry is the language of common people. He boldly proclaims that there is no essential difference between the language of prose and that of metrical composition. In fact, with the publication of this " preface ", Wordsworth started the Romantic Revival.
Wordsworth's theory of the language of poetry

In writing poetry, Wordsworth has chosen the incidents and situations from humble and rustic life. He also asserts to adopt the language of the people in rural life. The common people hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived. Wordsworth thinks that people in rural life convey their feelings and notions through simple and unelaborated expressions. These people are less under the influence of social vanity than the people live in cities. Such a simple and common language is permanent and philosophical. It is greater than the language generally employed by poets.

Wordsworth says that the language of prose can be used in poetry. There is no essential difference between the language of prose and that of metrical composition. Rather he asserts that there is a perfect affinity between metrical composition and prose composition. The language of a metrical composition will be a selection of the language really spoken by men.

The language of a poet is not different from that of other men. Wordsworth says, " A poet is a man speaking to men. " Basically there is no difference among the poets and the common men. A poet can be different from other men not in kind but only in degree. He has a comprehensive soul, inner insight and a power to express which want in common men. His passions, thoughts, and feelings will be the general passions, thoughts and feelings of mankind. He thinks and feels in the spirit of human passions. Therefore, the poet's language cannot differ in any material degree from the language of all other men who feel vividly and see clearly.

William Wordsworth says that personifications of abstract ideas are by no means a natural or regular part of the real language of men. He has also taken pains to avoid the use of what is called "poetic diction". He does it to bring the language of his poems near to the language of men. He has tried to express his ideas in language fitted to their respective importance. Wordsworth further says that metre is superadded. Metre adds the beauty to the poem. He wants to avoid figurative language in poems.

The importance of the selection of language is very great to Wordsworth. He does not say that the poet should use the actual language of the people just as they speak it. Here Wordsworth says that the poet should make a 'selection' from the real language of men. He is giving enough freedom to the poet in choosing his words and vocabulary from the real language of men. Then a poet can compose a poem with this selected language. He will give a new shape and from in writing poetry with his own imagination and feelings, thoughts, emotions etc.

Wordsworth's theory of the language of poetry has severely been attacked by S.T. Coleridge. Coleridge challenges it. He does not think what is written in a poetical from could have been written equally well in prose. He thinks that a man writes in metre because he is aware of the use of a language different from that of prose. Wordsworth's theory of the selection of language is also violently criticised by some critics. His deviation from his own poetry is vividly noticed. In this respect, Coleridge rightly points out that Wordsworth himself in his best poems did not adhere to his theory of poetic style. Two of the best poems of Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey" and the "Immortality Ode" are based on the figurative language and the lofty thoughts.

However, we can say that Wordsworth's assertions about the language of poetry are a landmark to the literary criticism. In his "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads", he vigorously declares that there neither is, nor can there be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition. But many critics including Coleridge disagree with him. Moreover, there is an obvious flaw in Wordsworth's theory of poetic language. He never realises that words derive their power from their associations. He is both right and wrong in his theory of poetic language.

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