POETRY IS THE BREATH AND THE FINER SPIRIT OF ALL KNOWLEDGE. LYRICAL BALLADS, WILLIAM WORDSWORTH AND SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were two of the “Lake Poets,” so called because they lived and wrote in the inspirational setting of England’s Lake District. The friends collaborated on the Lyrical Ballads, a collection of Romantic verse with the ambition (stated in the preface of the book’s second edition of 1800) to “follow the fluxes and refluxes of the mind when agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature.” In part a reaction to the acute rationalism of the industrial age, English Romanticism (c.1790s-1830s) took human experience, imagination, nature, and individualistic freedom as its inspiration. Democratizing poetry. Lyrical Ballads starts with “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Coleridge’s seven-part ballad with otherworldly overtones: it was agreed that supernatural poetry with a “semblance of truth” would be this writer’s remit. Wordsworth’s brief was to give “the charm of novelty” to everyday life and awaken the reader to the loveliness of the familiar. Both writers believed that poetry should be written in transparent, unadorned language for the general populace, with simple meter and rhyme, and chose subject matter consistent with this democratizing impulse: the lives of uneducated rustic folk, whose emotions were pure and universal. Poems dealing with royalty or lofty allegory were replaced with themes of poverty, crime, and madness. Purity and reflection. Some of Wordsworth’s poems focus on children, whom he thought lived closer to nature and form a bond with it—childhood being a time of innocence, impulse, and play. Most of the poems are deeply felt rather than deeply thought, but two have a more reflective manner: Coleridge’s “The Nightingale,” a conversational poem, and Wordsworth’s “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey.” IN CONTEXT. FOCUS: The English Romantic poets. BEFORE: 1794 William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience marks the early phase of Romanticism, anticipating the esteem placed by Wordsworth on the purity of childhood and giving a voice to society’s marginalized fgures. AFTER: 1818 Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet about the statue of Ozymandias points to a Romantic interest in the insignifcance of man. 1819 Romantic poetry’s link with intoxicants, death, and the imagination is expressed in John Keats’s poem “Ode to a Nightingale.” 1818–1823 Lord Byron’s Don Juan—cynical, subversive, and witty—undermines his earlier Romanticism.

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