Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

William Wordsworth, William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney (1988)

The poet William Wordsworth (1770−1850) was a leading figure promoting romanticism in English literature and this is reflected in this selection of his poems: William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney (1988).   Wordsworth hoped to revolutionise English poetry, and he led by example by  presenting in his work a romanticist aesthetic that he intended to be popular with audiences and influential on poets. 

Wordsworth believed that poets should write from their experiences, especially their experiences with nature.  After an encounter with nature, the poet should then quietly reflect on those experiences to produce poetry that evokes in the audience the feelings that were initially generated in the poet by those experiences. Poetry should be able to convey emotion and generate emotional responses.  With these principles in mind, Wordsworth preferred not to write generic poems about experiencing nature but rather poems about a particular experience of nature in a specific place on a specific day and at a specific time. 

As a romanticist, Wordsworth also believed that truth was revealed through experiencing strong feelings and emotions, especially the emotional responses derived from one’s experiences in nature.

Wordsworth believed that poets should use poetic forms and language to which ordinary people can relate.   The poetry should be accessible.  Wordsworth valued poetry as an art form because he appreciated its ability to be entertaining and engage with audiences.  He therefore saw poetry as a medium through which the poet can communicate his philosophical messages about the nature of the world and the human condition to ordinary people. 

The values that Wordsworth most wanted to communicate were associated with nature worship.  His poems usually presented nature as tranquil, harmonious, benevolent and beautiful.  Wordsworth conveyed the view that encounters with nature were inspiring, joyous and uplifting as well as being one’s best teacher.  These encounters could teach mankind what is important in life, including what is morally important.  In many poems he went so far as to argue that encounters with nature are a better educator than book-learning or reason. 

Wordsworth advocated long solitary walks in the countryside where one can experience a childish sense of wonder in the face of the natural environment and its beauty. These are also opportunities to ponder and reflect. 

Wordsworth also believed that farmers, peasants and others whose lives were spent close to nature were closer to their true humanity and were therefore likely to be better people than those who resided in the cities and towns, which were places he regarded as sources of corruption and temptation. 

Wordsworth also railed against the early phases of the Industrial Revolution that he witnessed, accusing it of despoiling the natural environment.  He also rejected the corresponding rise of urbanisation, liberalism, materialism and consumerism in his society.  Instead, he advocated that people live a simple life in the countryside.  Several of his poems speak with affection, admiration and compassion for ordinary people who live simply in the countryside.  The ideal state of existence for Wordsworth is to live so close to nature that the individual is one with nature. 

This attitude corresponded with his deeply felt religious views.  As a Christian, an Anglican, he saw nature as God’s creation and he valued deep thought and reflection as more important in life than the acquisition of wealth.  He also regarded nature worship as imbued with a sense of spirituality.  On occasions, he also used his poetry to promote Christian compassion, especially for the poor or unfortunate who experienced unforeseen hardship or loss.   

Wordsworth’s politics were initially radical.  He was an enthusiastic admirer of the French Revolution as the harbinger of a new more egalitarian era.  However, as he matured he became increasingly conservative in his attitudes. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney meaning, William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney themes, William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney analysis, William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney notes