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Poet of the Month: William Wordsworth

posted: 4.12.10 by archived

For Poetry Month, we chose an old favorite for poet of the month: William Wordsworth.

Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 –April 23, 1850) is one of the most important English Romantic poets. Critics consider Lyrical Ballads (1798), a collection by Wordsworth and fellow poet Samuel Coleridge, to be the publication that began the Romantic era in poetry.

Wordsworth and his Romantic contemporaries valued emotional experience over logic and reason, breaking with the values of the English Enlightenment. Poems like “The Daffodils” and “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” have become classics because of their eloquent expression of the author’s personal experiences, close observation of nature, and evocative emotional content.

Wordsworth defined good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” and though these spontaneous feelings inspired many of his works, the quality of his poems shows that they were written with care. He began writing an epic poem about his life at age 28, and worked on it for the rest of his life. It was published as The Prelude after his death in 1850, and was dedicated to his contemporary and collaborator, Samuel Coleridge.

In the Classroom:

1. Have students research the fruitful but complicated relationship between Wordsworth and Coleridge and use it to fuel a discussion of literary friendship.  What can they make of the differences between “Tintern Abbey” and “Kubla Khan,” for example?

2. Some of Wordsworth’s language won’t be accessible to some students, but in his day Wordsworth strove for clear, everyday speech.  Use a few lines from his “Preface to “Lyrical Ballads” to talk about how language changes.  Ask students to think of examples of common language today that might sound “stuffy” in 100 years.

3. Have students use Poetry Foundation’s great collection of flower poems to find a poem to compare with “Daffodils.” Have students compare their descriptions of nature, the poets’ responses to nature, and the emotional content (or lack thereof) of the poems.

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blog-photo Cecilia Seiter is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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Categories: Joelle Hann (moderator), Uncategorized
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