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Lyrical Ballads (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 30, 2007
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'All who teach English literature of the period will have felt the need of a volume such as this, which will retain its authority for a long time to come.' - The Year's Work in English Studies
'It is an edition of a formative work which all students and lovers of English poetry will warmly welcome.' - Times Education Supplement
About the Author
Coleridge (1772-1834) has been criticized as a political turn-coat, drug addict and plagiarist whose wrecked career left only a handful of magical early poems. But the shaping influence of his highly imaginative criticism is now generally accepted,and his position, along with Wordsworth (1770-1850), as one of the two great progenitors of the English Romantic spirit is assured. A great innovator, Wordsworth permanently enlarged the range of English poetry both in subject matter and treatment.Michael Schmidt is Professor of English and Director of the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is the author of the critical history LIVES OF THE POETS (1999), THE STORY OF POETRY (five volumes, 2001-), and THE FIRST POETS: LIVES OF THE ANCIENT GREEK POETS.
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To make this shift from objective subject to subjective experience, Wordsworth and Coleridge had the daunting task to redefine the previously held parameters that linked the two. Where poetry had once been the domain of the wealthy and the high-born, they sought to democratize the process by zeroing in on the other end of the political and social order: the poor, the low-born, the mental defective, and the innocent child. Wordsworth especially personified nature as a sentient background upon which his rustic subjects lived and breathed. A man, a child, a tree, or a flower all were but starting points in a poem. During the course of the poem, Wordsworth's subject would unexpectedly expand into a vast cosmic panorama. "Incidents from common life" became a mantra both in the Preface and in the poems proper. The more humble were the subjects, the more palpable the connection between poet and reader. Once Wordsworth had chosen his subject, he then used a "language really used by men." This language was to be rendered devoid of the typical ornaments of 18th century poetry. Nearly the entire range of poetic tropes and elaborate figures of speech was to be reduced to the bare minimum. One of the weaknesses in Wordsworth's logic was his overly vague use of the phrase "the language really used by men." He probably did not mean to imply that such rural usage had to include grammatical inconsistencies, redundancies, obscenities, and slang, all of which undoubtedly typified the true rural vernacular of the time. Wordsworth's human subjects were more often depicted as acting or simply being rather than speaking, but when they did speak, they use reasonably correct if colorful phrasing. Very likely, he meant to contrast the stilted and excessively flowery speech patterns of a previous generation of poetic speakers with the more verbally subdued subjects of his verse. Further, Wordsworth was guilty of several of the same charges he leveled at his predecessors. His own language all too often tilted toward the elaborately crafted fine tones worthy of Pope. This tendency toward his own use of poetic excessive is nowhere more evident than in the many passages where he waxes philosophically in language that is far removed from the language of men.
There are other areas where Wordsworth is self-contradictory. In one paragraph, he declares that there is very little difference between poetry and prose yet he defends his use of writing in verse partly because meter has the effect of rendering a passage "regular and uniform." He seems to say that meter does indeed have its uses but that its very presence does not distinguish verse from prose. Wordsworth also criticizes the form and structure of a previous generation's use of classical poetic architectonics, yet he makes more than a little use of the 18th century tendency to express the poetic imagination via an idealization of a thoroughly grounded concept. In Wordsworth's defense, however, though he may have borrowed liberally from certain core concepts of what he perceived to be an enervating mode of verse, his intention was to blaze a new path of thought that would permit the language of poetry to resound in the ears of more than the poet and his high-born circle of friends. Wordsworth's Preface, then, is his attempt to express a faith, however contradictory it may in spots be, that would for the first time link the trio of poet, reader, and subject in a way that even today has significance.
"Lyrical Ballads" is often said to be the beginning of the Romantic Movement, a claim which I can neither refute or prove. What I can say for certain, though, is that it is filled with some of the most moving, thought provoking, and beautiful verses ever put on paper. Whether you are looking for something dark, something whimsical, an epic tale, or a sweet romance-there is something in the collection that will appeal to you. Wordsworth and Coleridge are both masters of their craft, a fact that they prove in "Lyrical Ballads"
A first time reader may not quite understand what all the fuss us about, as some of Wordsworth's pieces can seem facile and at times banal, something contemporary critics savaged him for. To truly grasp the spirit of the volume the reader must take time to absorb Wordsworth's 'Advertisment' in which he outlines the 'experimental' nature of the volume, as a reaction against the the artificiality and 'innane phraseology' of the majority of popular poetry at the time.
Wordsworth uses simple language to produce intimate sketches of ordinary people: a humble begger, an idiot boy, or the female vagrant, and he does so with great sensitivity and feeling, showing us that compassion and feeling of the simplest people makes them as worthy as any privileged man. No reader will soon forget the Lucy poems, in which the narrator recalls a girl he once loved, and mourns her tragic early death. Whether Lucy was ever a real person, let alone an object of Wordsworth's affection however is another matter.
There are weak links in the collection such as 'Lines Written in Early Spring', which could be justifiably labelled 'namby-pamby' (a term Byron used to describe a certain type of Wordsworth poem). However, the most impressive piece in the whole collection must be Tintern Abbey, a poem which could never be labelled facile or 'namby pamby', it is a spiritual, philosophical, and profoundly moving poem rich with memorably powerful turns of phrase and an intoxicating pslamic quality. Tintern Abbey may very well sum-up Wordsworth's entire enterprise better than any other poem he penned. Study and understand 'Tintern Abbey' and you understand Wordsworth. As for Coleridge's 'Mariner', although it is an enchanting and strikingly original work, I share Wordsworth's assertion that it's character is somewhat at odds with the spirit of the collection.
This edition is the finest you will find anywhere. It contains both the 1798 and 1800 editions, while including extensive supporting material. A real must-have for anyone interested in English Poetry.