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Selected Poetry of William Wordsworth (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – February 12, 2002
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“The poetical performance of Wordsworth is, after that of Shakespeare and Milton . . . undoubtedly the most
considerable in our language from the Elizabethan age to the present time.”—Matthew Arnold
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"Selected Poetry of William Wordsworth represents Wordsworth's prolific output, from the poems first published in "Lyrical Ballads in 1798 that changed the face of English poetry to the late "Yarrow Revisited." Wordsworth's poetry is celebrated for its deep feeling, its use of ordinary speech, the love of nature it expresses, and its representation of commonplace things and events. As Matthew Arnold notes, "[Wordsworth's poetry] is great because of the extraordinary power with which [he] feels the joy offered to us in nature, the joy offered to us in the simple elementary affections and duties."
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Overall I'm content with the Modern Library selection, binding and typesetting--- very readable, the cloth cover feels comfortable in the hand, and the volume, while large, is not too heavy.
The poems are arranged chronologically by date of first composition (n.b., not revision: We get the 1850 version of the Prelude, but it appears alongside the verse of 1805, when he first completed it). There are no notes at all. Some would have been useful--- e.g., to inform us where poems first appeared (the Lyrical Ballads just appear alongside everything else), or which version of a poem we were reading. The general editorial strategy seems to have been always to include the latest version of the poem: As mentioned, we get the 1850 Prelude (would have been nice if the edition had made this clear), and we also get the revised version of "The Thorn" (W, unfortunately, was shamed into revising the widely mocked lines, "I've measured it from side to side: / 'Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.")
Wordsworth's famous poems all seem to be here. I would have liked to see some of the "Poems on the Naming of Places" included, but you do have to have to leave something out.
There's a typo in book 4 of the Prelude, line 24: Instead of "Yon azure smoke betrays the lurking town," it reads "You azure smoke ..." I also noted a missing quote mark in, I think, one of the Matthew poems, but I can't find it now.
Overall, this is a solid edition of Wordsworth's verse which I expect will hold up well over the years.
The characters in Wordsworth's poems are vagrants, wanderers, beggars, figures from local legends, generally people who live outside of the mainstream or are forgotten by society, the humblest of the humble. There is Johnny the errant Idiot Boy, who is sent off on a horse to fetch a doctor for his mother's ailing friend but instead takes a personal journey governed by his limited imagination. There is the isolated Lucy, "a violet by a mossy stone" who "dwelt among the untrodden ways." There is old Timothy the Childless Father, who tries sorrowfully to maintain his spirits by continuing his hunting excursions after a period of mourning for the death of his last daughter.
The central piece in this collection is "The Prelude," Wordsworth's autobiographical poem. After explaining his desire to look beyond traditional poetical subjects like history and chivalry, he proceeds to document the development of his aesthetic, noting the importance of solitude to a budding poet, discussing his years at Cambridge and his undistinguished academic performance, his walking tour through Europe at the time of the French Revolution, and his sympathies for the common man arising from his love of nature. Several sonnets written around 1803 show him turning his attention to national matters, such as lamentations for England's lack of current literary figures as great as Milton and calls for defense against Napoleonic invasion ("To the Men of Kent," "In the Pass of Killicranky").
Adoration of nature is Wordworth's most salient attribute, and, having found his pictorial voice from an early age ("An Evening Walk" is astonishingly sophisticated verse for a seventeen-year-old to have written), he devotes the lion's share of his poetry to idylls, pastorals, dithyrambic odes to the beauty of the the landscapes around his boyhood home in Grasmere. With the exception of some London street scenes in "The Prelude" and elsewhere, there are very few references in his poetry to urbanization and industrialization; reading it, one would think England a permanently medieval country of quiet rustic villages and sparsely populated woodlands. It would seem that materialism and the chaos of living in an increasingly technological society mattered not at all to Wordsworth, and his poetry has all the more longevity because of it.
Wordsworth is not doctrinal but he is a profoundly religious poet. And he gives a sense of the natural world as awe - inspiring in itself and suggestive of something greater and more meaningful.
I love many of his shorter poems, some of the sonnets especially. The lines, the great great lines stay in the mind and are a help and a hope.
No wonder so many people have found in reading him as John Stuart Mill reports in his 'Autobiography' a way out of despair.