William Wordsworth’s Legacy: 250 years on


William Wordsworth was born 250 years ago on 7th April, in the beautiful Lake District and remains one of the most well-recognised Romantic poets in English history. His affinity with nature and the imagination has meant readers throughout generations have connected with his words and poetry.

Often regarded as his masterpiece is The Prelude, which reflects on his childhood, documents his travels in Europe and finishes in the Lake District as Wordsworth contemplates his life and what will remain of him throughout history. Through language of unity, nature and imagination, Wordsworth constructs a legacy that endeavours to both inspire and instruct the reader.

Wordsworth maintained, or attempted to maintain, a positive attitude during difficult times, one that meditated on the beauty of the everyday

Wordsworth attempts to instruct his reader towards his own ‘truth’, creating a voice that reaches out as he tries to connect and unify through his work. There is a self-consciousness present throughout The Prelude that indicates Wordsworth’s views on the role of the poet as a moral guide and an anxiety concerning the inadequacy of language as a mediator for his thoughts and how his words will represent him through the rest of history. 

Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home from 1799-1808 (Image: Karen Richardson via Flickr)

Wordsworth maintained, or attempted to maintain, a positive attitude during difficult times, one that meditated on the beauty of the everyday. His poetry is imbued with lessons of love for ourselves and that of the natural world surrounding us:

From love, for here

Do we begin and end, all grandeur comes,

All truth and beauty – from pervading love –

That gone, we are as dust. Behold the fields

(The Prelude, Book 13, 149-152)

Love is the beginning and the end, ‘pervading’ all and is the only thing that remains when ‘we are as dust’. This message of enduring love that encompasses all ‘truth and beauty’ is what Wordsworth hopes will persist once he himself is ‘dust’. The separating of ‘ – from pervading love – ’ demonstrates that it can and will stand alone as a constant throughout history, acting as the uniting force between generations, portrayed by the reaching out of the hyphens.

In inserting ‘love’, ‘truth’, and ‘beauty’ within his poetry, Wordsworth hopes that, like these principles of life, his poetry will pervade and persist throughout the ages. Wordsworth’s anxiety about whether, and how, he will be remembered through history is demonstrated further on in The Prelude:

When we may (not presumptuously, I hope) 

Suppose my powers so far confirmed, and such 

My knowledge, as to make me capable 

Of building up a work that should endure.

(The Prelude, 13, 273-278)

In voicing his hopes for a ‘work that should endure’, Wordsworth reveals his fears of being forgotten. However, he hopes that his ‘powers’ and ‘knowledge’, immortalized in his poetry, will be enough to endure throughout history. What Wordsworth means by ‘powers’ is, I believe, his ability to convey and inspire deep emotions, such as love, through conjuring up the imagination. Wordsworth mentions ‘powers’ elsewhere in The Prelude:

Imagination! – lifting up itself 

before the eye and progress of my song 

Like an unfathered vapour, here that power

(The Prelude, 6. 525-527)

Imagination is granted agency and influence over man as it lifts him up into an ‘unfathered vapour’, demonstrating the great and lofty heights to which the imagination can elevate one. Wordsworth’s ‘power’ is the imagination, transforming his words into visions that surround and immerses the reader with powerful images of truth, beauty, and love.

One place that Wordsworth felt his own imagination was amplified was in nature:

Prophets of Nature, we to them will speak

A lasting inspiration, sanctified

By reason and by truth; what we have loved

Others will love, and we may teach them how:

Instruct them how the mind of man becomes  

(The Prelude, 13, 442-446)

Nature has the capacity to ‘speak’ to man and to provide him with a ‘lasting inspiration’, one that Wordsworth attempts to encapsulate within his language and pass it on from one ‘mind of man’ to the next. This affinity with nature and the imagination Wordsworth feels can be passed on through generations as ‘others will love’ what he himself has loved. So, Wordsworth’s powerful and emotional legacy of hope, love and imagination persists.

Wordsworth’s powerful and emotional legacy of hope, love and imagination persists.

Through his poetry, he captures ‘the perfect image of a mighty mind, of one that feeds upon infinity’ (The Prelude, 13, 69-70) and carries it throughout history, to speak to us now, from the ‘dust’.

Image: Lynn Raynard via Flickr

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