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Critical Analysis of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge spearheaded a philosophical writing movement in England in the late 18th and early 19th century. Although Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge are often considered the fathers of the English Romantic movement, their collective theologies and philosophies were often criticized but rarely taken serious by the pair of writers due to their illustrious prestige as poets. The combined effort in the Lyrical Ballads catapulted their names into the mainstream of writers in 1798 and with this work; they solidified their place in English literature. Although, most people fail to note that the majority of Coleridge's and Wordsworth's work was him simply bending and breaking particular rules of poetry that were in place during his time and in order to fully understand his work, one must fully understand his views of poetry itself.

Wordsworth was often arrogant in response to negative criticism, in this case, there was his response to Sara Hutchinson's comments on his work, "the Leechgatherer": "I am exceedingly sorry that the latter part of the Leechgatherer has displeased you, the more so because I cannot take to myself (that being the case) much pleasure or satisfaction in having pleased you in the former part" (Hanley). This particular scolding by Wordsworth clearly shows how important it was to him that the criticism only came from someone whom he greatly respected. Her letter to Wordsworth has since been lost but in my estimation, Hutchinson's comments could not have been all that degrading, just merely perpendicular to what Wordsworth thought of his own work.

There were two particular events that helped to give William a newfound sense of direction in his work and career. In January of 1795, a close friend of William died and in his will, he granted Wordsworth a legacy of 900 pounds; this money helped him to devote more time to his poetry. That same August, he met S.T. Coleridge and they quickly became close friends. In July of 1797, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved to Alfoxden House, which was only a few miles from Coleridge's home in Nether Stowey. Speaking of Coleridge, himself and Dorothy, Wordsworth said, "we were three persons with one soul" (Hanley). Each day, Wordsworth and Coleridge would work on their poetry, discuss their ideas on poetry, and comment on each other's poems. This process led to Wordsworth first celebrated work, Lyrical Ballads.

Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth was the piece of work that established him as an accomplished poet. The work was considered a collaboration between Wordsworth and Coleridge but was originally published anonymously. A lot had been made of their friendship where each would comment on each other's poetry but it must also be noted that Coleridge was in dire need of money. He had hoped to travel to Germany to study and when the book was published, and it helped to pay for his trip.

In the Advertisement of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth says the following about the content of his work:

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word Poetry, a word of very disputed meaning, to stand in the way of their gratification; but that, while they are perusing this book, they should ask themselves if it contains a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents; and if the answer be favorable to the author's wishes, that they should consent to be pleased in spite of that most dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own pre-established codes of decision. (Wordsworth 2).

Even though this is a longer passage, I feel that it is very prudent to know in reference to his work. Most poets wrote in confusing phrases that were merely meant to be on the bookshelves of the rich. This idea is intriguing since it puts itself above the upper class directed poetry by aiming its language and ideas to the "common" people.

Andrew Bennett, in his article "Wordsworth Writing", discussed that Wordsworth was actually a poet who did not actually write poetry. This reasoning he bases upon the idea that Wordsworth considered words to be immaterial. The language and the context of them, he felt, is what carried the true meaning. This paradox, as Bennett calls it, is notable in that "Wordsworth's poetry and his poetics are that both appear to involve a model of composition that is directed towards the exclusion of the act of writing, towards short-circuiting the question raised by the poet's name and eliding the process of writing itself" (Bennett). I feel that in this circumstance, Bennett becomes too engrossed as to how poetry can be defined since defining something as broad as poetry becomes relative. Wordsworth was obviously a poet but he also felt that his work was beyond the scope of most of his contemporaries. Also, Wordsworth and Coleridge did not intend to overwhelm the readers of their work so that they agreed with their opinions or particular political views. Insteady, they presented themselves as merely a gatherer of thoughts and concepts whose power lay in the fact that it was written with "rural" language, so that the freedom and independence of which reflected that of the landscape in which it lived.

In contrast, S.T. Coleridge was often the one who made it his own responsibility to respond to the ideas and opinions of other contemporary writers of his time, for example, one of his favorite targets was often Edmund Burke.

Coleridge wrestled with this problem in "Religious Musings" (1796), his anti-establishment anti-Burke poem that borrowed from Wakefield's The Spirit of Christianity Compared with the Spirit of the Times (1794). Coleridge attacked Burke in the poem, alluding to him for his role in stirring up the people against Joseph Priestley, the Unitarian radical forced into exile by the mob:

Lo! Priestley there, Patriot, and Saint, and Sage,

... Him from his native land

Statesmen blood-stain'd and Priests idolatrous

By dark lies mad'ning

...

...

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