Following a brief sojourn in London, Wordsworth settled with his sister at Racedown in 1795. Living modestly but contentedly, he now spent much of his time reading contemporary European literature and writing verse. An immensely important contribution to Wordsworth’s success was Dorothy’s lifelong devotion: She encouraged his efforts at composition and looked after the details of their daily life. During the first year at Racedown, Wordsworth wrote The Borderers, a verse drama based on the ideas of William Godwin and the German Sturm und Drang writers, who emphasized emotional expression in their work. The single most important event of his literary apprenticeship occurred in 1797 when he met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The two had corresponded for several years, and when Coleridge came to visit Wordsworth at Racedown, their rapport and mutual admiration were immediate. Many critics view their friendship as one of the most extraordinary in English literature. The Wordsworths soon moved to Nether Stowey in order to be near Coleridge. In the intellectually stimulating environment he and Coleridge created there, Wordsworth embarked on a period of remarkable creativity.
William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, England, the second son of john and Anne Cookson Wordsworth. An attorney for a prominent local aristocrat, john Wordsworth provided a secure and comfortable living for his family. But with his wife s death in 1778, the family became dispersed: The boys were enrolled at a boarding school in Hawkeshead, and Wordsworth s sister, Dorothy, was sent to live with cousins in Halifax. in the rural surroundings of Hawkeshead, situated in the lush Lake District, Wordsworth early learned to love nature, including the pleasures of walking and outdoor play. He equally enjoyed his formal education, demonstrating a talent for writing poetry. The tranquility of his years at Hawkeshead was marred by the death of his father in 1783. Left homeless, the Wordsworth children spent their school vacations with various relatives, many of whom regarded them as nothing more than a financial burden. Biographers have pointed out that Wordsworth s frequently unhappy early life contrasts sharply with the idealized portrait of childhood he presented in his poetry.
Asserting in the preface to his Lyrical Ballads that poetry should comprise ”language really used by men,” William Wordsworth challenged the prevailing eighteenth-century notion of formal poetic diction and thereby profoundly affected the course of modern poetry. His major work, The Prelude, a study of the role of the imagination and memory in the formation of poetic sensibility, is now viewed as one of the most seminal long poems of the nineteenth century. The freshness and emotional power of Wordsworth s poetry, the keen psychological depth of his characterizations, and the urgency of his social commentary make him one of the most important writers in English.
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The remaining years of Wordsworth’s career are generally viewed as a decline from the revolutionary and experimental fervor of his youth. He condemned French imperialism in the period after the revolution, and his nationalism became more pronounced. The pantheism of his early nature poetry, too—which celebrated a pervasive divine force in all things—gave way to orthodox religious sentiment in the later works. Such admirers as Percy Bysshe Shelley, who formerly had respected Wordsworth as a reformer of poetic diction, now regarded him with scorn and a sense of betrayal. Whether because of professional jealousy or because of alterations to his personality caused by prolonged drug use, Coleridge grew estranged from Wordsworth after 1810. Two works, Yarrow Revisited and Other Poems (1835) and The Sonnets of William Wordsworth (1838), received critical accolades upon their publication and evoked comparisons of Wordsworth’s sonnets with those of William Shakespeare and John Milton. In 1843 he won the distinction of being named poet laureate. After receiving a government pension in 1842, he retired to Rydal. When he died in 1850, he was one of England’s best-loved poets.