This is one of the most important artistic manifestos in the English language. Written by William Wordsworth in 1798 to accompany the Lyrical Ballads, a volume of poetry by himself and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it sets out the idea of poetry that Wordsworth was to adhere to all his life.

His insistence on commonplace language and the everyday is explained by him as a reaction to the neo-classical or Augustan poetry of the eighteenth century, which sought to mimic ancient Greek and Roman forms and placed formal elegance and sophistication as greater goals than intelligibility. Wordsworth, most of all the Romantic poets, rejected this idea and the poetic forms of the past century. Rather than the heroic couplets of Alexander Pope, he used the quatrains of the traditional ballad and other verse forms related to folk songs. Even when he wrote in more sophisticated rhyme schemes such as the sonnet, his language was free of the over-complex Latinate vocabulary and archaisms that English poetry always seems prone to slip into, from Edmund Spenser onwards.

The project of simplifying poetic language can be seen as an important part of a historical process; other notable believers in that goal include the American poet William Carlos Williams. However, it is arguable, and Wordsworth acknowledges the argument below, that poetry should be written in a higher language, a more concentrated and refined mode of speech. For if poetry is the same as common speech, what is to distinguish the two? Wordsworth's idea, and one that links him to the romantic movement in general, is that the important element is the mind of the poet and the way it understands and presents the truth of human experience.

Wordsworth also speaks of the poems as "experiments"; the same word was used by J. M. W. Turner around the same time to describe his painting style. Despite Wordsworth's modesty, the book includes some of the most famous and finest poetry in the English language.

The text below is from the 1798 edition of the Lyrical Ballads, with the original line-breaks and pagination preserved.

It is the honourable characteristic of Poetry that
its materials are to be found in every subject
which can interest the human mind. The evi-
dence of this fact is to be sought, not in the
writings of Critics, but in those of Poets them-

The majority of the following poems are to be
considered as experiments. They were written
chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the lan-
guage of conversation in the middle and lower
classes of society is adapted to the purposes of
poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the

Page ii

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 auk-
wardness: 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 gratifica-
tion; 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.

Page iii

Readers of superior judgment may disapprove of the
style in which many of these pieces are execu-
ted it must be expected that many lines and phra-
ses will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps
appear to them, that wishing to avoid the pre-
valent fault of the day, the author has sometimes
descended too low, and that many of his expres-
sions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dig-
nity. It is apprehended, that the more con-
versant the reader is with our elder writers, and
with those in modern times who have been the
most successful in painting manners and passions,
the fewer complaints of this kind will he have
to make.

An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other
arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an
acquired talent, which can only be produced by
severe thought, and a long continued intercourse
with the best models of composition. This is

Page iv

mentioned not with so ridiculous a purpose
as to prevent the most inexperienced reader
from judging for himself; but merely to temper
the rashness of decision, and to suggest that if
poetry be a subject on which much time has not
been bestowed, the judgment may be erroneous,
and that in many cases it necessarily will be so.

The tale of Goody Blake and Harry Gill is
founded on a well-authenticated fact which hap-
pened in Warwickshire. Of the other poems in
the collection, it may be proper to say that they
are either absolute inventions of the author, or
facts which took place within his personal obser-
vation or that of his friends. The poem of the
Thorn, as the reader will soon discover, is not
supposed to be spoken in the author's own per-
son: the character of the loquacious narrator will
sufficiently shew itself in the course of the story.
The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere was profes-

Page v

sedly written in imitation of the style, as well as
of the spirit, of the elder poets; but with a few
exceptions, the Author believes that the lan-
guage adopted in it has been equally intelligible
or these three last centuries. The lines entitled
Expostulation and Reply, and those which
follow, arose out of conversation with a friend
who was somewhat unreasonably attached to
modern books of moral philosophy.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.