William Wordsworth: 1770 - 1850

...... Many of Wordsworth’s poems champion the weak and the poor. They are grounded in the world around him with all its imperfections – and with the ability of the human spirit to transcend them ........

 

Wordsworth, whose poetry is set to music by Michael J. Smith in ‘The Prelude’, was born in Cockermouth, Cumbria in 1770 and lived most of his life in the Lake District at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, and Rydal Mount nearby, drawing inspiration from his beautiful surroundings. His sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, kept house with him all her adult life, and was devoted to William’s wife, Mary Wordsworth, and their children. The brother and sister were very much kindred spirits, and Dorothy’s observations frequently provided the impetus for William’s creativity.Their relationship is honoured in the placing of Dorothy as a soloist along with Wordsworth in Michael Smith’s setting of ‘The Prelude’ as an oratorio.Wordsworth

 

In his lifetime, Wordsworth’s reputation rested largely on his ‘Lyrical Ballads’, in which he collaborated with Coleridge ( who also features as a soloist in Smith’s ‘The Prelude’) and on poems such as ‘Tintern Abbey’ and the ode ‘Intimations of Immortality’, lines from which also appear in the oratorio. After being freed from the burden of having to rely on poetry to make his living by a legacy and by his appointment as distributor of stamps for Westmoreland, William succeeded Robert Southey as Poet Laureate in 1843, achieving public recognition and civic dignity.

Nowadays Wordsworth is more often remembered for his sonnet ‘On Westminster Bridge’ and his ‘Daffodils’ poem. ‘The Prelude’ was published by his widow Mary for the first time in 1850, just after Wordsworth’s death, and subtitled ‘Growth of a Poet’s Mind’.

What is often forgotten, and what is highlighted in the mood of Michael Smith’s arrangement of ‘The Prelude’, is the revolutionary and spiritual quality of Wordsworth’s poetry, highlighted in this long autobiographical poem. Wordsworth was a young man at the time of the French Revolution, writing such lines as ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very heaven!’ He was inspired by many of the same egalitarian, radical and romantic principles as the more overtly anarchic artists as Shelley and his young wife Mary (‘Frankenstein’), Byron (who lost his life fighting in the war for Greek independence) and Wordsworth’s collaborator, Coleridge himself, writer of ‘The Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Kubla Khan’.

Many of Wordsworth’s poems champion the weak and the poor. They are grounded in the world around him with all its imperfections – and with the ability of the human spirit to transcend them.

Sue Saunders (Hedworth)

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Nature never did betray the heart that loved her...’ (William Wordsworth)