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November 8, 2008 New York University, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

On April 7, 1770, William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumbria, England. Wordsworth's mother died when he was eight—this experience shapes much of his later work. Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School, where his love of poetry was firmly established and, it is believed, he made his first attempts at verse. While he was at Hawkshead, Wordsworth's father died leaving him and his four siblings orphans. After Hawkshead, Wordsworth studied at St. John's College in Cambridge and before his final semester, he set out on a walking tour of Europe, an experience that influenced both his poetry and his political sensibilities. While touring Europe, Wordsworth came into contact with the French Revolution. This experience as well as a subsequent period living in France, brought about Wordsworth's interest and sympathy for the life, troubles, and speech of the "common man." These issues proved to be of the utmost importance to Wordsworth's work. Wordsworth's earliest poetry was published in 1793 in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. While living in France, Wordsworth conceived a daughter, Caroline, out of wedlock; he left France, however, before she was born. In 1802, he returned to France with his sister on a four-week visit to meet Caroline. Later that year, he married Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend, and they had five children together. In 1812, while living in Grasmere, two of their children—Catherine and John—died.

Equally important in the poetic life of Wordsworth was his 1795 meeting with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was with Coleridge that Wordsworth published the famous Lyrical Ballads in 1798. While the poems themselves are some of the most influential in Western literature, it is the preface to the second edition that remains one of the most important testaments to a poet's views on both his craft and his place in the world. In the preface Wordsworth writes on the need for "common speech" within poems and argues against the hierarchy of the period which valued epic poetry above the lyric.

Wordsworth's most famous work, The Prelude (1850), is considered by many to be the crowning achievement of English romanticism. The poem, revised numerous times, chronicles the spiritual life of the poet and marks the birth of a new genre of poetry. Although Wordsworth worked on The Prelude throughout his life, the poem was published posthumously. Wordsworth spent his final years settled at Rydal Mount in England, travelling and continuing his outdoor excursions. Devastated by the death of his daughter Dora in 1847, Wordsworth seemingly lost his will to compose poems. William Wordsworth died at Rydal Mount on April 23, 1850, leaving his wife Mary to publish The Prelude three months later.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

An Evening Walk (1793)
Descriptive Sketches (1793)
Borders (1795)
Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey (1798)
Lyrical Ballads (1798)
Upon Westminster Bridge (1801)
Intimations of Immortality (1806)
Miscellaneous Sonnets (1807)
Poems I-II (1807)
The Excursion (1814)
The White Doe of Rylstone (1815)
Peter Bell (1819)
The Waggoner (1819)
The River Duddon (1820)
Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822)
Memorials of a Tour of the Continent (1822)
Yarrow Revisited (1835)
The Prelude Or Growth of a Poet's Mind (1850)
The Recluse (1888)
The Poetical Works (1949)
Selected Poems (1959)
Complete Poetical Works (1971)
Poems (1977)

Prose

Prose Works (1896)
Literary Criticism (1966)
Letters of Dorothy and William Wordsworth (1967)
Letters of the Wordsworth Family (1969)
Prose Works (1974)
The Love Letters of William and Mary Wordsworth (1981)

Essays

Essay Upon Epitaphs (1810)

Surprised By Joy

William Wordsworth, 1770 - 1850
Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?—That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth, who rallied for "common speech" within poems and argued against the poetic biases of the period, wrote some of the most influential poetry in Western literature, including his most famous work, The Prelude, which is often considered to be the crowning achievement of English romanticism.

by this poet

poem
—A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes
poem
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
poem
Behold her, single in the field,   
Yon solitary Highland Lass!   
Reaping and singing by herself;   
Stop here, or gently pass!   
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;   
O listen! for the Vale profound   
Is overflowing with the sound.   
  
No Nightingale did ever chaunt   
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