As a young man, Wordsworth developed a love of nature, a theme reflected in many of his poems.
While studying at Cambridge University, Wordsworth spent a summer holiday on a walking tour in Switzerland and France. He became an enthusiast for the ideals of the French Revolution.
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He began to write poetry while he was at school, but none was published until In , Wordsworth received a legacy from a close relative and he and his sister Dorothy went to live in Dorset. Two years later they moved again, this time to Somerset, to live near the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was an admirer of Wordsworth's work. They collaborated on 'Lyrical Ballads', published in This collection of poems, mostly by Wordsworth but with Coleridge contributing 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', is generally taken to mark the beginning of the Romantic movement in English poetry.
The poems were greeted with hostility by most critics. Coleridge lived nearby with his family.
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For later versions of this poem Wordsworth added a reconciling conclusion, but the earliest and most powerful version was starkly tragic. In the company of Dorothy, Wordsworth spent the winter of —99 in Germany, where, in the remote town of Goslar , in Saxony, he experienced the most intense isolation he had ever known.
William Wordsworth Biography
All of these poems make up what is now recognized as his great decade, stretching from his meeting with Coleridge in until In , during the short-lived Peace of Amiens , Wordsworth returned briefly to France, where at Calais he met his daughter and made his peace with Annette. He then returned to England to marry Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend, and start an English family, which had grown to three sons and two daughters by Henceforth he would produce a different kind of poetry, defined by a new sobriety, a new restraint, and a lofty, almost Miltonic elevation of tone and diction.
These metaphors point up the differences between the early and the late Wordsworth. It is generally accepted that the quality of his verse fell off as he grew more distant from the sources of his inspiration and as his Anglican and Tory sentiments hardened into orthodoxy.
The most admired are the Duddon sonnets , which trace the progress of a stream through Lake District landscapes and blend nature poetry with philosophic reflection in a manner now recognized as the best of the later Wordsworth. Other sonnet sequences record his tours through the European continent, and the three series of Ecclesiastical Sketches develop meditations, many sharply satirical, on church history. In Wordsworth and his family moved from Dove Cottage to larger quarters in Grasmere, and five years later they settled at Rydal Mount, near Ambleside, where Wordsworth spent the remainder of his life.
He did publish Poems, in Two Volumes in ; The Excursion in , containing the only finished portions of The Recluse; and the collected Poems of , which contained most of his shorter poems and two important critical essays as well. Through all these years Wordsworth was assailed by vicious and tireless critical attacks by contemptuous reviewers; no great poet has ever had to endure worse.
Early life and education
But finally, with the publication of The River Duddon in , the tide began to turn, and by the mids his reputation had been established with both critics and the reading public. Most readers find the earliest versions of The Prelude and other heavily revised poems to be the best, but flashes of brilliance can appear in revisions added when the poet was in his seventies. Thereafter his influence was felt throughout the rest of the 19th century, though he was honoured more for his smaller poems, as singled out by the Victorian critic Matthew Arnold , than for his masterpiece, The Prelude.
In the 20th century his reputation was strengthened both by recognition of his importance in the Romantic movement and by an appreciation of the darker elements in his personality and verse.
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William Wordsworth was the central figure in the English Romantic revolution in poetry. His contribution to it was threefold. First, he formulated in his poems and his essays a new attitude toward nature. Writing it in a drawn-out process of self-exploration, Wordsworth worked his way toward a modern psychological understanding of his own nature, and thus more broadly of human nature. It is probably safe to say that by the late 20th century he stood in critical estimation where Coleridge and Arnold had originally placed him, next to John Milton —who stands, of course, next to William Shakespeare.
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