Wordsworth has an exalted conception of poetry. According to him “poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science”. He not only defines poetry; but also explains too the process involved in the production of poetry. His theory of poetry is comprehensive in the sense that it tells us the qualification of the poet, the function of poetry and recommends the language of poetry. This theory is valid because it comes from a poet who practiced it himself in his poetry.
Nature and process of poetry
About the nature and process of poetry Wordsworth says “poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; to takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility; the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reactions, the tranquility disappears, an emotion kindred to that which was before the subject of itself actually exit in the mind. In this mood, successful composition begins and in a similar mood it is carried out to be continued”.
These famous lines of Wordsworth describe the process, which leads to the production of poetry. First, there is the emotion set up by an experience. Then there is an interval of time, during which the non-essential elements in the experience are purged off. In the second stage, memory plays the important role. It controls what is to be retained and shapes into beautiful forms what it retains.
This idea of an interval between experience or observation and composition is an important part of Wordsworth’s theory of poetry. The third stage is recollection, when the experience thus purged is recalled. At the fourth stage, the emotion is gradually set up in the mind again. The last stage is composition. Thus these stages are
Emotion recollected in tranquility means that poet does not react at an impression immediately. He allows his sense impressions of objects perceived by him to sink into his mind along with the feelings, which it has excited. There they remain buried till their accidental ingredients have been purged and its ideal and essential truth is left. When later the impression is recalled, the original feeling revived with it.
Fundamental condition of Poetry
According to Wordsworth, deep emotion is the fundamental condition of poetry. It is the feeling that matters. Wordsworth discards Aristotelian doctrine that the plot, or the situation is the first and most important thing. For Wordsworth the first thing is feeling. It is objected that Wordsworth emphasizes feeling and ignores thoughts, but it is not true. It is true that he attaches great significance to feeling, yet he maintains that valuable poems can only be produced by a man who has thought long deeply.
The Function of poetry
Wordsworth remarks “The end of poetry is to produce excitement in co-existence with an over-balance of pleasure”. The function of poetry is to offer delight. The poet console afflicted and leads men to virtue. Wordsworth stresses the importance of metre in poetry because it is helpful in achieving poetic pleasure.
His Conception of a poet
Wordsworth considers poet a seer. He is a man speaking to men, and is different from others in the degree of certain qualities. He is endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, more lively knowledge of human nature, more fertile imagination than common people.
The Language of Poetry
Wordsworth has romantic and revolutionary views about the language of poetry. He revolts against the artificial language of 18th century. He recommends the ordinary language that is used in daily conservation for poetry. In his view this is more effective.
Wordsworth practice of his theory
Wordsworth had a practiced approach towards his theory of poetry. He followed to a great extent his theory in his own practice. His poems like, the prelude, the solitary Reaper, the Daffodils etc are based on his theory.