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Short poem

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798)




{{Page i}}

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

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

{{Page ii}}

13 gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern
14 writers, if they persist in reading this book to its
15 conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to
16 struggle with feelings of strangeness and auk-
17 wardness: they will look round for poetry, and
18 will be induced to enquire by what species of
19 courtesy these attempts can be permitted to
20 assume that title. It is desirable that such
21 readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer
22 the solitary word Poetry, a word of very disputed
23 meaning, to stand in the way of their gratifica-
24 tion; but that, while they are perusing this
25 book, they should ask themselves if it contains a
26 natural delineation of human passions, human
27 characters, and human incidents; and if the
28 answer be favorable to the author's wishes, that they
29 should consent to be pleased in spite of that
30 most dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own
31 pre-established codes of decision.

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

46 An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other
47arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an
48 acquired talent, which can only be produced by
49 severe thought, and a long continued intercourse
50 with the best models of composition. This is

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

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

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

Copytext: Lyrical Ballads (1798).
Source: Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems. London: Printed for J. and A. Arch, 1798.
Ed. (text): Ian Lancashire, Rep. Criticism On-line (1996).

Editorial Conventions

This edition does not encode signatures, page numbers, or catchwords. Old spelling is retained except for ligatured letters, which are normalized. Contractions and abbreviations are placed within vertical bars. Italics and lineation are retained, but not small capitals and the text of catchwords, signatures, and running titles. Original lineation is maintained. Reference citations are by page numbers and editorial through-text paragraph and line numbers.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Other works by William Wordsworth