a Presentation in 7 Literary Elements
In this presentation, we'll follow the map "How to present a literary work" to dig into several aspects: the title, genre, circumstances of publication, sources of inspiration, structure, narrative techniques, and themes.
The readers can guess the collection's genre and style from the title alone, "Lyrical Ballads." Let's break the title down into its two key components: "Lyrical" and "Ballads:"
Lyrical: Lyrical indicates emotional intensity, subjectivity, and a focus on personal experiences and emotions. These deeply introspective poems explore Wordsworth and Coleridge's inner thoughts and feelings. Readers are invited to connect with them on an emotional level.
Ballads: the term "ballad" traditionally refers to short narrative poems. Here, the authors combine the charm of ballads with the emotions of lyrical poetry to engage readers on multiple levels.
You may wonder what Wordsworth and Coleridge's aim was. They wanted to break away from the rigid poetic conventions of their time, which favoured elaborate language and artificial themes. They aspired to capture the essence of ordinary life and the emotions of common people. So they decided to blend the lyrical and the narrative, the personal and the universal making "Lyrical Ballads" a seminal work that opened the way for the Romantic movement.
Circumstances of Publication:
The first edition of "Lyrical Ballads" was published anonymously in 1798. The initial reception was quite unfavourable since readers and critics were unaccustomed to simplicity and unconventional themes in poetry. The 1800 publication contained a significant addition: "The Advertisement." In this preface, Wordsworth explains the poets' intentions and their revolutionary approach to poetry:
- emphasis on the use of simple language;
- focus on the depiction of ordinary life;
- importance of emotion and imagination in poetry.
The English Romantic movement soon adopted the Preface as its manifesto.
Lyrical Ballads reflects the intellectual and philosophical currents of the late 18th century, including ideas from the French Revolution and German Romanticism. Keeping in mind Wordsworth and Coleridge primarily rejected Neoclassical literature, choosing instead to focus on the lives of ordinary people, imagination, emotions, and nature let's examine the main influences:
William Godwin, a philosopher, writer, and libertarian political theorist, had a significant influence on the collection: his philosophical theories on reason, individualism, and societal development which greatly impacted the intellectual landscape of the Romantic age, also contributed to the issues discussed in "Lyrical Ballads."
Philosopher George Berkeley's ideas about subjective idealism and the nature of reality can be found in Lyrical Ballads. Coleridge's investigation of consciousness, perception, and the relationship between the mind and the external world, in particular, can be closely linked to Berkeley's philosophical concepts.
Lyrical Ballads is a two-volume collection of poems, a joint work. This division into two volumes is a thoughtful artistic choice. It allows both poets to shine in their unique ways while maintaining a sense of unity and collaboration.
Volume I is where Wordsworth's magic unfolds. His poems are like a breath of fresh air, bringing to life the everyday experiences of common people, the beauty of the natural world, and the power of the human imagination. His language is simple, yet it carries profound meaning in ordinary events. Some of the most famous poems in this volume include Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey and The Tables Turned.
Volume II, on the other hand, is where Coleridge takes the stage. His poems, including the well-known The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, show a more complex and mystical quality, often dealing with the supernatural. His poems are known for their vivid imagery and elaborate narrative structures. But the volume is not all Coleridge - Wordsworth also contributes some of his own poems.
Examining Lyrical Ballads, you'll observe that Wordsworth and Coleridge employ distinctly different narrative techniques.
Wordsworth's Narrative Techniques:
Autobiographical Elements: Evident in Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, where Wordsworth reflects on the influence of nature on his personal growth.
Simplicity of Language: Use of everyday language to bridge the gap between poetic expression and common speech. This choice renders his poetry accessible to a broader audience while conveying profound themes.
Connection to Nature: Nature serves as both a backdrop and metaphor, facilitating the exploration of human emotions and experiences, while providing comfort, inspiration, and spiritual connection.
Coleridge's Narrative Techniques:
Supernatural and Gothic Elements: Observable in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, where Coleridge introduces supernatural and Gothic elements.
Complex Narrative Structures: Frequent utilization of intricate and layered narrative structures, exemplified in Kubla Khan, a dreamlike and fragmented narrative challenging conventional poetry.
In harmony with the structured design of Lyrical Ballads, the narrative techniques employed by Wordsworth and Coleridge unfold systematically, showcasing their individual styles while preserving a cohesive and collaborative essence throughout the collection.
Lyrical Ballads explores themes that reflect the ethos of the Romantic era. Here are some key themes illustrated with quotes from the collection:
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused...
— From "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"
Wordsworth's poem captures the theme of nature's sublime influence on the human mind. It explores how encounters with the natural world elevate human thoughts and emotions, offering solace and inspiration.
The Interdependence of Man and Nature:
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
— From "The Tables Turned"
This poem by Wordsworth underscores the interdependence of humans and nature. It suggests that nature can impart profound moral lessons and insights, challenging the conventional wisdom of the time.
Simplicity and Rural Life:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils...
— From "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"
In this iconic poem, Wordsworth celebrates the beauty of simplicity and rural life. The sight of daffodils in the countryside brings joy to the poet, emphasizing the restorative power of nature.
The Impact of Industrialization:
The fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart.
— From "Lines Written in Early Spring"
Wordsworth's poem reflects on the adverse effects of industrialization and the rapid changes in society. It portrays a sense of disconnection from nature and the loss of tranquility.
He holds him with his skinny hand,
'There was a ship,' quoth he.
'Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!'
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
— From "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
Coleridge's ballad weaves a tale of the supernatural, where an eerie encounter with a ghostly figure, the Ancient Mariner, haunts the sailors. This theme explores the mysterious and uncanny aspects of existence.
Nostalgia and Memory:
That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures.
— From "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"
Wordsworth reflects on the theme of nostalgia and memory, highlighting the power of recollection to transform past experiences into a source of solace and inspiration in the present.