Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom under Queen Victoria from 1843-1850, British poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was a major poet of the English Romantic period, friend to fellow Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and another “classical” poet whose success and veneration belies the real criticism and challenges he endured.
A faithful supporter of the Church of England, some of the criticism directed at Wordsworth, both then and now, is due to his adherence to his religious beliefs when the literary elite found it more fashionable to espouse secular themes and values prevalent during the Enlightenment (and currently enjoying renewed popularity). Wordsworth lived for a time in France and was at first enamored with the ideas of Republicanism which brought about the French Revolution, but then became horrified by the atrocities witnessed during the “Reign of Terror.” These early experiences undoubtedly influenced his work. As he progressed in his career, Wordsworth was fortunate enough to witness his earlier works gaining appreciation over time as the views of the Enlightenment gave way to 19th-century Romanticism.
While his semi-autobiographical poem, “The Prelude,” is often considered his best work, Wordsworth’s talent is also widely recognized in shorter works, including “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” and “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” found here below.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
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;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!