Here are the most Exquisite Poems of William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, in 1770—the same year that Beethoven, Hegel, and Hölderlin were born—and died at Rydal Mount, Westmorland, at the age of eighty, wealthy in the knowledge of his enormous accomplishments. Wordsworth introduced unique poetry to English literature and the globe in those eighty years; it had never been seen before and has never been seen since. After many years of less than favorable reception, he spent his final few decades enjoying his well-earned reputation among the early Victorians.

In his youth, for example, he was enthralled by the revolutionary enthusiasm that characterized the 1790s. He had many high-ranking friends, including Queen Victoria herself. He was awarded honorary degrees by both Durham and Oxford—honors to which Wordsworth responded dryly in a letter to Henry Crabb Robinson (July 28, 1838): ‘I forgot to mention that the University of Durham the other day by especial inauguration conferred upon me the honorary degree of L.L.D.

While he was in his twenties, he affected so many Europeans as the ideals and resentments of the French Revolution grew and eventually devolved into La Terreur. The deadly turn of the Revolution, which horrified Wordsworth, impacted him for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, like many others, he remained a supporter of the Rousseauan ideas that fueled the early revolt. Thus, in The Prelude, his lyrical autobiography, he could remark of the Revolutionary age, ‘Bliss was it in that morning to be alive,’ while still condemning the brutality and ‘atheism’ of Robespierre and the other builders of horror. 

William Wordsworth

Just from the melody and desire of this single line of iambic pentameter, one gets a feeling of how grief and joy delightfully intermingle in Wordsworth; they do so in a really intimate voice that should be the true envy of all us poets who can’t equal that sincerity. His readers are frequently moved to tears by the results.

Those of us who like Wordsworth’s poetry (and he did have opponents, though I don’t understand them) adore the guy himself. His soul is so vast and magnificent that one nearly believes he lives among us now; he is imprinted on his surroundings; in documenting them, he (in a way) creates them for us. And he is a good friend to people who love to read him and hear the rhythm of his sentences, rather than a distant, respected figure.

Wordsworth is the finest type of moralist: despite being concerned with virtue and wanting to be good, he had flaws. In addition to his intellectual folly during his early revolutionary years, he fathered an illicit kid while residing in France. Although his practicality prevented him from this early lover and daughter, he did assist to financially support them for the remainder of their life. Thus, Wordsworth, like St. Paul, may exclaim, “I am the foremost of sinners!” However, this narrative gives the character a little more flesh and blood.

Tintern Abbey 

This poem of William Wordsworth was not written at Tintern Abbey, but rather nearby, overlooking the ruins of the medieval monastery in the Wye Valley in South Wales, as the poem’s full title (‘Lines Written (or Composed) a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798′) reveals. Actually, according to Wordsworth, he did not ‘write’ a single word of the poem until he was in Bristol when he scribbled down the entire poem, which he had constructed in his brain immediately after leaving the Wye.

Although it has been five years since Wordsworth last saw this view, the thoughts of the lovely countryside have often come to him whether he has been in bustling “towns and cities” or sitting “in lonely chambers.” The image evokes sentiments that the poet associates with little acts of love and compassion, which might lead to a type of serenity that allows us to ‘see into the life of things: to comprehend things in ways we normally cannot.

The poem is one of English literature’s classic anthems to calm, silent contemplation, and self-examination.

The brief but revolutionary series of poems of William Wordsworth was co-authored with Coleridge. After a rather ‘directionless’ childhood (to use the Stephen as mentioned above Gill research), Wordsworth himself defined in ‘The Prelude’ as a period of ‘shapeless yearning,’ the poet ultimately released Lyrical Ballads at the age of twenty-eight. This type of artistic Revolution fitted Wordsworth’s aspirations far better than the French political Revolution.

The Lyrical Ballads of 1798 was a revolutionary book that included one of the entries on this page (no. 6). It lived a peaceful early existence and was reissued in 1800 with a large Preface by Wordsworth. He lay out many of his deep views and astute insights on what the art of poetry is, has been, and what it ought to be.

Wordsworth’s great Ode in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), ‘Tintern Abbey’ (or, to give it its full original title, ‘Lines, written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’). The Abbey—that is, the site itself—is on the Welsh border.

Wordsworth had visited it and its surrounding environment five years before writing the poem. On returning it, he transmuted his intense sentiments for the area into this tribute to his adored sister, Dorothy.

poems of william wordsworth

Lucy Poems

The small series of Lucy poems—five short stanzaic poems of William Wordsworth about the enigmatic Lucy figure—stands out among the poems of William Wordsworth. Never before has he combined the compression required by the brief lyric with the strong impression of word and picture so well. Although he is at his utmost best in the massive expatiations that follow later in our list, he never achieves the quiet, haunting mood of the present spooky verses.

The cycle, which is so interconnected that it might be regarded as a unit, comprises five short poems of William Wordsworth. 

The first poem, ‘Strange Fits of Passion,’ is rather ordinary. The ethereal ‘Lucy’ enigma is addressed in the second paragraph, ‘She resided amid the untrodden paths.’ still, it builds up to something akin to a romance, a chivalric story, with overtones of medieval tale-telling, and concludes with a haunting, though short, climax.

As I go on to the fourth poetry, I leave the third poem to the reader’s choice. The longest song on the record, ‘Three Years She Grew,’ tells of Nature’s desire to “take Lucy for her own.”

Because it is lengthier, it allows for a little more intricacy. The poem makes excellent use of enjambment and pattern. Some of the beauty of the rhythm is lost when read out of context. Therefore I would advise the reader to read the poem in its whole above. However, even when taken out of context, some of the richness of both sentiment and sonority shines through. The majority of the poem is spent with Nature’s discourse, which is too complicated and lengthy to discuss. Still, it closes on tones of quiescence, sorrow, and absence.

Lucy seemed to straddle the line between metaphor (her name means Light) and (for want of a better phrase) reality. The debate over these poems of William Wordsworth continues to rage among Wordsworthians. However, the secret that makes them so strong persists. The set’s concluding poem, ‘Asleep did my spirit seal,’ is an outstanding example of the type of poetry about which there is practically nothing to say that the poem itself does not put infinitely better. It boasts such compression, beauty, and mystery in such a tiny area that you may read it above for yourself.

The Prelude

Coleridge pestered Wordsworth about composing a lengthy philosophical poem about 1798–9. This was to be known as ‘The Recluse.’ Unfortunately, it was never published, but two certain book-length poems of William Wordsworth: ‘The Prelude,’ published in 1850 by Wordsworth’s widow a few months after the death (the title is hers), and ‘The Excursion,’ published during Wordsworth’s lifetime and widely regarded as Wordsworth’s greatest poem during his lifetime, as scholar Bushell notes in Re-Reading The Excursion. (It was regarded by the late Victorians as being on par with the renowned Prelude in terms of value, but it is now hardly read at all.)

However, Book I of the poem, The Ruined Cottage, which was initially composed as a separate poem in 1797–8 (generally considered Wordsworth’s greatest years), is still read by passionate Wordsworthians. Wordsworth couldn’t compose “The Recluse,” but he could write a Prelude to it and an Excursion from it, according to a colleague of a colleague.

This book-length autobiographical poetry is often considered to be Wordsworth’s masterpiece. It comes in a variety of flavors. There are two book-length versions, 1805 and 1850, and a five-book 1805 Prelude and a two-part 1799 Prelude.

There is also a fragment from (possibly) 1798 that is essentially just the beginning of the two-book version of 1799. I would strongly recommend the 1799 two-book set to a reader who does not have the time to devote to the huge later Preludes. This is full of strange moments—including one or two that may startle a reader with a limited grasp of Wordsworth—as well as soaring, gorgeous language and description. Needless to say, there is no substitute for the full depth of the lengthy Preludes, so the reader should attempt the five-book set or, for a lengthier read, the entire 1805 or 1850 set.

The great Wordsworthian, Ernest de Selincourt, notably found, selected and published the more young and simple 1805. I believe there is much to love in both 1805 and 1850 and that we have an embarrassment of riches here. Fortunately, the two editions (together with the two-book 1799 Prelude and the 1798 fragment) have been combined in a single inexpensive and handsome Penguin edition edited by Jonathan Wordsworth. The 1805 and 1850 editions appear side by side, with the former on the left-hand pages and the latter on the right. Readers may select one text and make simple comparisons as they proceed.

Also Read, John Keats’ Poems that will make you cry.

When one first opens this volume, one is confronted with the achingly lovely piece that would become the famous later work. By 1805, a new beginning had emerged, one of Wordsworth’s most exquisite beginnings.

This huge and magnificent poem then moves on through Wordsworth’s upbringing, school, university, intellectual life, travels, living in London, France during the Revolution, and culminates on a heavenly note as Wordsworth addresses his closest family and friends one by one. Because the poem is dedicated to Coleridge, it concludes with some of the best lines he (or anybody else) has ever written.

I would strongly recommend to any interested readers Stephen Gill’s William Wordsworth: The Prelude, a brief, 100-page introduction published for the ‘Landmarks of World Literature’ series in the 1980s and 1990s. It maintains a light and elegant tone while staying substantive and instructive. Its depiction of the tragic Coleridge-Wordsworth relationship is likewise deeply touching, even though this essential component is almost entirely omitted from The Prelude itself.

Ode: Intimations of Immortality

Though I do not adore this poem as much as many other Wordsworthians, it is indisputably magnificent in its ambition and breadth. To leave it off a list of best poems of William Wordsworth due to personal preference would severely diminish the value of the list.

This Ode (another form, like the sonnet, in which Wordsworth outdid almost everyone—perhaps except Horace and Hölderlin) contains Wordsworth’s most famous engagement with Rousseau’s idea of the natural insight and purity of the child—a doctrine that we still somewhat entertain today, despite Freud’s desecrations.

Wordsworth dealt with this topic frequently, especially in his early poetry, but this is his greatest attempt. He opens with a brief epigraph to the poem that encapsulates his strong sentiments about the subject.

This epigraph, which Wordsworth borrowed from another of poems of William Wordsworth, ‘My Heart Leaps Up,’ was added to the later, lengthier version of the poem (written 1804, published 1807), which has 11 significant stanzas. The original version (written in 1802) is barely three pages long. It addresses the issue of the diminishing sense of the divine in Nature with time.

Despite the nearly childish simplicity of the words (save for the magnificent phrase, ‘Apparelled in celestial light,’ it has an unbearable melancholy and a lovely melody. It also demonstrates Wordsworth’s most diversified and fascinating use of meter (as seen by the varying line lengths and brought out by the rhyme)—something in which he was not particularly experimental. (However, most great poets—in any language I can think of—tend to flourish in a single meter.)

The only exceptions I can think of are Goethe and Horace, both of whom excelled in several disciplines.) The form is derived indirectly from Pindar’s Odes in Greek, via Cowley and Gray’s English translations. However, Wordsworth’s are far more courteous and straightforward in meaning than Pindar’s Greek’s astounding complexity of meter, syntax, and topic.

The poet cheers in the third verse, concluding, ‘No more shall anguish of mine the season wrong. The number 1804 is then added, making the poem 11 stanzas long.

The rest of this section argues that the divine remains with us in our youth and fades away as we mature. Again, while great, the emotion is a touch doctrinal. I believe Wordsworth should have used the systematic philosophical prose treatise if he wanted this to be regarded seriously as doctrine. But never mind: we have wonderful poetry to compensate for the former’s loss.

The next stanzas expand on the argument. These parts include some wonderful lines. After then, stanzas 10 and eleven bring us to a close with the joyful crashing of a symphony’s climax. The penultimate stanza slows the tempo, moving closer to the organ-swell of Wordsworth’s favorite pentameter meter before closing with a prayer of thankfulness. 

William Wordsworth

The World is too much with us.

Wordsworth was continually drawn back to the sonnet. It seemed to him to be a perfect mode of expression. Whereas Ben Jonson thought the form misshaped strains of thought, making them heavier or shorter than best suited them—and thus compared them to the Bed of Procrustes—the form was just large enough to allow Wordsworth to elaborate without letting him become prosaic, as he could often be in his longer, conversational poem, and forcing him to make his points with grace and concision. He took the well-worn form of love poetry and utilized it for really innovative and original purposes. The Wordsworthian sonnet is unique in its own right.

Many renowned poems of William Wordsworth could have been included in the list—“Scorn, not the Sonnet,” “Upon Westminster Bridge”—as well as lesser-known but equally beautiful poems of William Wordsworth such as the Ecclesiastical Sonnets (highly recommended), the many “Miscellaneous Sonnets,” or the sonnet pattern, “The River Duddon” (even more beautiful than the Ecclesiastical Sonnets). I don’t think the first seven words, or those that follow, are ever going to become old: they speak to the fundamental concept of vulnerability in us. The turn (or volta) of this sonnet into its final sestet, on the other hand, shifts the poetry from didactic to Classical Wordsworth—a key feature of the poet that is all too often overlooked and underappreciated.

It’s a cute little joke, addressing the “Great God” and then declaring that one would rather be a pagan. But Wordsworth’s argument here is considerably more serious. He makes it much more thoroughly and extensively in his lengthier Prelude that we exist “in a world of life” and that it is our duty—and an exquisite pleasure—to completely comprehend this fact. To do differently is to invite disaster.