Wordsworth & Coleridge: Meter and Language in Lyrical Ballads

After first reading Lyrical Ballads, I wanted to have a better understanding of the collaborative relationship between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge so as to better understand Lyrical Ballads and its creators.

My research led me down an interesting path. I began by studying Wordsworth’s “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” and Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, paying specific attention to the chapters in which Coleridge discusses Wordsworth’s views on meter and language in contrast with his own views.

I found that the two poets vastly disagreed on what counts as poetry and on which features poetry necessitated, if any. In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge argues that poetry promises the employment of metrical composition in conjunction with a special language, the language of poetry. Coleridge respects and even clings to this promise, while Wordsworth, in his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads,” absolutely rejects it. Wordsworth claims that his purpose in writing Lyrical Ballads was to present a poetry of the common man, or a poetry that employs naturalistic, simple language—the kind of language he claimed people really use in their daily experiences. Wordsworth does not reject meter, but instead likens meter to naturalistic laws. He ultimately rejects the special promise of a heightened or “enlightened” language traditionally expected of poetry.

Ultimately, my research gave me more understanding of the nuances of Coleridge and Wordsworth’s relationship and partnership in producing Lyrical Ballads. Though the two certainly disagreed, they held each other in high esteem and with the utmost admiration, and I was ultimately really inspired by their ability to maintain their individuality while successfully collaborating on one of the most influential releases of poetry in literary history.

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