What might Wordsworth mean by “the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern
writers” in Preface to Lyrical Ballads? How, in his view, does his poetry set itself apart from such work?
Wordsworth’s Critique of Modern Writers
William Wordsworth was one of the pioneering figures of the Romantic movement in English literature. He was mainly known for his critiques of the poetic styles prevalent during his era.
He disparagingly referred to “the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers.” It encapsulates his view of the excesses and artificiality he perceived in the works of his contemporaries and successors.
His critique is grounded in his view that poetry should mirror authentic human emotions and experiences. He believed that the ornate language and overcomplicated structures used by many “modern writers” created barriers between the poem and its audience. These complexities obscured the true essence of poetry, a sentiment he sought to rectify through his works.
This “gaudiness” Wordsworth refers to speaks to the flamboyance, excessive ornamentation, and ostentation in the language used by these poets. He believed such showiness often detracted from the emotional truth and thematic depth the poem might hold.
Similarly, Wordsworth’s criticism of “inane phraseology” targets insubstantial or meaningless rhetoric. He critiques these works’ overly elaborate metaphors and the lack of originality and sincerity.
He found such language superficial, seeing it as a disconnection from the genuine expression of sentiment. Complex metaphors and intricate wordplay often masked the content, leaving readers alienated rather than emotionally engaged.
Wordsworth’s critique focuses on “modern writers” and their departure from poetry’s fundamental purpose. He addresses not only style and language but also the deviation from sincere emotional expression. According to him, poetry should convey emotional truth and human experiences authentically.
Gaudiness and Inane Phraseology
Gaudiness and inane phraseology” was a term used by William Wordsworth in Preface to Lyrical Ballads to critique the style of writing prevalent in much of the poetry during the late 18th century. Many poets used elaborate, convoluted language characterized by complex sentence structures, archaic words, and classical allusions at that time.
This approach often resulted in dense, inaccessible poetry and, as Wordsworth would argue, lacking genuine emotional resonance.
The term “gaudiness” implies an extravagance that borders on tastelessness—an overly showy or decorative style without substance.
“Inane phraseology,” on the other hand, suggests a kind of language that is not only empty but also foolish. This critique targets the verbose and hollow language that does not contribute to the overall meaning or impact of the poem.
Instead of enhancing the reader’s understanding, it often obscures the poet’s intent and distances the reader from the poem’s emotional core.
Wordsworth found both these trends—the excessive ornamentation and the empty language—to be a disservice to poetry as an art form. He saw them as barriers that prevent poetry from fulfilling its true purpose: to move its readers on a profound emotional level.
Therefore, he advocated for a language closer to everyday speech and a poetic focus grounded in the everyday human experience. In doing so, Wordsworth sought to reclaim poetry’s authenticity and emotional power.
When William Wordsworth referred to “the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers” in Preface to Lyrical Ballads, he was criticizing the elaborate, excessively ornate, and artificial language that characterized much of the poetry of his time.
Many poets employed complex, florid language with classical references and grandiose metaphors. To Wordsworth, this grandiloquence seemed more concerned with showcasing the poet’s linguistic skill and erudition than effectively conveying genuine emotions or insights.
The Principles of Wordsworth’s Poetry
The principles of William Wordsworth’s poetry represent a significant departure from the prevailing poetic norms of his time. Grounded in Romanticism, his approach to poetry was centered around simplicity, accessibility, and authenticity.
Wordsworth’s poetry embodied the belief that true poetic language should resemble the real language spoken by common people. His choice of ordinary subjects for his poems, such as rural life and nature, and his straightforward, unadorned language were deliberate strategies to move away from the artificial, lofty diction characteristic of the neoclassical poetry that preceded his era.
This desire for simplicity and authenticity also extended to his themes and motifs. Wordsworth often highlighted the beauty of the natural world, imbuing ordinary scenes and experiences with profound emotional depth.
He believed the ‘common’ and ‘everyday’ could be a source of deep poetic inspiration, marking a shift from the grand narratives and elevated subjects of earlier traditions.
Wordsworth’s poetry is also characterized by its expressive power. He famously described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” It underscores his belief that genuine emotion is the essence of poetry.
This focus on emotional sincerity further sets Wordsworth’s work apart, reinforcing his commitment to portraying the authentic human experience in its rawest form.
Emotional authenticity forms the heart and soul of William Wordsworth’s poetry. This tenet, fundamental to Wordsworth’s work, reflects his commitment to expressing genuine human experiences and emotions rather than adhering to stylistic conventions or grand narratives.
For Wordsworth, poetry was about capturing the rawness and depth of feeling, the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions that define the human experience.
This focus on emotional authenticity led Wordsworth to ground his work in the ordinary and the everyday. He found profound emotional truth in shared experiences, seeing in them a reflection of universal human emotions. His work, in its exploration of joy, sorrow, fear, love, and awe, speaks to the shared emotional fabric of humanity.
Wordsworth’s insistence on emotional authenticity also influenced his language choice. He championed the use of ‘the real language of men’ over-stylized, artificial poetic diction.
This approach was intended to bring poetry closer to its readers, facilitating a more immediate and genuine emotional connection.
In Wordsworth’s view, emotional authenticity in poetry enhances its aesthetic appeal and ability to resonate with readers.
It allows them to see their own experiences and emotions reflected in verse. His poetry’s emotional sincerity bridges the individual and the universal, between personal experience and shared human emotion.