Purpose of Writing Preface to Lyrical Ballads

Purpose of Writing Preface to Lyrical Ballads


What is the purpose of writing the Preface to Lyrical Ballads? Why did Wordsworth feel the need to explain his poetry in this way?

The “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” is a manifesto for the Romantic movement. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge pioneered the movement.

In Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth articulates a new philosophy of poetry that deviates from the Neoclassical norms prevalent during his time.

There were several reasons Wordsworth felt the need to explain his poetry in this way:

1- To Articulate New Poetic Philosophy

In asserting a new poetic philosophy, Wordsworth sought to revolutionize the poetry paradigm that had long been entrenched in classical norms. These rules favored fancy language, filled with knowledge and complexity, often making it hard for regular readers to understand.

Furthermore, these rules are inclined towards grand and mythical topics with lofty and legendary elements. The poetry created under these norms existed in a higher world, often far from daily life’s ordinary feelings and experiences.

Wordsworth envisioned a departure from these conventional constructs. He sought to redefine poetry as a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” He positioned it as an expression of raw emotion rather than just an intellectual exercise.

This radical shift allowed poetry to become an emotional outlet and a tool of introspection rather than just high-brow entertainment.

Furthermore, Wordsworth argued that the language of poetry should echo the language of common people. He believed that everyday language, unadorned, could carry the weight of profound thoughts and intense emotions.

This shift towards more straightforward language marked a democratization of poetry. This makes it more accessible and relatable to the common reader.

Lastly, Wordsworth insisted on placing common, everyday events and situations at the heart of poetic creation. He saw immense potential in the mundane, the routine, and the quotidian.

By focusing on these elements, he aimed to highlight the universal human experience and the emotional richness beneath the surface of our everyday lives. Thus,  Wordsworth’s idea was like a reminder for poetry to show more of the real world, acting like a mirror that shows the fundamental aspects of life.

2- To Explain and Defend his Work

Wordsworth sought to distance himself from Neoclassical poetry’s grandiose language and detached themes. Instead, he chose to use simple, everyday language. This choice was initially met with confusion and disapproval by the literary experts of his time.

These radical departures from established norms required not only a defense of his choices but also an explanation of his innovative approach.

Through the preface, Wordsworth was able to illuminate his intention of presenting genuine human emotions and the beauty of ordinary life. Wordsworth argued that ordinary and everyday things held a universal truth. He believed this truth was more impactful when expressed in the language used by regular people.

By providing a defense for his work, Wordsworth challenged his readers and critics to broaden their understanding and appreciation of what poetry could be. He asserted the validity and value of his poetic style and themes, presenting them not as inferior to classical traditions but as an alternative form of expression that was equally valid and artistically significant.

Thus, the preface is an essential guide, paving the way for his readers to explore his unique poetic landscape. It appreciates its distinct beauty and comprehends the profound human truths embedded within his seemingly simple verses.

3- To Engage Readers and Shape Their Understanding

The “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” not only provided a defense and explanation of Wordsworth’s innovative approach to poetry but also sought to engage readers and shape their understanding of his work. Wordsworth recognized the critical role of the reader in the reception and interpretation of poetry.

Thus he took it upon himself to guide the reader’s approach to his poetic creations. It was a departure from the distant, often mythical themes prevalent in the poetry of the time.

By bringing the reader closer to the subjects of his poems, Wordsworth aimed to create a stronger emotional connection. He fosters a deeper, more personal engagement with his work.

Moreover, the preface was a tool for Wordsworth to shape his readers’ understanding of his poetry. By explaining his theory of what poetry should be – an honest reflection of powerful feelings in simple language – he provided a framework for interpreting his poems.

He encouraged readers to approach his work not just as aesthetic objects but as emotional landscapes and to perceive the beauty and profundity within the simplicity of his language and themes.

His preface invited him to join this new, emotionally charged exploration of the human experience.

4- To Establish the Role of the Poet

Wordsworth’s “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” also critically redefines the poet’s societal role. Rather than seeing the poet as a skilled artisan crafting verses according to conventional styles and themes, Wordsworth posited a new, more profound vision of the poet’s role.

In Wordsworth’s view, the poet is not just a manufacturer of beautiful phrases and rhythmic lines but a seer, an individual endowed with a unique sensibility. This sensibility allows the poet to perceive the everyday beauty, depth, and complexity which others might overlook. Through the power of words, the poet then enables readers to share in this heightened perception.

Additionally, Wordsworth believed that poets could transform their emotions into art. They could translate personal emotions into universal experiences that resonate with readers, enabling shared understanding and empathy.

Moreover, the poet is, in Wordsworth’s view, a teacher. Poets can illuminate truths about humanity and nature through their work. They could stimulate reflection and foster emotional and intellectual growth.

Wordsworth’s preface aimed to redefine the poet’s role in three distinct ways. First, he wanted to elevate poets from mere artisans to visionaries. Second, he emphasized their role as emotional guides.

Lastly, he saw poets as teachers, highlighting poetry’s immense social and cultural importance.


In conclusion, Wordsworth’s “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” is a significant turning point in literary history. It brought about a radical redefinition of poetic philosophy, the poet’s role, and how readers engage with poetry.

In articulating a fresh poetic philosophy, Wordsworth revolutionized the form and content of poetry. He championed a democratic language accessible to the common reader, and a focus on everyday life and emotions, turning away from the lofty diction and subjects of classical poetry.

This major shift required Wordsworth to justify and defend his approach. The divergence of his poems from the traditional norms of his time could have been met with confusion or even disdain. He provided crucial context through his preface, helping readers and critics understand and appreciate his innovative style.

Moreover, Wordsworth aimed to shape readers’ understanding and guide their engagement with his work. He hoped to lead readers toward a more empathetic and emotionally resonant reading experience by explaining his intentions and philosophy.

Lastly, Wordsworth used the preface to redefine the poet’s role, positioning the poet as a seer of beauty in the ordinary, an emotional guide, and a teacher of profound truths about the human condition.

Therefore, the “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” emerges as an explanation and a ground-breaking manifesto that irrevocably changed the form of poetry.

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