The Wordsworth Trust has established a reputation as 'the' centre for British Romanticism.

Through its extensive collection of manuscripts and artefacts, and its guardianship of Wordsworth's Dove Cottage, the Trust provides a unique gateway for people wishing to explore the works of Wordsworth and the other Romantic poets, as well as explore the lives of the poets themselves, their influences and their social bearing upon their times.

What is Romanticism?

Romanticism is a general, collective term to describe much of the art and literature produced during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During this period there was a broad shift of emphasis in the arts, away from the structured, intellectual, reasoned approach of the 18th century (which is often called the ‘Age of Reason’, or the ‘Enlightenment’) towards ways of looking at the world which recognised the importance of the emotions and the imagination.

Romanticism can be seen as a revolution in the arts, alongside the political, social and industrial revolutions of the age: all spheres of human activity were undergoing great change. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were among the first British poets to explore the new theories and ideas that were sweeping through Europe. Their poems display many characteristics of Romanticism.

Wordsworth's Themes

Nature: Nature, in all its forms, was important to Wordsworth, but he rarely uses simple descriptions. Instead he concentrates on the ways in which he responds and relates to the world. He uses his poetry to look at the relationship between nature and human life, and to explore the belief that nature can have an impact on our emotional and spiritual lives.

Some Key Poems:
Ode: Intimations of Immortality
Tintern Abbey
The Prelude
 

Imagination: Wordsworth saw imagination as a powerful, active force that works alongside our senses, interpreting the way we view the world and influencing how we react to events. He believed that a strong imaginative life is essential for our well-being. Often in Wordsworth's poetry, his intense imaginative effort translates into the great visionary moments of his work.

Some Key Poems:
Ode: Intimations of Immortality
The Prelude


The French Revolution: The Revolution began in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille, Paris's notorious prison where those who were seen as a threat to the state were kept, often in terrible conditions and without trial. This was the first time that the leaders of a movement had been able to mobilise the urban working class to rise against the establishment of church and state. The motto of the Revolution was Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood and it stood for ideas such as social justice, personal freedoms, and the idea that there were inalienable human rights, which defied class, wealth or gender. Wordsworth supported many of the ideals of the French Revolution and to do so could be dangerous. To speak or write in support was a criminal offence. In the summer of 1797, while living in Somerset, Wordsworth and Coleridge, his friend and fellow poet, were suspected of being French spies, but a government agent sent to investigate concluded that they were merely a mischievous gang of disaffected Englishmen.

Some Key Poems:
The Prelude (Book 6, Books 9-12)

The Revolution in Poetry: Wordsworth and Coleridge were fired by the ideas of the time, which, in terms of literature and art, brought a new stress on individual creativity and a sense of freedom to innovate. The two poets helped to bring about a revolution in poetry, giving it fresh impetus and a new direction. In their day, Wordsworth and Coleridge were seen as experimental poets, whose work challenged accepted ideas about what poetry was and how it might be written.

Some Key Poems:
Lyrical Ballads
Preface to Lyrical Ballads

Society: Wordsworth is often considered to be an egocentric poet interested only in himself, his experiences and his development, but this is not quite a fair reflection. He supported social reform and believed in what were popularly known as The Rights of Man, the rights to individual freedoms of thought and expression, the right to justice. Society was undergoing huge changes, and the drive for economic prosperity led to an increase in both urban and rural poverty. Wordsworth explores the impact of such changes on the emotional and spiritual lives of the characters in his poems.

Some Key Poems:
The Ruined Cottage
Michael, a pastoral poem
Resolution and Independence

Relationships: Wordsworth was not living and working in isolation; his friends and family were an important source of support and inspiration. Of his sister Dorothy, he wrote, 'She gave me eyes, she gave me ears', and, by his own admission, the best two lines in the poem I wandered lonely as a cloud were by his wife Mary.

Some Key Poems:
Home at Grasmere
She was a Phantom of Delight (written for his wife Mary)
The Sparrow's Nest