Lyrical Ballads

I have always loved Coleridge’s Poetry, so I was looking forward to reading his and Wordsworth’s collaboration. I was initially disappointed that there were only five poems that Coleridge contributed to Lyrical Ballads, but I’m glad that I wasn’t going over any familiar territory (that is, besides “Rime of the Ancyent Marinere”). There are a couple common elements in these poems that I couldn’t keep out of my mind as I was reading: first, the large number of narrative poems; second, the consistent metrics. Wordsworth’s reasons for employing these structures is pretty sound. The narrative elements, along with the colloquial lingo, supposedly make the poems more accessible to the audience of 1798. The metrics are supposed to make the poems easier to process, should emotion overpower the reader. I am struck by a rather difficult question: does accessible poetry for the contemporary audience make the writing less accessible for later readers? Is there perhaps something universal and transcendent about heightened poetics? I believe that there is and I think Wordsworth might agree; his quarrel is not with the poetics of Shakespeare, but with the cheap imitators who aim to excite–the tabloid poets. Nevertheless, might it not be said that Wordsworth sacrifices universality for something else; namely, a concern with contemporary issues? Reading his 1800 introduction to Lyrical Ballads, it is clear that his poetic eye is turned to the present. The implications of this are fascinating. What does the local (temporal and cultural) therapeutic aim of the Romantic period/movement (forgive me for using Wordsworth/Coleridge as the representatives of all Romanticism) say about the nature of art? Is art supposed to be transcendent and timeless? Is art meant to address what is immediately at hand? Is art ever an effective salve for modern grievances? Does the fact that we still read Lyrical Ballads mean that we have the same fever as people 200 years ago?

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