Research Papers Wordsworth

read poems by this poet

On April 7, 1770, William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumbria, England. Wordsworth's mother died when he was eight—this experience shapes much of his later work. Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School, where his love of poetry was firmly established and, it is believed, he made his first attempts at verse. While he was at Hawkshead, Wordsworth's father died leaving him and his four siblings orphans. After Hawkshead, Wordsworth studied at St. John's College in Cambridge and before his final semester, he set out on a walking tour of Europe, an experience that influenced both his poetry and his political sensibilities. While touring Europe, Wordsworth came into contact with the French Revolution. This experience as well as a subsequent period living in France, brought about Wordsworth's interest and sympathy for the life, troubles, and speech of the "common man." These issues proved to be of the utmost importance to Wordsworth's work. Wordsworth's earliest poetry was published in 1793 in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. While living in France, Wordsworth conceived a daughter, Caroline, out of wedlock; he left France, however, before she was born. In 1802, he returned to France with his sister on a four-week visit to meet Caroline. Later that year, he married Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend, and they had five children together. In 1812, while living in Grasmere, two of their children—Catherine and John—died.

Equally important in the poetic life of Wordsworth was his 1795 meeting with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was with Coleridge that Wordsworth published the famous Lyrical Ballads (J. & A. Arch) in 1798. While the poems themselves are some of the most influential in Western literature, it is the preface to the second edition that remains one of the most important testaments to a poet's views on both his craft and his place in the world. In the preface Wordsworth writes on the need for "common speech" within poems and argues against the hierarchy of the period which valued epic poetry above the lyric.

Wordsworth's most famous work, The Prelude (Edward Moxon, 1850), is considered by many to be the crowning achievement of English romanticism. The poem, revised numerous times, chronicles the spiritual life of the poet and marks the birth of a new genre of poetry. Although Wordsworth worked on The Prelude throughout his life, the poem was published posthumously. Wordsworth spent his final years settled at Rydal Mount in England, travelling and continuing his outdoor excursions. Devastated by the death of his daughter Dora in 1847, Wordsworth seemingly lost his will to compose poems. William Wordsworth died at Rydal Mount on April 23, 1850, leaving his wife Mary to publish The Prelude three months later.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

An Evening Walk (1793)
Descriptive Sketches (1793)
Borders (1795)
Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey (1798)
Lyrical Ballads (J. & A. Arch, 1798)
Upon Westminster Bridge (1801)
Intimations of Immortality (1806)
Miscellaneous Sonnets (1807)
Poems I-II (1807)
The Excursion (1814)
The White Doe of Rylstone (1815)
Peter Bell (1819)
The Waggoner (1819)
The River Duddon (1820)
Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822)
Memorials of a Tour of the Continent (1822)
Yarrow Revisited (1835)
The Prelude Or Growth of a Poet's Mind (Edward Moxon, 1850)
The Recluse (1888)
The Poetical Works (1949)
Selected Poems (1959)
Complete Poetical Works (1971)
Poems (1977)

Prose

Prose Works (1896)
Literary Criticism (1966)
Letters of Dorothy and William Wordsworth (1967)
Letters of the Wordsworth Family (1969)
Prose Works (1974)
The Love Letters of William and Mary Wordsworth (1981)

Essays

Essay Upon Epitaphs (1810)

This “lighting up” of the mind lasts longer than the initial electrical spark, shifting the brain to a higher gear, encouraging further reading.

The research also found that reading poetry, in particular, increases activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with “autobiographical memory”, helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they have read. The academics said this meant the classics were more useful than self-help books.

Philip Davis, an English professor who has worked on the study with the university’s magnetic resonance centre, will tell a conference this week: “Serious literature acts like a rocket-booster to the brain.

"The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.”

In the first part of the research, the brain activity of 30 volunteers was monitored as they read passages from Shakespeare plays, including King Lear, Othello, Coriolanus and Macbeth, and again as they read the text rewritten in simpler form.

While reading the plain text, normal levels of electrical activity were displayed in their brains. When they read Shakespeare, however, the levels of activity “jumped” because of his use of words which were unfamiliar to the readers.

Scans of brain activity during reading show heightened electrical activity when faced with 'challenging' texts by great writers

In one example, volunteers read a line from King Lear: “A father and a gracious aged man: him have you madded”. They then read a simpler version: “A father and a gracious aged man: him you have enraged.”

Shakespeare’s use of the adjective “mad” as a verb sparked a higher level of brain activity than the straightforward prose.

The study went on to test how long the effect lasted. It found that the “peak” triggered by the unfamiliar word was sustained onto the following phrases, suggesting the striking word had hooked the reader, with their mind “primed for more attention”.

Working with psychologists at the university, the next phase of the research is looking at the extent to which poetry can provide therapeutic benefit, using the work of, among others William Wordsworth, Henry Vaughan, John Donne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes.

Volunteers brains have been scanned while reading four lines by Wordsworth: “She lived unknown and few could know, when Lucy ceased to be. But she is in her grave and oh, the difference to me.”

Four “translated” lines were also provided: “She lived a lonely life in the country, and nobody seems to know or care, but now she is dead, and I feel her loss.”

The first version caused a greater degree of brain activity, lighting up not only the left part of the brain concerned with language, but also the right hemisphere that relates to autobiographical memory and emotion.

The brain shows minimal activity when the text is translated into 'modern' prose

Intense activity is this area of the brain suggests that the poetry triggers “reappraisal mechanisms” causing the reader to reflect and rethink their own experiences in light of what they read.

“Poetry is not just a matter of style. It is a matter of deep versions of experience that add the emotional and biographical to the cognitive,” said Professor Davis, who will present the findings at the North of England education conference in Sheffield next week.

“This is the argument for serious language in serious literature for serious human situations, instead of self-help books or the easy reads that merely reinforce predictable opinions and conventional self-images.”

Professor Davis hopes to scan the brains of volunteers reading Charles Dickens to test if revisions the writer made to his prose spark greater brain activity than the original text.

He is now working with the charity The Reader Organisation to establish reading aloud groups in GP drop-in centres, care homes, prisons, libraries, schools and mother and toddler groups.

Joint research with University College London will also study the effects of reading in dementia sufferers.

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