New Directions: Lyrical Ballads

  • John Williams
Part of the Critical Issues book series (CRTI)


If The Ruined Cottage reveals where Wordsworth believed his vocation as a poet was taking him in 1798, the Lyrical Ballads volumes were undoubtedly to become a major influence on the shaping of English Romanticism in later years. The first edition of the Ballads contained a brief ‘Advertisement’ which refers to critical issues that were as much germane to The Ruined Cottage as to the poetry of the Ballads. The general tone is dismissive, and assumes that most readers will find the poetry unsatisfactory. Wordsworth peremptorily suggests that the problem lies with the faulty taste of the reader, not the poet. The impression given is that he really can’t be bothered to take the time to argue the case fully. This is not a poet prepared to linger; he has other things on his mind. We are thus presented with a critical issue to savour, and it is one that has long been with us. Bernard Groom, writing in 1966, describes the first edition of the Ballads as evidence of ‘a vital phase in Wordsworth’s poetic life’, ‘phase’ being the operative word. He suggests that it would be wrong to see the volume as a quintessential expression of the poet’s ‘romanticism’: ‘Many of these early poems [those included in the first 1798 volume]… are of a transitional character.’1


Vital Phase Transitional Character Narrative Voice Romantic Sympathy Early Poem 
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© John Williams 2002

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  • John Williams

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