Thursday, December 16, 2010

Show that the 'Preface to the Lyrical Ballads' is a plea for simplicity in theme and treatment.

Wordsworth was writing a new kind of poetry which was more to deal with Nature than with man, was to treat higher, rather supernatural things, in a natural manner. This could be done by using a simple and natural language selected from the language of the common people. This meant a revolt against the Pseudo-Classical theory of poetic diction which recommended the use of a very much refined, accurate and exact kind of language, the artificial language of the people of the town. Wordsworth condemned the artificial language, such as that of the school of Pope as a "masquerade of tricks, quaintnesses, heiroglyphics and enigmas."

In Wordsworth's opinion, the language of poetry must not be separated from the language of men in real life. Figures, metaphors and similies, and other such decorations must not be used unnecessarily, as was the case with the artificial 18th century poetic diction. In a state of emotional excitement men naturally uses a metaphorical language to express themselves forcefully. The earliest poets used only such metaphors and images as result naturally from powerful emotion. Later on, poets used a figurative language which was not the result of genuine passion. They merely imitated the manner of the earlier poets, and thus arose the artificial language and diction of the pseudo-classics. A stereo-typed and mechanical phraseology thus became current. The poets must avoid the use of artificial diction both when he speaks in his own person and when he speaks through his characters. He must not use it when he speaks in his own person for it is not real language of men, and he is a man speaking to men. He must not use it when he speaks through his characters, for in that case he must vary it according to the nature, rank and status, thought and emotions, of the character who speaks it.
Main Tenets of the Theory
After a study of his Prefaces to the 1798 and 1800 editions of the Lyrical Ballads, we can say that the following are the main recommendations of Wordsworth :
1.   The language of poetry should be the language really used by men, especially by simple rustic people who live close to Nature. But it should be a selection of such language. All the words used by the people cannot be employed in poetry. Only selected and chosen words used in common parlance can serve the purpose of poetry.
2.   It should be the language of men in a state of vivid sensation. It means that language used by people in a state of animation can form the language of poetry. In other words, it should be alively language expressing living emotions of real, life-like men.
3.   It should have a certain colouring of the imagination.
4.   There is no essential difference between the words used in prose and in a metrical composition.
A Critique of Wordsworth's Theory of Diction
Samual Taylor Coleridge was the first critic to pounce upon Wordsworth's theory of language and to expose its many weaknesses. In fact, it was on the weak places of Wordsworth's theory that Coleridge fastened, and he put the case for cultivating a special diction for poetry. Coleridge argues:
(1) That a language so selected and purified, as Wordsworth recommends, would differ in no way from the language of any other men of commonsense. After such a selection, there would be no difference between the rustic language and the language used by men in other walks
of life.
(2)   Wordsworth permits the use of metre, and this implies a particular order and arrangement of words. It does so differ in the poetry of Wordsworth himself. Metre medicates the whole atmosphere, and the language of poetry is bound to differ from that of prose. So Coleridge concludes that there is and there ought to be, an essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.
(3)   The use of metre is as artificial as the use of poetic diction and if one is allowed, it is absurd to forbid the use of the other. Both are equally good sources of poetic pleasure.
(4)    Coleridge objects to the use of the word real : "Every man's language varies, according to the extent of his knowledge, the activity of his feeling. Every man's language has, first, its individualities; secondly, the common properties of the class to which he belongs; and thirdly, words
and phrases of universal use." The word
real, therefore should be substituted by ordinary.
(5)    It is not correct that the best parts of our language are derived from Nature. The best words are abstract nouns and concepts. These are derived from the reflective acts of the mind; and reflection grows as man advances from the so-called primitive state. As man has advanced in thought, he has acquired new ideas and concepts which cannot be
expressed through the use of rustic language which is Primitive and undeveloped. If the poet wants to use the rustic language, he must also ink like the rustics. The language of rustics is curiously inexpressive. It would be putting the clock back. Instead of progression it would be retrogression.
T. S. Eliot criticized Wordsworth for not practising his theory in all his poems. For example, poems such as Intimations, Tintern Abbey, Ode to Duty, Laodamia, do not follow Wordsworth's prescription about the language, and language in these poems is richer and more sophisticated than those of the rustic people. They are not written in a selection of language really used by men.'
Although Wordsworth's theory of diction has its weaknesses, yet it has its significance too. He put an end to the use of false poetic diction "the worst of all the diseases which have afflicted English poetry." He relieved poetry of an artificial and unnatural diction through which it had lived its unnatural life of hot-houses for over a hundred years. He certainly did much to bring the language of poetry tajis natural beauty and simplicity. To quote Wyatt, he 'did poetry a valuable service; he took stock of the language of poetry, cleared out a lot of old rubbish which had long ceased to have any but a conventional poetic value, and made available for poetic use many words that had long been falsely regarded as unpoetic."

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