Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why did Wordsworth consider "humble and rustic life" and "incidents and situations from common life" as proper subjects for poetry?

The poetry of the Pseudo-classical school was very artificial and unnatural. It was extremely limited in its themes, as it was related to the city life alone, and in the city too it dealt with the artificial and unnatural life of the fashionable people. It ignored rustic characters and Nature; it confined itself to the fashionable world of the high class ladies and lords of London. It was blind to the beauties of Nature or the rustic characters such as farmers, shepherds, wood cutters and so forth. Wordsworth reacted against this approach of the eighteenth century English poetry.

According to Wordsworth, his principal object was "to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature." Reasons for the Preference of Rustic Life
There are various reasons why Wordsworth preferred ' incidents and situations of humble life' as the themes of his poetry. First, in this way he could enlarge the scope and range of poetry and make a whiff of fresh air to blow through the suffocating atmosphere of contemporary poetry.
Secondly, he knew this life intimately, was in sympathy with it, and so could render it accurately and feelingly.
Thirdly, he believed that a poet is essentially a man speaking to man. Since he is a man, and he has to appeal to the heart and mind of man, he must study human nature and try to understand, "The primary laws of our nature." Now these primary instincts and impulses which govern human conduct can best be understood by studying the simplest and most elementary forms of life. Hence a preference for rustic characters and themes. In humble and rustic conditions a man is more natural than in the sophisticated societies of the city. He did not think city life to be a proper subject of poetry, because there the fundamental passions of the human heart are not expressed freely and forcefully but are inhibited by social codes and considerations of public opinion.
Fourthly, in rustic and humble life, the fundamental passions of the human heart can be easily studied. From a study and understanding of these elementary feelings the poet can proceed to study the primary laws of nature, and can derive certain principles of human conduct. Feelings and passions of humanity are common to all mankind. They will last as long as human nature lasts, and are not subject to fluctuations from age to age and society to society. They are universal, permanent, as contrasted to those of the city people.
Fifthly, he preferred rustic and humble life because in that condition "the passions of men are the result of nature." "They live in the midst of the grandeur and beauty of nature, and as Plato much earlier has taught us, they must absorb some of that beauty and grandeur." The emotions of the rustic characters are nobler and purer.
Criticism of His opinion on Rustic Themes and Characters
Wordsworth has been criticised for thus limiting the scope of poetry to humble and rustic life. It has been said that upper class life is as suitable for poetic treatment as humble and rustic life. In this way, Wordsworth excluded from poetic treatment wide range, of complex human emotions which are experienced only in more sophisticated societies. However, Wordsworth's views are to be judged in the historical context, as resulting from his desire to extend the domain of poetry, conquer new territories for it, and thus to 'correct' the contemporary predilection for upper class, to the exclusion of humble and rustic life.

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