William Wordsworth on the creative process in poetry

By Dennis Mellersh

The concept of the creative process was occupying the mind of one of the world’s most famous poets, William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850), when he wrote his preface to the second edition of the poetry collection, Lyrical Ballads, in 1778.

In this preface, which essentially comments on the nature of poetic creativity, Wordsworth asked, “What is a poet?”

He answered that a poet is someone “endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind.”

Wordsworth described all good poetry as being “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and that poems “to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects” except by a poet “who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply”

He believed that the powerful feelings in good poetry originated with a process involving “emotion recollected in tranquility” in which that tranquility disappears, and “an emotion , kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this, it is carried on…”

About Dennis Mellersh

Dennis Mellersh is an independent writer, journalist, editor, and editorial consultant.
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