Creative process: Why did Wordsworth’s poetic powers decline?

The Norton Anthology of English literature notes that, “Most of Wordsworth’s greatest poetry had been written by 1807 … [and after that date] although he continued to write voluminously, there is a conspicuous decline in his powers as a poet.” (1)

The period from 1797 to 1808, is often referred to as Wordsworth’s Great Decade.

The question is: Why did his poetic power or poetic creativity and originality wane after that?

The Norton Anthology offers an explanation:

“The causes of  what  is often called  ‘Wordsworth’s anti-climax” have been much debated. The principal cause seems to be inherent in the very nature of his most characteristic writing. Wordsworth is above all the poet of the remembrance of things past, or as he himself put it, of ’emotion recollected in tranquility’. Some object or event in the present triggers a sudden renewal of feelings he had experienced in his youth…but one’s early emotional experience is not an inexhaustible resource for poetry.” (2)

If we accept this dependence as a root basis of Wordsworth’s poetry, is it irony, recognition, or a premonition of this coming decline when Wordsworth wrote in the first stanza of Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (written in 1804):

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
       To me did seem
    Appareled in celestial light,
The glory and freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore___
       Turn whereso’er I may
            By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more…”

And when Wordsworth explains later in the stanza that he stills recognizes the beauty of many things in nature, nevertheless he wrote:

 But yet  I know where’er I go,
That there hath passed away a glory from the earth.

(1) and (2) The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Third Edition Volume 2, W.W. Norton & Company Inc, New York

–Dennis Mellersh





About Dennis Mellersh

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