Written by Kate Colwill
Last spring, I had the opportunity to take British Literature, part II. As the part I was rather difficult for me (I’m convinced Old and Middle English dialects are just slightly above my comprehension level), I am not entirely sure what exactly provoked me to sign up for the subsequent course. However, I am very thankful that I did. As we explored the Romantic era, I fell in love with several poets and their works and, for the first time in my life, had trouble putting down my Norton Anthologies when reading for class. Something about the poetry just captivated me.
One of my favorite poets was (and remains) William Wordsworth. Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland, England. A “vigorous, unruly, and sometimes moody boy,” William enjoyed wandering about the English countryside with his brothers. After his mother died when he was eight years old, William was sent to attend Hawkshead grammar school. Shortly after his enrollment, his father also passed away.
In 1787, William began his education in St. John’s College, Cambridge University. During the summer of his third year, he and one of his closest friends, Robert Jones, backpacked through France and the Alps. After taking another walking tour (this time of Wales) a few years later, William moved back to France. He was fascinated by the French Revolution and he also had plans to master the language and earn a living by tutoring.
Back in France, William fell in love with Annette Vallon. The two had an affair and Annette became pregnant. However, William had to return to England right after the child was born in order to become financially stable. He had every intention of returning to France and marrying Annette once everything was settled, and attempted to raise money by writing poems.
After moving into a small cottage with his sister Dorothy, William met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a man who both inspired and worked alongside of him. The two collaborated and, in 1798, published a joint volume called Lyrical Ballads. This, perhaps, is what hurled Wordsworth into fame.
After several years of happiness and success, Wordsworth’s life ended with many troubles. His favorite brother drowned, two of his children died, and his friendship with Coleridge eventually dissolved. Wordsworth died in 1850 at the age of eighty. And though the latter years of his life are often remembered as sad and uninspiring, Wordsworth will always be regarded as one of the greatest Romantic poets.
“William Wordsworth.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. D. 8 ed. Ed. Julia Reidhead. New York: Norton, 2006. 243-245. Print.