The poet William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland on 7 April 1770. Much of his poetry was inspired by the dramatic landscapes of the Lake District, and his work did much to alter public perceptions of that part of England.
His sister and lifelong companion, Dorothy, was born in 1771. They were looked after by relatives after the early death of their parents. Between 1787 and 1790, William studied at Cambridge, spending holidays walking in the lakes and trekking across revolutionary France to the Alps.
In 1795, William and Dorothy set up home together in the West Country. There they met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with whom Wordsworth published Lyrical Ballads (1798), which included ‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’.
Wordsworth and Dorothy returned to the Lake District in 1799, settling at Dove Cottage in Grasmere; Robert Southey and Coleridge lived nearby. In 1802, repayment of substantial debt owed to his father enabled Wordsworth to marry Mary Hutchinson. Life at Grasmere inspired some of his greatest poetry, including ‘I wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ and ‘Ode: Intimations of Mortality’ – as well as the prose work A Description of the Scenery of the Lakes in the North of England (1822).
In 1813, the Wordsworths moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside. He continued to write poetry, including The Excursion (1814) and The River Duddon (1820), but the conservatism of his later work annoyed radical friends. Wordsworth died on 23 April 1850 and was buried in Grasmere churchyard. His great autobiographical poem, The Prelude, which he had worked on since 1798, was published shortly after his death.
Further information about the life of William Wordsworth can be found here via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Article by:
- Stephanie Forward
Dr Stephanie Forward explains the key ideas and influences of Romanticism, and considers their place in the work of writers including Wordsworth, Blake, P B Shelley and Keats.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- London, Romanticism
Wordsworth’s vision of London’s serene beauty was composed on the roof of a coach – the poet was en route to France to meet his illegitimate daughter Caroline for the first time. Professor John Mullan explores the background to the poem.
- Article by:
- Philip Shaw
Professor Philip Shaw explores the role of the sublime in Wordsworth's autobiographical Prelude, explaining how the poet uses the concept to investigate nature, imagination and the divine.
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