William Wordsworth’s Biography
At the end of the 18th century, poet William Wordsworth helped found the Romantic Movement in English literature. He also wrote “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”
Who Was William Wordsworth?
Poet William Wordsworth worked with Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Lyrical Ballads (1798). The collection, which contained Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” introduced Romanticism to English poetry. Wordsworth also showed his affinity for nature with the famous poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” He became England’s poet laureate in 1843, a role he held until his death in 1850.
Poet William Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770, in Cockermouth, Cumberland, England. Wordsworth’s mother died when he was 7, and he was an orphan at 13. Despite these losses, he did well at Hawkshead Grammar School — where he wrote his first poetry — and went on to study at Cambridge University. He did not excel there, but managed to graduate in 1791.
Wordsworth had visited France in 1790 — in the midst of the French Revolution — and was a supporter of the new government’s republican ideals. On a return trip to France the next year, he fell in love with Annette Vallon, who became pregnant. However, the declaration of war between England and France in 1793 separated the two. Left adrift and without income in England, Wordsworth was influenced by radicals such as William Godwin.
In 1795, Wordsworth received an inheritance that allowed him to live with his sister, Dorothy. That same year, Wordsworth met Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The two became friends, and together worked on Lyrical Ballads (1798). The volume contained poems such as Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” and helped Romanticism take hold in English poetry.
The same year that Lyrical Ballads was published, Wordsworth began writing The Prelude, an epic autobiographical poem that he would revise throughout his life (it was published posthumously in 1850). While working on The Prelude, Wordsworth produced other poetry, such as “Lucy.” He also wrote a preface for the second edition of Lyrical Ballads; it described his poetry as being inspired by powerful emotions and would come to be seen as a declaration of Romantic principles.
- (1“Though nothing can bring back the hour, Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower.” — from Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
In 1802, a temporary lull in fighting between England and France meant that Wordsworth was able to see Vallon and their daughter, Caroline. After returning to England, he wed Mary Hutchinson, who gave birth to the first of their five children in 1803. Wordsworth was also still writing poetry, including the famous “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” and “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” These pieces were published in another Wordsworth collection, Poems, in Two Volumes (1807).
Evolving Poetry and Philosophy
As he grew older, Wordsworth began to reject radicalism. In 1813, he was named as a distributor of stamps and moved his family to a new home in the Lake District. By 1818, Wordsworth was an ardent supporter of the conservative Tories.
Though Wordsworth continued to produce poetry — including moving work that mourned the deaths of two of his children in 1812 — he had reached a zenith of creativity between 1798 and 1808. It was this early work that cemented his reputation as an acclaimed literary figure.
In 1843, Wordsworth became England’s poet laureate, a position he held for the rest of his life. At the age of 80, he died on April 23, 1850, at his home in Rydal Mount, Westmorland, England.