Lyrical Ballads is a collection of poems by the English poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was first published anonymously in September 1798 as Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems. The small book contained twenty-three poems; four by Coleridge, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the rest by Wordsworth, including "Tintern Abbey".
An expanded edition, Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems, was published in two volumes in 1800 under Wordsworth's name. The second volume consisted solely of poems written by Wordsworth, including four out of the five famous "Lucy poems." The second edition also added a Preface in which Wordsworth introduced his poetic theories. The third edition, Lyrical Ballads, with Pastoral and Other Poems, was published in 1802 followed by the last authorized edition in 1805.
Lyrical Ballads was planned by the two poets, who were close friends at the time, as a collaboration featuring two types of poems based on the same poetic principles. Coleridge was to write poems involving the supernatural or the romantic, but portrayed with such true emotions as to promote suspension of disbelief. Wordsworth was to contribute poems about ordinary everyday life, but colored with imagination to give them novelty and excite a feeling of wonder. In other words, Coleridge was to make the unbelievable believable while Wordsworth endeavored to make the usual unusual, both through the application of human emotions and imagination to poetry. The idea was revolutionary and controversial at the time because poetry then was considered a higher art form with strict standards and requirements for formal style as well as intellectually "worthy" subject matters.
The book was initially poorly received. The Ancient Mariner was called "unintelligible," and Wordsworth's poems were criticized for their "uninteresting" subjects. Eventually, however, Lyrical Ballads was recognized as a seminal work signaling the beginning of the Romantic movement in English poetry. Today it is considered to be one of the most important volumes of English verse for its role in ushering in the modern era of poetry.
The period leading up to the publication of Lyrical Ballads, known as the Neoclassical era, began in 1660 with the Restoration of Charles II. It was the age of reason and common sense, and the literature of the period is characterized by its emphasis on the intellectual as compared to the imaginative. Social topics were preferred and wit and elegance valued, while personal subject matters and emotional expressions were considered vulgar. Poetry of the time either dealt with elevated subjects or satirized high society, using artificially decorated language and following rigid stylistic conventions.
Reactions against Neoclassical poetry had already begun, and works by such poets as Robert Burns and William Blake had already been published, when Wordsworth and Coleridge started collaborating on the volume. But Lyrical Ballads achieved what others had not; a clean break from the conventions. By deliberately using simple language and refusing to adhere strictly to meter and other traditional poetic devices, Wordsworth and Coleridge shifted the focus away from the form to the spirit of the poem. They believed what was expressed and communicated was more important than how it was presented. In the Preface added to the 1800 edition, Wordsworth contended that there should be no difference between the language of prose and verse, and that poets should express themselves as ordinary people do instead of writing in specialized language that can only be appreciated by other poets. This new approach would offer more flexibility to poets and allow them to express themselves more freely.
Lyrical Ballads also redefined the purpose of poetry and the role of poets. Neoclassical poetry was often didactic, and poets carefully selected subjects about which they wished to write. Wordsworth and Coleridge disagreed with the approach and thought that poets must not preach but instead convey their inner thoughts and feelings. In the Preface, Wordsworth famously defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." He argued that poets should strive to express those feelings in such a way as to provide pleasure and to arouse an emotional response in the reader. He emphasized the need to break from elevated subjects and to see the wonders in the natural world and the common life through the use of imagination. Although controversial at the time, these ideas soon became important principles of the Romantic movement.
By openly challenging the established conventions, Lyrical Ballads helped revitalize English poetry and alter its course. For that reason, it is used to mark the end of Neoclassicism and the beginning of the Romantic period.
The original edition included 23 poems. A brief note (called "Advertisement") introduced the poems as experiments in the use of conversational language for poetic pleasure.
In the second edition, the famous Preface by Wordsworth replaced the brief Advertisement. A second volume of poems, all by Wordsworth, was added. In the first volume, Wordsworth's "The Convict" was replaced with "Love" by Coleridge, "Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames, at Evening" was split into two poems, and the order of poems was changed. The second volume contained the following poems.
1802 and 1805 editions
In the 1802 edition, the Preface was expanded and an Appendix on poetic diction was added. The order of poems was again changed, and three poems were moved from Volume 1 to Volume 2. In addition, the poems "The Dungeon" and "A Character" were omitted.
Few significant changes were made to the text in the 1805 edition, and the table of contents remained identical to the 1802 edition.
- ↑ One of the most famous examples of Neoclassical verse is the mock-heroic narrative poem The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope.
- Text of the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads on Wikisource:
- Quotations from Lyrical Ballads on Wikiquote.
- Free public domain audiobook of Lyrical Ballads from LibriVox.