Analysing closely three or four poems which we have read, say what seems to you to be typical of 'Lyrical Ballads'

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Laura Summers                                                English Literature

Analysing closely three or four poems which we have read, say what seems to you to be typical of ‘Lyrical Ballads’

The group title of the set of poems written by Wordsworth and Coleridge presents an interesting starting point of analysis. The phrase ‘Lyrical Ballads’ is a paradox as the genres of ‘lyrics’ and ‘ballads’ can be defined as in opposition to each other. A ‘lyric’ is ‘a poem about feeling… addressed to the reader in a manner of private and intimate conversation’. A ‘ballad’ is ‘a narrative poem from an anonymous point of view, often relating to characters from public or historical events, such as war.’ Therefore the two genres are combined under the title ‘Lyrical Ballads’, signifying an unexpected and unusual style from Wordsworth and Coleridge. This is further evidenced by Wordsworth, who said the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ should be seen as ‘an experiment’, consisting of ‘poems… materially different from those under the general approbation… present bestowed’ and that they may be read by some with a ‘common dislike’.

One aspect of the style of ‘Lyrical Ballads’ that caused much contempt at the time of publication is the simple language, an important characteristic of the poems. Wordsworth tries to avoid the ‘falsehood of description’, instead preferring to record reality in ordinary language rather than attempting a poetic diction. Unlike many of his contemporary poets, Wordsworth did not attempt an ornate and elevated poetic style adorned with extravagant metaphors. However, this does not mean the language is colloquial, but that Wordsworth takes his language and subjects from ‘ordinary life’ hoping to show ‘the language really spoken by men’. This is true for poems such as ‘We are Seven’ in which the narrator meets a ‘little cottage girl’ and questions her about her siblings.

She had a rustic, woodland air,

And she was wildly clad;

Her eyes were fair, and very fair,

- Her beauty made me glad.

This verse is typical of the style of Wordsworth’s poetry and demonstrates the ‘ordinary language’. The verse is not at all difficult to understand as the language is simple and drawn from a common rhetoric. The stress of the word ‘fair’ in the third line emphasises the qualities of the little girl, whilst the words ‘rustic’ and ‘wildly clad’ place her social position of a common child. The structure of the stanza is also straightforward with an ordinary poetic meter and rhyming pattern, typical of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’. In ‘We are Seven’ this is only diverted from in the final verse

Join now!

But they are dead; those two are dead!

Their spirits are in heaven!

‘Twas throwing words away; for still

The little Maid would have her will,

And said, ‘Nay, we are seven!’    

The final line in the poem ‘And said, ‘Nay, we are seven!’’ underlines the conflicting opinions of the narrator and the girl. This is actually typical of the poem throughout as ‘Then ye are only five’ and ‘What should it know of death?’ are examples of the opposing views which are highlighted by their placement in the structure of the poem. Again, there is ...

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