In Preface to the Lyrical Ballad, William Wordsworth tells that he had chosen low and rustic life for treatment in his poems, unlike the Neo-classical poets who chose the life and manners and morals of the urban people, specially of the aristocratic class, to be the fittest subject for poetry. According to him, the humble and rustic life enables the essential passions of the heart to find a better soul in which they can attain their maturity. In this condition of life, the essential passions of the persons are less restraint and therefore express themselves in a plainer and more emphatic language.
Elementary feelings in low and rustic life
Wordsworth also says that the elementary feelings of human beings co-exists with the low and rustic life in a state of greater simplicity, and can therefore be more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated. The manners of rustic life germinate from those elementary feelings, and because of the necessary character of rural occupations, those manners are more easily comprehended. Finally in humble and rural life, the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent form of nature.
Rural life is most suitable
According to Wordsworth, person living in the country side and pursuing rural occupations are the most suitable for portrayal in poetry because these people live in an environment which is more favorable to the growth and development of the essential passions of the human heart and because in this environment people do no suffer from any and therefore speak a plainer and more forceful language. These people lead simple lives and their feelings are of an elementary kind. They do not have the vanity which people in the cities possess. These people live in contract with the beautiful and permanent objects of nature (mountains, streams, trees, flowers etc.) This contract favors the natural maturing of the feelings and passions in the hearts of these people.
Simplicity in humble and rustic life
Wordsworth collects all the traces of vivid excitement which are to be found in the pastoral world. Simplicity is to be the keynote of his theme as also of his style. He is to treat the things of everyday life, to open out “the soul of little and familiar things.” In We are Seven , the poet talks with a little girl who tells him of her brothers and sisters. In another poem, a female vagrant tells the artless tale of her life. Another poem concerns a shepherd, “a Crael by name,” and another pertains to a leech-gatherer. Thus Wordsworth shows that even in the poorest lives there is matter for poetry, schemes that can stir the imagination and move the emotions. Thus Wordsworth democratizes poetry. This democratic outlook is something new in poetry. He seeks his subject among forsake women, old men in distress, children and crazy persons, in whom the primary instincts are emotions showed themselves in their simplest and most recognizable form.
Urban life is corrupted
The corruption of civilized, urban society also makes Wordsworth choose his subject from humble and rustic life. In choosing them from rural rather than city life he is biased and influenced, no doubt, by the fact that he himself is country bred. He is convinced that among humble and rustic folk, the essential passions of the heart find a better place to mature in and are more durable. There is the closer intimacy which isolation forces on rural households; there is the sharing of common tasks and even, in the shepherds’ life, of common dangers. There are other virtues also like contentment, neighborliness, ad charity, which can flourish in the kindly society of the country.
Coleridge’s view on Wordsworth
In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge analyses Wordsworth’s theory regarding the choice of theme. Coleridge has a different thought on this subject. He believes that it is not necessary to chose characters low and rustic life. He does not think that a close contact with the beautiful and permanent objects of nature produces any wholesome effect on the rustic persons; rustic life does not necessarily help the formation of healthy feelings and a reflected mind. To him the negation of rustic life put as many obstacles in the way of this formation as the sophistication of city life does. In fact, Coleridge even believe that Wordsworth has followed his own theory loosely in his poems.
Coleridge has certainly explained his case well. But there are certain considerations which he has not taken into account. Wordsworth’s aim is to find the best soil for the essential passions. By avoiding artifice, he looks for simplicity. He has found poet extravagantly pre-occupied with the affairs of artificial beings like nymphs and goddesses. He therefore wants to turn his attention to the emotions of village girls and of peasants. Wordsworth is not trying to unite familiar anecdotes on nursery tales; he is seeking the fundamentals of human life by contemplating it in its simplest forms.
Yet the fact remains that Wordsworth’s theory has a limiting effect on poetry. The democratization of the theme of poetry is certainly to be welcomed, but to confine the poet only to humble and rustic life is to debar him from the rest of life. Human life is very wide and humble. Rural life is only one sphere of human life.
So, in conclusion, we can say that Wordsworth’s whole idea of low and rustic life in poetry is not without its faults. But at the same time its merit cannot be ignored. It has a far reaching importance. It changes the tendency of having much flown diction for poetry.