William Wordsworth remains one of the most popular romantic poets. Along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he is credited with launching the Romantic Age in English literature. Here are 10 of his most famous poems published over a period of more than 50 years.
#10 Ode to Duty
In ‘Ode to Duty’ Wordsworth conveys the importance of duty which is like a light that guides us; and a rod which prevents us from erring. Although he recognizes the worth of love and joy, he is now not sure whether blindly trusting them can guide man to all good. He realizes that duty, though stern, is also graceful and divinely beautiful and hence he is willing to serve it more strictly.
Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove;
#9 It is a beauteous evening, calm and free
This sonnet describes an evening walk on the beach which Wordsworth took with his nine years old daughter Caroline in Calais, France in August 1802. The sight was majestically beautiful and in the poem Wordsworth reflects how his daughter is unaffected by the majesty of the scene as being young she is one with nature.
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
#8 Strange fits of passion have I known
After Wordsworth’s death, critics and publishers grouped five of his poems written between 1798 and 1801 as “Lucy poems”. All of them revolve around a girl named Lucy who has died young. Whether Lucy was a figment of Wordsworth’s imagination or a real person is not known and the character remains a matter of intense speculation among historians and his fans. ‘Strange fits of passion have I known’ which revolves around a fantasy of Lucy’s death is the most famous among the “Lucy poems”. It describes the narrator’s journey to her cottage and his thoughts along the way.
Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.
#7 London 1802
In the octave of this sonnet Wordsworth wishes that Milton was still alive as England has fallen drastically since Milton’s period with its people becoming selfish and morally stagnant. In the sestet he explains how Milton could improve the present situation of England if he was alive. Through ‘London 1802’ Wordsworth brings to light the problems with English society while paying homage to Milton.
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
#6 We are Seven
Written in ballad form, ‘We are Seven’ gives an account of a conversation between an adult poetic speaker and a little cottage girl which centers around the adult questioning the girl how many siblings does she have. The little girl counts her two dead siblings as part of the family and the adult who is perplexed tries to reason with her. The poem ends with the girl saying, “Nay, we are seven!” It remains popular for its simple narrative and complex implications.
“Seven boys and girls are we;
“Two of us in the church-yard lie,
“Beneath the church-yard tree.”
#5 The Solitary Reaper
The Solitary Reaper is a ballad in which the narrator is captivated by the song of a young girl reaping in the fields. Although the song of the reaper is incomprehensible to him, the tone and expressive beauty of it delights him. He is so taken by the music that he says that anyone passing by should either stop or pass gently so she doesn’t get disturbed. The ballad remains one of Wordsworth’s most famous works.
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
#4 Ode: Intimations of Immortality
In Intimations of Immortality the narrator realizes that his divine relationship with nature has been lost. It is based on the belief that soul existed before body allowing children to connect with the divine in nature. As a child grows he loses this divine vision, however, recollections from early childhood allows the narrator intimations of immortality. The poem is ranked among the best by Wordsworth and is referred to as the “Great Ode”.
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
#3 The Prelude
Considered as Wordsworth’s masterpiece by most critics, ‘The Prelude’ is an autobiographical poem which he started writing at the age of 28 in 1798 and continued to work on it throughout his life. It was published three months after his death in 1850. Wordsworth referred to it as “the poem on the growth of my own mind”. Mostly, the poem consists of Wordsworth’s interactions with nature which assure him of his poetic mission.
Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.
#2 Tintern Abbey
‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’, which is usually referred to simply as ‘Tintern Abbey’, is one of the best-known poems of Wordsworth. It contains elements of the ode, the dramatic monologue and the conversation poem. Tintern Abbey is situated in the village of Tintern in Monmouthshire, on the Welsh bank of the River Wye. The poem is noted for Wordsworth’s descriptions of the banks of the River Wye which tell about his philosophies on nature. To this day, ‘Tintern Abbey’ remains a source of critical debate due to its complex philosophical themes.
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, commonly known as ‘Daffodils’, is one of the most famous poem in the English language and it is considered a classic of English romantic poetry. Wordsworth was inspired to write the poem on encountering a long belt of Daffodils while taking a walk with his sister Dorothy in April 1802. ‘Daffodils’ simply tells about the poet discovering a field of the beautiful flowers while wandering. It came fifth in a poll conducted by BBC titled “Nation’s Favourite Poems”.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.