Lyrical Ballads

Lyrical Ballads – S T Coleridge & W Wordsworth

Key Issues:

1. Sympathy For Human Suffering

    • … suffering of women


    • … the outcast in Romantic Poetry
    • … the repression of children
    • … nature looks after the weak and downtrodden
    • … effects of modern society – the city, industrialisation, enclosure etc. –  “The Dungeon”

    2. The Power of Nature

    • … as a moral guide
    • … versus education / book learning – expostulation and reply & others
    • … as a state of innocence
    • …versus the corruption of society
    • … as a source of poetic inspiration
    • … representing freedom – versus the enclosed estates and the prisons of the cities

    3. Corrupt Nature of Authority

    • … parental authority – the idiot boy
    • … imposition of rationality – Anecdote for Fathers, We Are 7
    • … Acts of Enclosure & Industrialisation
    • … We Are 7 – subjective over objective
    • … support the French Revolution’s “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood”

    4. “Romantic”

    • … opposed to the narrow approach of reason and logic / the enlightenment (the idea that sceince and reason will solve all our problems)
    • … feeling and subjectivity before reason and objective description of the world
    • … support the French Revolution’s “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood”
    • … a break with the poetry of the past (Augustan) – a revolutionary stylistic approach and more “ordinary”, everyday themes and subject
    • … concerned with the “common man” – his plight/repression
    • … a poetry to be read by all, not just a select few – the language of the common man…

    5. Ideal Of Childhood / State of Innocence

    • … children at one with nature
    • … grey haired men – how adults impose their outlook on children
    • … effect of learning on youth
    • … versus the conceits of poets – Nightingale
    • … the “idiot boy” safe with nature
    • … We Are 7 – subjective over objective

    6. Revolutionary

    1. … politically radical – seeking changes to society
    • … subjective feeling before objective state of the world
    • … a break with the poetry of the past (augustan)
    • … in the language of the “common man”
    • … on the side of the common man and the outsider
    • … support the French Revolution’s “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood”
    • … society as a prison –  “The Dungeon”

    7. The Imagination

    • … versus the passive “fancy” – how can the imagination be “active”
    • … versus literary convention in “The Nightingale”
    • … primacy of subjective knowledge
    • … in the service of social change and revolution
    • … psychological journey of the Ancient Mariner
    • … providing sustenance for the poet – Tintern Abbey
    • … assistance to “The Convict”?

    8. The Common Man

    • … the language of the common man
    • … on the side of the common man and the outsider
    • … women as the epitome of the repressed masses
    • … at one with nature
    • … Acts of Enclosure & Industrialisation
    • … the child as the idealsied state / version of the common man

    9. “Mankind Is Born Free, But Everywhere He Is In Chains.”

    • … “The Dungeon” as a simple analogy for modern society
    • … the prison of rational thought…
    • … support the French Revolution’s “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood”
    • … how nature can provide release
    • … Acts of Enclosure & Industrialisation
    • … women, outsiders and convicts…

    Examination Questions to Consider…

    • Explore the sympathy for human suffering as presented in Lyrical Ballads. In your answer you should refer to at least three poems.
    • How do these poems reveal beliefs about the power of nature? In your answer you should refer to at least three poems.
    • Using this extract as a starting point, consider the ways Wordsworth describes nature’s interaction with the imagination.
    • How effectively does Wordsworth express his disgust at what is happening in his society?
    • How do Wordsworth & Coleridge portray their ideal world in the Lyrical Ballads?
    • How does Lyrical Ballads expose social issues at the end of the eighteenth century?
    • How far do you think it is appropriate to say that Lyrical Ballads are a collection of popular stories?
    • What have you learned of Coleridge’s attitude towards life in his poems from this collection?
    • How does Wordsworth convey his ideas in a different manner to Coleridge?
    • How effectively does Wordsworth convey his conflicting emotions about social changes which were ongoing?
    • How is Wordsworth’s religious views reflected in Lyrical Ballads?
    • How are the Lyrical Ballads influenced by the spate of revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century?
    • “Although his narrative poems are ostensibly concerning minor poor characters, the poems are dominated by the personality of Wordsworth himself.” How far do you accept this view of Lyrical Ballads?
    • How far can this poem be seen as a commentary on the deceit and corruption of nineteenth century society?
    • What features of subject matter and style earn these poets the right to be called ‘Romantic’?
    • How do the poets present the difficulties and struggles faced by women of their time?
    • How do the poets show their respect and admiration for contemporaries who endure poverty or misfortune in their lives? In your answer, refer to the themes of three or four poems.
    • How do the poets reveal a belief that God works through Nature? Refer to the themes and style of three or four poems from Lyrical Ballads.
    • How does Wordsworth present his ideas on the ideal of childhood? In your answer, write about the themes, tone and style of not more than five poems. Refer to three or four poems.
    • What features of subject matter and style have you found in the Lyrical Ballads to show that Coleridge may be described as a Romantic poet?
    • Considering both of the authors of Lyrical Ballads, what differences have you found in both the content and style of their poems?
    • How do the poets variously show their thoughts and feelings about the radical political and social changes taking place in their time?
    • How does Wordsworth express his enthusiasm for Nature as a force of personal liberation? In your answer, you should refer to the extract below and to three or four other poems.
    • It is said that the Romantic poets celebrated “the exuberant sense of life of the natural human being”. With reference to four or more poems in the collection, show how the authors demonstrate this characteristic not only in the experiences described but in the language used.
    • How do the poets present their views in Lyrical Ballads on relationships between parents and children?
    • How do both poets use simple tales to explore the complex and revolutionary ideas of the time?
    • Allegory is a device used by many of the poems. With reference to four or more poems in the collection, show how the authors employ this device effectively.
    • How does the poetry of the Lyrical Ballads relate to the past?
    • What is a particular conception of “the imagination” so important to the poets of Lyrical Ballads?
    • What does Nature represent for the poets of Lyrical Ballads? With reference to four or more poems in the collection, show how the authors demonstrate the central importance of nature.
    • “Mankind is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” How does Rousseau’s point underlie much of the poetry in this collection?

    Key Quotations from Lyrical Ballads


    • The bloody sun at noon
    • Upon a painted Ocean.
    • skin is white as leprosy
    • And she is far liker Death than he; 
Her flesh makes the still air cold.
    • Alone, alone, all all alone
    • Was a flash of golden fire.
    • no tongue  
Their beauty might declare
    • A noise like of a hidden brook 
In the leafy month of June,
    • And the shadow of the moon.
    • He prayeth best who loveth best, 
All things both great and small:
    • A sadder and a wiser man 
He rose the morrow morn.


    • this strange man has left me 
Troubled with wilder fancies
    • Till lost in inward vision, with wet eye 
She gazes idly
    • And never learnt a prayer, nor told a bead, 
But knew the names of birds, and mocked their notes
    • And all the autumn ’twas his only play 
To get the seeds of wild flowers, and to plant them
    • So he became a very learned youth
    • But Oh! poor wretch!–he read, and read, and read, 
‘Till his brain turned
    • They stood together, chained in deep discourse, 
The earth heaved under them with such a groan, 
That the wall tottered
    • Who sung a doleful song about green fields, 
How sweet it were on lake or wild savannah
    • To hunt for food, and be a naked man, 
And wander up and down at liberty
    • He lived and died among the savage men


    • No cloud, no relique of the sunken day 
Distinguishes the West, no long thin slip 
Of sullen Light, no obscure trembling hues
    • we shall find 
A pleasure in the dimness of the stars
    • A melancholy Bird? O idle thought! 
In nature there is nothing melancholy
    • But some night-wandering Man, whose heart was pierc’d 
With the remembrance of a grievous wrong
    • poor Wretch! fill’d all things with himself 
And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale  
Of his own sorrows
    • many a poet echoes the conceit
    • had better far have stretch’d his limbs 
Beside a brook in mossy forest-dell
    • lose the deep’ning twilights of the spring 
In ball-rooms and hot theatres
    • we have learnt A different lore
    • This grove is wild with tangling underwood
    • the Moon Emerging, hath awaken’d earth and sky 
With one sensation
    • My dear Babe… would …bid us listen!
    • with the night 
He may associate Joy!


    • With thoughtless joy
    • in his hearing there my prayers I said
    • The red-breast known for years, which at my casement peck’d.
    • Then rose a mansion proud our woods among
    • his old hereditary nook
    • ‘Mid the green mountains many and many a song 
We two had sung, like little birds in May
    • The empty loom, cold hearth, and silent wheel
    • an evil time was come
    • But soon, with proud parade, the noisy drum 
Beat round, to sweep the streets of want and pain
    • the equinoctial deep 
Ran mountains-high before the howling blast
    • Our hopes such harvest of affliction reap
    • In Want’s most lonely cave till death to pine, 
Unseen, unheard, unwatched by any star
    • a curst existence, with the brood 
That lap (their very nourishment!) their brother’s blood.
    • The mine’s dire earthquake, and the pallid host 
Driven by the bomb’s incessant thunder-stroke 
To loathsome vaults
    • the dark streets appeared to heave and gape
    • From the sweet thoughts of home, 
And from all hope I was forever hurled
    • homeless near a thousand homes I stood, 
And near a thousand tables pined, and wanted food.
    • The rude earth’s tenants, were my first relief: 
How kindly did they paint their vagrant ease!
    • And their long holiday that feared not grief, 
For all belonged to all, and each was chief
    • what afflicts my peace with keenest ruth 
Is, that I have my inner self abused
    • Three years a wanderer
    • She wept;–because she had no more to say 
Of that perpetual weight which on her spirit lay.


    • What is’t that ails young Harry Gill?
    • Beneath the sun, beneath the moon, 
His teeth they chatter, chatter still
    • Her evenings then were dull and dead; 
Sad case it was, as you may think, 
For very cold to go to bed
    • She left her fire, or left her bed, 
To seek the hedge of Harry Gill
    • This trespass of old Goody Blake,
    • And fiercely by the arm he took her,  
And by the arm he held her fast, 
And fiercely by the arm he shook her
    • Now think, ye farmers all, I pray, 
Of Goody Blake and Harry Gill.


    • A day it was when I could bear 
To think, and think, and think again
    • And oftentimes I talked to him, 
In very idleness
    • “My little boy, which like you more,” 
I said and took him by the arm
    • “I cannot tell, I do not know.” 
“Why this is strange,” said I.
    • At this, my boy, so fair and slim, 
Hung down his head, nor made reply
    • And five times did I say to him, 
Why, Edward, tell me why?”
    • “At Kilve there was no weather-cock, 
“And that’s the reason why.”
    • Could I but teach the hundredth part 
Of what from thee I learn.


    • A simple child, dear brother Jim, 
That lightly draws its breath, 
She had a rustic, woodland air, 
And she was wildly clad
    • “Sweet Maid, how this may be?”
    • “If two are in the church-yard laid, 
“Then ye are only five.”
    • “Their graves are green, they may be seen,” 
 ”Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door, 
“And they are side by side.
    • “Till God released her of her pain, 
“And then she went away.
    • all the summer dry, 
“Together round her grave we played, 
“My brother John and I
    • “O master! we are seven.”
    • ‘Twas throwing words away; for still 
The little Maid would have her will, 
And said, Nay, we are seven!”


    • It stands erect, and like a stone 
With lichens it is overgrown.
    • High on a mountain’s highest ridge, 
Where oft the stormy winter gale 
Cuts like a scythe
    • Of water, never dry; 
I’ve measured it from side to side: 
‘Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.
    • Of olive-green and scarlet bright, 
In spikes, in branches, and in stars, 
Green, red, and pearly white
    • A woman in a scarlet cloak, 
And to herself she cries, 
“Oh misery! Oh misery! 
“Oh woe is me! oh misery!”
    • she is known to every star, 
And every wind that blows
    • “And wherefore does she cry?– 
“Oh wherefore” wherefore?
    • I cannot tell; I wish I could; 
For the true reason no one knows,
    • I’ll tell you all I know.
    • It dried her body like a cinder, 
And almost turn’d her brain to tinder
    • There’s no one knows, as I have said, 
But some remember well
    • Instead of jutting crag, I found 
A woman seated on the ground
    • “Oh misery! oh misery!
    • “But what’s the thorn? and what’s the pond? 
“And what’s the hill of moss to her?
    • But then the beauteous hill of moss 
Before their eyes began to stir; 
And for full fifty yards around, 
The grass it shook upon the ground
    • the thorn is bound 
With heavy tufts of moss, that strive 
To drag it to the ground.


    • And this place our forefathers made for man!
    • nature! 
Healest thy wandering and distempered child: 
Thou pourest on him thy soft influences, 
Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sweets, 
Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,
    • His angry spirit healed and harmonized 
By the benignant touch of love and beauty. 


    • That outcast of pity behold
    • His black matted head on his shoulder is bent, 
And deep is the sigh of his breath,
    • Tis sorrow enough on that visage to gaze, 
That body dismiss’d from his care; 
Yet my fancy has pierced to his heart, and pourtrays 
More terrible images there.
    • When from the dark synod, or blood-reeking field, 
To his chamber the monarch is led, 
All soothers of sense their soft virtue shall yield, 
And quietness pillow his head
    • “Poor victim! no idle intruder has stood 
“With o’erweening complacence our state to compare
    • come as a brother thy sorrows to share
    • “Would plant thee where yet thou might’st blossom again.”


    • He shouts from nobody knows where; 
He lengthens out his lonely shout,
    • For Johnny has his holly-bough
    • her story…
Of Johnny’s wit and Johnny’s glory
    • “As sure as there’s a moon in heaven,” 
Cries Betty, “he’ll be back again;
    • In bush and brake, in black and green, 
‘Twas Johnny, Johnny, every where.
    • To hunt the moon that’s in the brook
    • The town so long, the town so wide, 
Is silent as the skies.
    • “The devil take his wisdom!”
    • The streams with softest sound are flowing, 
The grass you almost hear it growing,
    • To lay his hands upon a star
    • Oh gentle muses! Is this kind? 
Why will ye thus my suit repel?
    • Of moon or stars he takes no heed; 
Of such we in romances read,
    • She’s happy here, she’s happy there,  
She is uneasy every where:
    • “And the sun did shine so cold.”


    • “Why William, sit you thus alone, 
“And dream your time away?
    • “Where are your books? that light bequeath’d 
“To beings else forlorn and blind!
    • “You look round on your mother earth, 
“As if she for no purpose bore you;
    • we can feed this mind of ours, 
“In a wise passiveness.
    • “But we must still be seeking?
    • “I sit upon this old grey stone, 
“And dream my time away.”


    • Up! up! my friend, and quit your books, 
Or surely you’ll grow double.
    • Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife, 
Come, hear the woodland linnet, 
How sweet his music; on my life 
There’s more of wisdom in it.
    • Let Nature be your teacher.
    • Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health, 
Truth breathed by chearfulness.
    • One impulse from a vernal wood 
May teach you more of man; 
Of moral evil and of good, 
Than all the sages can.
    • Our meddling intellect 
Mishapes the beauteous forms of things; 
–We murder to dissect.


    • These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs 
With a sweet inland murmur.
    • Which on a wild secluded scene impress 
Thoughts of more deep seclusion;
    • The wild green landscape.
    • Once  little lines 
Of sportive wood run wild
    • Though absent long, 
These forms of beauty have not been to me, 
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye
    • But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din 
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them, 
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet
    • Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart, 
And passing even into my purer mind 
With tranquil restoration
    • that serene and blessed mood,
    • become a living soul
    • We see into the life of things.
    • How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee 
O sylvan Wye!
    • in this moment there is life and food 
For future years. And so I dare to hope
    • The sounding cataract 
Haunted me like a passion
    • a remoter charm, 
By thought supplied, or any interest 
Unborrowed from the eye
    • the joy 
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime 
Of something far more deeply interfused, 
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, 
And the round ocean, and the living air, 
And the blue sky
    • Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
    • And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
    • The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse, 
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul 
Of all my moral being.
    • she can so inform 
The mind that is within us, so impress 
With quietness and beauty, and so feed  
With lofty thoughts
    • neither evil tongues, 
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men, 
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all 
The dreary intercourse of daily life, 
Shall e’er prevail against us
    • so long A worshipper of Nature   
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