What are the Nature and Function of a poet according to Wordsworth in Preface to Lyrical Ballads??

Qualifications of a Poet:

(a) The Gift of Communication

Wordsworth’s view of the nature and function of a poet is an exalted one. He brings out the individualism of the poet, but at the same time, at every step, he takes care to stress his essential humanity. In the very beginning, he
lays emphasis on his social function, i.e., that of communication.

First, a poet, for him, is essentially a man speaking to men. He is a person who writes not for his own pleasure, but primarily to communicate his own thoughts and emotions to his readers. He has thus a social function to perform. As poets do not write for Poets alone, but for men, they must use the language of real men and not talk in, “tricks, quaintnesses, hieroglyphics, and enigmas.” He must come down from his supposed heights.

(b) Heightened Sensibility

Secondly, he is a man who has more lively sensibility, that is to say, he reacts more strongly to external impressions, and so his emotions and passions are more powerful. He has an uncommon sensibility, and this again distinguishes him from the common run of mankind. He observes more than there is to observe, hears more than there is to hear, and feels more than there is to feel. Not only has he a more lively sensibility, but he has also a more, “affectioned sensibility”, and it is in this affectioned sensibility that poetry begins. His sensibility is effectual, i.e., it is bound up with our moral nature. It is because of this ‘affectual’ element in the poet’s sensibility that the sense impressions he receives and the passions they excite are gradually purified by the imagination, and poetry performs its true function.

(c) Power of Imagination

Thirdly, he has greater imagination and so can feel or react emotionally to events and incidents which he has not directly experienced. He is, “affected by absent things as if they were present.”

(d) Knowledge

Fourthly, he has greater knowledge of human nature and so understands the nature of the passions which he has not experienced directly. He understands accurately the nature of human passions and emotions, even of those which he has not personally experienced.

(e) Zest for Life

Fifthly, he has a more comprehensive soul. A more, “comprehensive soul”, implies that the poet shares the emotional experience of others can identify himself emotionally with others, and can express the feelings and emotions of others. Sixthly, he has a greater zest for life than an ordinary individual. He has greater enthusiasm. He rejoices in the working of life in others, and in Nature at large, and takes pleasure in communicating his own joy in life to others.

(f) Reflection 

A poet not only has a more ‘lively sensibility’, a ‘more comprehensive soul’, and greater powers of imagination, he is also a man who has thought long and deep. He does not create on the spur of the moment, but contemplates and reflects in tranquility till he, “passions anew”, and it is then that creation begins. This process of reflection purifies the sensations of the poet of all that is painful and distressing, and, therefore, what he creates carries with it joy, “an overbalance of pleasure”. It is through this reflection or contemplation that the poet is able-to combine one idea with another, and in this way to discover universal and general laws of our being. It is through thought that he universalizes personal experience.

(g) Sincerity 

Later on, Wordsworth added one more quality for the poet that of sincerity. The sincerity of the poet is seen in the care which he takes to revise and perfect his communication. He is careful to polish and refine his composition and takes infinite pains to convey his meaning clearly and unambiguously. It is with this end in view that he avoids all that is artificial and pedantic in language.
The poet, no doubt, has a heightened power of communication but even then the language which he uses is not so lively and true as; the language of men who have actually experienced those passions. The poet writes of emotions which he himself has not experienced, but which his characters have experienced, and so the passions which he communicates are “mere shadows” of the passions of real men. So, the language used by him is likely to be mechanical, lacking in the warmth and liveliness of the language used by men in real life. Therefore, the poet should try to achieve emotional identification with the characters whose feelings he has to convey, and he should do so in a language that such characters do actually use in real life. This language should be modified only by one consideration, that of giving pleasure. The function of poetry is to give pleasure, and with this end in view, the poet should apply the principle of selection, and purify his language of all that is coarse, vulgar, painful and disgusting. However, it may be pointed out here that by ‘pleasure’ Wordsworth does not mean mere idle amusement. His conception of ‘pleasure’ is a much higher one. There is no need at all for the poet to elevate his language; no language is nobler and more elevated than the one which is really used by men, and which the poet truthfully and faithfully imitates.


In short, Wordsworth considers a poet essentially a man, a man speaking to men. “Yet,” says Garrod, “if he will allow no difference of kind between poets and men, it must be conceded he makes as wide as he can the difference of degree.” He has sufficiently stressed the individuality of the poet.