William Wordsworth

Poet of the Lake District


William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850) was a major English romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their 1798 joint publication, Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth’s masterpiece is generally considered to be The Prelude, an autobiographical poem of his early years that was revised and expanded a number of times. It was never published during his lifetime, and was only given the title after his death.

Autobiographical work and Poems in Two Volumes

Wordsworth had for years been making plans to write a long philosophical poem in three parts, which he intended to call The Recluse. He had in 1798–99 started an autobiographical poem, which he never named but called the "poems to coleridge", which would serve as an appendix to The Recluse. In 1804, he began expanding this autobiographical work, having decided to make it a prologue rather than an appendix to the larger work he planned. By 1805, he had completed it, but refused to publish such a personal work until he had completed the whole of The Recluse. The death of his brother John, in 1805, affected him strongly.

The source of Wordsworth's philosophical allegiances as articulated in The Prelude and in such shorter works as "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey" has been the source of much critical debate. While it had long been supposed that Wordsworth relied chiefly on Coleridge for philosophical guidance, more recent scholarship has suggested that Wordsworth's ideas may have been formed years before he and Coleridge became friends in the mid-1790s. While in Revolutionary Paris in 1792, the 22-year-old Wordsworth made the acquaintance of the mysterious traveller John "Walking" Stewart (1747–1822), who was nearing the end of a thirty-years' peregrination from Madras, India, through Persia andArabia, across Africa and all of Europe, and up through the fledgling United States. By the time of their association, Stewart had published an ambitious work of original materialist philosophy entitled The Apocalypse of Nature (London, 1791), to which many of Wordsworth's philosophical sentiments are likely indebted.

In 1807, his Poems in Two Volumes were published, including "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood". Up to this point Wordsworth was known publicly only for Lyrical Ballads, and he hoped this collection would cement his reputation. Its reception was lukewarm, however. For a time (starting in 1810), Wordsworth and Coleridge were estranged over the latter's opium addiction. Two of his children, Thomas and Catherine, died in 1812. The following year, he received an appointment as Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, and the £400 per year income from the post made him financially secure. His family, including Dorothy, moved to Rydalmount, Ambleside in 1813, where he spent the rest of his life.


William Wordsworth died by re-aggravating a case of pleurisy on 23 April 1850, and was buried at St. Oswald's church in Grasmere. His widow Mary published his lengthy autobiographical "poem to Coleridge" as The Prelude several months after his death. Though this failed to arouse great interest in 1850, it has since come to be recognised as his masterpiece.

Major works

  • Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (1798)
  • "Simon Lee"
  • "We are Seven"
  • "Lines Written in Early Spring"
  • "Expostulation and Reply"
  • "The Tables Turned"
  • "The Thorn"
  • "Lines Composed A Few Miles above Tintern Abbey"
  • Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems (1800)
  • Preface to the Lyrical Ballads
  • "Strange fits of passion have I known"
  • "She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways"
  • "Three years she grew"
  • "A Slumber Did my Spirit Seal"
  • "I travelled among unknown men"
  • "Lucy Gray"
  • "The Two April Mornings"
  • "Nutting"
  • "The Ruined Cottage"
  • "Michael"
  • "The Kitten At Play"
  • Poems, in Two Volumes (1807)
  • "Resolution and Independence"
  • "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" Also known as "Daffodils"
  • "My Heart Leaps Up"
  • "Ode: Intimations of Immortality"
  • "Ode to Duty"
  • "The Solitary Reaper"
  • "Elegiac Stanzas"
  • "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802"
  • "London, 1802"
  • "The World Is Too Much with Us"
  • Guide to the Lakes (1810)
  • " To the Cuckoo "
  • The Excursion (1814)
  • Laodamia (1815, 1845)
  • The Prelude (1850)

William Wordsworth Awards

Honorary degree, Durham University (1938)

Honorary degree, Oxford University (1939)

Poet Laureate of England (1843)


Apr 7, 1770

William Wordsworth Born

William Wordsworth is born in Cockermouth, in the northwestern English county of Cumberland. He is the second of five children of John and Ann Wordsworth.

Dec 25, 1771

Dorothy Wordsworth Born

The Wordsworths' third child, Dorothy, is born on Christmas Day. She and William grow up to be close friends and literary collaborators.


Mother Dies

Wordsworth's mother Ann Cookson Wordsworth dies.


Moves to Lake District

William Wordsworth is sent to school in Hawkshead, a village in England's Lake District. His sister Dorothy is sent to live with relatives in Yorkshire. The siblings are separated for nine years.


Begins University

Wordsworth enrolls as a member of St. John's College at Cambridge University. He publishes his first piece of writing, a sonnet in The European Magazine.


Graduates from University

Wordsworth receives his bachelor's degree from Cambridge University. In November, he travels to France and is fascinated by the Republican movement. He falls in love with a French woman named Annette Vallon.

Dec 1792

Leaves France before his first daughter is born

Wordsworth runs out of money and is forced to leave France, leaving behind a pregnant Annette Vallon. Vallon later gives birth to the couple's daughter Caroline. When war breaks out in France the following year, Wordsworth is unable to return to his family.


Begins publishing

Wordsworth publishes his first poetry collections, Descriptive Sketches and An Evening Walk.


Moves to Dorset

Wordsworth receives a small inheritance from a friend and sets up house in Dorset, England with his sister Dorothy. He meets fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the two become close friends.


Friendship with Coleridge

Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy move closer to Coleridge. For a year, the two poets are in daily contact with one another, a period that proves to be a vital creative period for both of them. Wordsworth produces the poem "Tintern Abbey," and Coleridge writes "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." They collaborate on a groundbreaking collection of poetry.


Lyrical Ballads Published

Wordsworth and Coleridge publish Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems written in "language really used by men," free of the "gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers."34 The book sparks the Romantic Age of English literature. In a preface to the second edition, Wordsworth warns the audience that they will either love or hate his new style of poetry.


Return to the Lake District

William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy move back to Lake District and settle in the village of Grasmere. Wordsworth lives in Grasmere for the rest of his life. He has begun work on an autobiographical poem about his experience in France. During his life Wordsworth calls the unpublished work the "poem to Coleridge;" it is later known as The Prelude.


Family Matters

William and Dorothy Wordsworth travel to France so that Wordsworth can meet his daughter—Caroline—and make arrangements for her support with Annette Vallon. When he returns to England, Wordsworth marries Mary Hutchinson, a schoolmate and longtime friend.

Jun 18, 1803

Son Born

William and Mary's first child, a son named John, is born.


Daughter Born

The Wordsworths' second child, Dorothy "Dora" Wordsworth, is born. William Wordsworth grows close to Dora. She inspires many of his poems, beginning with "Address to My Infant Daughter."


Prelude Finished; Brother Dies

Wordsworth finishes his "poem to Coleridge" but refuses to publish it until he has completed The Recluse, a long piece for which the "poem to Coleridge" would be a prologue. William's younger brother, 33-year-old John Wordsworth, dies in a shipwreck.


Son Born

The Wordsworths' third child, son Thomas, is born.


Poems in Two Volumes

Wordsworth publishes the collection Poems in Two Volumes. The book contains the poem "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood."


Daughter Born; Coleridge Moves In

The Wordsworths' fourth child, daughter Catherine, is born. Samuel Taylor Coleridge moves in with the Wordsworths in September and stays for nearly two years while he lectures and writes sporadically.


Son Born; Coleridge Moves Out

The Wordsworths' fifth and final child, son William, is born. Wordsworth is growing estranged fromColeridge, who is addicted to opium, and feels burdened by his care. When Coleridge moves out of Wordsworth's home in May and learns that Wordsworth warned a mutual friend against taking him in, he is distraught. The men reconcile a few years later but are never as close as they once were.


Loses Children

Tragically, two of Wordsworth's young children die in a single year: six-year-old Thomas and three-year-old Catherine.


The Excursion

Wordsworth publishes The Excursion, which is intended to be the second part of the three-partRecluse. Wordsworth never finishes the other two parts.


Wordsworth Gets a Job

Wordsworth is appointed Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, a civil position that pays him a salary of about 400 pounds per year. The family moves to Rydal Mount, the Grasmere home where he lives out the rest of his life.


Dorothy Gets Sick

Dorothy Wordsworth comes down with a serious illness that renders her an invalid until her death in 1855.


Coleridge Dies

Samuel Taylor Coleridge dies.


Honorary Degree

William Wordsworth receives an honorary degree from Oxford University, to "thunders of applause, repeated over and over."35


Poet Laureate

Wordsworth is named Poet Laureate of England.


Daughter Dies

Wordsworth's daughter Dora dies of tuberculosis at her parents' home. Devastated by her death, Wordsworth stops writing poetry.

Apr 23, 1850

Wordsworth Dies

William Wordsworth dies of pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining around the lungs. He is buried inSt. Oswald's Church in Grasmere. A few months after his death, Mary Wordsworth publishes The Prelude, the autobiographical poem now considered to be Wordsworth's masterpiece.