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Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World

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Author: Jonathan Bate

Published: May 12th 2020 by Yale University Press (first published May 2020)

Format: Hardcover , 608 pages

Isbn: 9780300169645

Language: English


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On the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth comes a highly imaginative and vivid portrait of a revolutionary poet who embodied the spirit of his age Published in time for the 250th anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth, this is the biography of a great poetic genius, a revolutionary who changed the world. Wordsworth rejoiced in the French Revolution and played a cent On the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth comes a highly imaginative and vivid portrait of a revolutionary poet who embodied the spirit of his age Published in time for the 250th anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth, this is the biography of a great poetic genius, a revolutionary who changed the world. Wordsworth rejoiced in the French Revolution and played a central role in the cultural upheaval that we call the Romantic Revolution. He and his fellow Romantics changed forever the way we think about childhood, the sense of the self, our connection to the natural environment, and the purpose of poetry. But his was also a revolutionary life in the old sense of the word, insofar as his art was of memory, the return of the past, the circling back to childhood and youth. This beautifully written biography is purposefully fragmentary, momentary, and selective, opening up what Wordsworth called "the hiding-places of my power."

30 review for Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sorrento

    For a few days of the sunny May lockdown sitting in my garden I was totally engrossed in Jonathan Bate’s new biography of William Wordsworth. I did however take timeout to watch Jonathan talk about the book at the Hay Festival Digital. In spite of regarding the Lake District as my spiritual home and having visited Grasmere, Dove Cottage, Rydal Mount and Hawkshead many times and even staying at Greta Hall home of Southey and Coleridge until reading Jonathan Bates’ book I don’t think I ever fully u For a few days of the sunny May lockdown sitting in my garden I was totally engrossed in Jonathan Bate’s new biography of William Wordsworth. I did however take timeout to watch Jonathan talk about the book at the Hay Festival Digital. In spite of regarding the Lake District as my spiritual home and having visited Grasmere, Dove Cottage, Rydal Mount and Hawkshead many times and even staying at Greta Hall home of Southey and Coleridge until reading Jonathan Bates’ book I don’t think I ever fully understood Wordsworth’s poetry. Radical Wordsworth has lifted a cloak from eyes an enabled me to see the greatness of Wordsworth’s enduring achievements. The book begins in Cockermouth the place of little William’s birth and takes us through the events of his formative years including the death of his parents the separation from his siblings, including beloved sister Dorothy and his move to Hawkshead where he was fortunate to receive an excellent education enabling him to go up to Cambridge. Wordsworth was fortunate to come from a lower middle-class background and to have several wealthy benefactors. After graduating he was able to take a walking tour in Europe including to the Alps. He was also able to return to France at the time of the revolution and to have fallen in love with Annette a young French woman who bore him a child. On return from France Wordsworth spent time in different parts of Britain including the Wye Valley North Wales and Scotland before eventually settling in his beloved Grasmere. In the book Bates beautifully describes all these experiences and the effect on Wordsworth’s development as a poet. Bates also devotes many pages to describing the importance of Wordsworth’s family and friends to his work, especially the close collaboration with Coleridge on the Lyrical Ballads and other poems and with his devoted sister Dorothy. Bates puts his finger on the original creative spirit of Wordsworth’s poetry which made it truly radical namely the intensely personal recollection of childhood experience and response to nature linked to a wider philosophical narrative that appreciates and values the natural world and is sympathetic to the common man. In the book Bates does not shy away from agreeing with critics and romantic poets, such as Byron, Keats and Shelley who thought that in his later years spent comfortably at Rydal Mount much of Wordsworth’s poetry was turgid and second rate. However, throughout his life Wordsworth worked on a ground-breaking autobiographical epic poem, published after his death which came to be known as The Prelude, which Bates regards as masterpiece describing the development of the mind of the poet. Wordsworth changed the way people see the world. Before Wordsworth people just thought mountains were dangerous forbidding places and that common people were not worth considering. Wordsworth changed all that and, in his poetry, and other writings he inspired the formation of the National Trust, the National Parks in Britain and the USA and gave us the idea of sustainable development. Wordsworth was truly Radical. A massive thank you to Jonathan Bate for enabling me to appreciate what a great man Wordsworth was, and I shall now take Jonathan up on his further reading suggestions at the back of his fabulous biography.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paul Ataua

    It was good to be taken back to ‘The Prelude’ and the Lake District. It brought back memories of all those weekends I spent wandering through the Lakes in my teens and twenties. It was also good to be reminded of Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’, which drew out my own spots of time – those brief moments of awareness, of peace, of understanding. Despite those things, I didn’t find ‘Radical Wordsworth’ all that satisfying - the radical bit came over as a little forced, there were too many depths not e It was good to be taken back to ‘The Prelude’ and the Lake District. It brought back memories of all those weekends I spent wandering through the Lakes in my teens and twenties. It was also good to be reminded of Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’, which drew out my own spots of time – those brief moments of awareness, of peace, of understanding. Despite those things, I didn’t find ‘Radical Wordsworth’ all that satisfying - the radical bit came over as a little forced, there were too many depths not explored, and although I appreciated the support for his art in later life, I never felt enthused with the project. The writing was lively, and the fact it started in res media helped to make it a comfortable read throughout. One just for Wordsworth lovers, maybe.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vishvapani

    Bate cracks the problem of writing a Wordsworth biography by turning the book into an exploration of the sources of Wordsworth's abiding interest, rather than a chronological plod through a life which starts brilliantly, but becomes wholly dull when the poet passes his mid thirties, living for over forty years more but writing almost nothing of abiding interest. In too many literary biographies I learn a lot about a writer but feel no closer to understanding the particular genius that produces t Bate cracks the problem of writing a Wordsworth biography by turning the book into an exploration of the sources of Wordsworth's abiding interest, rather than a chronological plod through a life which starts brilliantly, but becomes wholly dull when the poet passes his mid thirties, living for over forty years more but writing almost nothing of abiding interest. In too many literary biographies I learn a lot about a writer but feel no closer to understanding the particular genius that produces their work and surpasses the particularities of the life. Bate starts at the other end, as a critic who believes in aesthetic judgments (which many don't), for whom it follows that, if we can say that this poem is better than that poem, then we can also say that this part of his life is more important than that part. Consequently, Radical Wordsworth is as much biographically-augmented criticism as it is a critically-informed biography, and Wordsworth himself is the ideal subject for this treatment because his work is so intensely concerned with autobiography and introspection. The early chapters move back and forth in time and mix the poet's personal experiences with an account of wider historical influences in a way that mirrors the shifts in The Prelude. Sections that locate Wordsworth in literary history also feel a legitimate element in a biography because they shape Wordsworth's growth as a poet, circling back to the book's central concern. Consequently, the poetry shines out from these pages: sharpened and deepened by the context. A couple of quibbles. Hazlitt describes Wordsworth's art as expressing 'the egotistical sublime'. Bate discusses this aspect of Wordsworth extensively, but I was left wondering about the biographical sources of his very distinctive poetic character. Secondly, I think there must be more to say about why Wordsworth ceased to write well. Bate says a few things without providing answers, but this is surely as important. a question for a biographer as how his genius developed. Did his self-absorption become a trap? Was his idealisation of childhood vulnerable to the shattering effect of the deaths of two of his children? How was his temperament - passionate and deep, but and rooted to the point of stolidity – affected for good or ill by his friendship with the kinetic Coleridge and his marriage with the doting Mary. If Bate does not fully address these topics I am more grateful at what he has achieved in this boo, and the passion with which it is written for both the genius of the verse and its relevance in the era of environmental crisis. In the final chapter Bate asks: 'Why should we care about Wordsworth today? … above all, on our fragile planet and with our uncertain ecological future, because at the very beginning of the industrial era that scientists have christened the Anthropocene, he foresaw that among the consequences of modernity would be not only our alienation from each other, but also potentially irretrievable damage to the delicate balance between our species and our environment. We preserve the things we value. We will not save that which we do not love. With this in mind, we might do well to attend to the title of the eighth book of The Prelude: Retrospect: Love of nature leading to love of man.'

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World is a biography of William Wordsworth, an English Romantic poet. Jonathan Bate is a British academic, biographer, critic, broadcaster, novelist and scholar wrote this biography. William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads. Celebrating the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth's birth (7 April 2020), Bate wrote this t Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World is a biography of William Wordsworth, an English Romantic poet. Jonathan Bate is a British academic, biographer, critic, broadcaster, novelist and scholar wrote this biography. William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads. Celebrating the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth's birth (7 April 2020), Bate wrote this timely biography. Bracingly candid about the superiority of Wordsworth’s early output to his later work, Bate makes a strong case that, when Wordsworth was good, he was transformative. Bate focuses on the poet's early years: his troubled childhood, his devotion to and then retreat from the French Revolution-era radicalism, and his passionate embrace of nature in lieu of politics. In Bate's telling, Wordsworth's relationship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who spurred him to great heights early on before falling out with him, is key to understanding Wordsworth's uneven body of work. Bate spends less time on Wordsworth's old age, when he became more conservative politically, less inspired, and, in the eyes of younger poets like Percy Shelley and John Keats, more fallible. Nonetheless, his radical alternative religion of nature cleared a path for later poets and philosophers, including the American transcendentalists. Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World is written and researched rather well. Bate wrote a wonderful biography, who appealingly conveying his own love of and frustrations with Wordsworth, Bate demonstrates in his delightful volume how, flaws and all, Wordsworth made a difference in the way future generations would think and feel. All in all, Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World is an energetic literary biography on one of the fathers of English Romanticism poetry – Williams Wordsworth.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Yağız Ay

    Brilliantly written as ever, Bate presents a millenarian Wordsworth, a Wordsworth whose late conservatism is taken off and replaced immediately by a revolutionary form of eco-mindedness, by egalitarian struggles, by a passion for liberty. For Bate, this problem presents itself as one of institutionalism and Freudian inner development, which is manifest in the quality of Wordsworth's early and late poetry. The early poems' exuberant energy is gone with the late 'institutional Wordsworth.' Bate fi Brilliantly written as ever, Bate presents a millenarian Wordsworth, a Wordsworth whose late conservatism is taken off and replaced immediately by a revolutionary form of eco-mindedness, by egalitarian struggles, by a passion for liberty. For Bate, this problem presents itself as one of institutionalism and Freudian inner development, which is manifest in the quality of Wordsworth's early and late poetry. The early poems' exuberant energy is gone with the late 'institutional Wordsworth.' Bate finds this corresponding to Wordsworth's sexual life; in Wordsworth's radical years, his repressed nature was sublated into an ars poetica. However, in his late years where repression loosens and sublation weakens, we find him not only leaving the causes of liberty and equality he earlier fought for with passion, but his poetry also taking a mediocre turn, producing lifeless yet impassioned monotony. Although I think this reading does a disservice to Wordsworth by emphasizing the boredom of his late poetry to reclaim the significance of his earlier radicalism, Bate is still a very elaborate, skillful biographer. His way of fusing literary biography with poetic criticism has something for experts and common readers alike. So whether you agree with his reading or not, his scholarship is hardly sloppy and is never uninteresting. The early Wordsworth of republicanist passions can indeed inspire and be inspired by the contemporariness of social struggles that continue to shape our historical modernity. His late poetry, however, should not be dismissed; the early Wordsworth talks of the beauty found in the rustic and the mundane, if we are to honor his earlier, radical self we ought to find a way to recognize the beauty in the mundanity of his late poetry as well.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Engle

    The author celebrates Wordsworth as the consummate Nature poet, an original Radical, and a person of the most exquisite Sensibility (as in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”). He indeed changed his world for the better. Summing up, the Author states: “‘Poetry makes nothing happen’ wrote W. H. Auden In his poem on the death of fellow poet W. B. Yeats. He was wrong ... Radical Wordsworth survives today whenever a person walks for pleasure and takes spiritual refreshment in the mountains or when The author celebrates Wordsworth as the consummate Nature poet, an original Radical, and a person of the most exquisite Sensibility (as in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”). He indeed changed his world for the better. Summing up, the Author states: “‘Poetry makes nothing happen’ wrote W. H. Auden In his poem on the death of fellow poet W. B. Yeats. He was wrong ... Radical Wordsworth survives today whenever a person walks for pleasure and takes spiritual refreshment in the mountains or when a heart leaps up at the sight of a rainbow in the sky or a tuft of primroses in flower.” ... a literary delight ... Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

  7. 4 out of 5

    Trick Wiley

    First time reader of of"Jonathan Bates" and this was interesting to me because I have read the works of Wordsworth and like All poets,some I like some, some not so much. I don't know so much of him being a so call"Radical" but find this interesting. I learned a lot about his life,his likes and dislikes. What was behind some of his reasoning for poems,where they had come from. As in his personal life very informative and interesting in this writing from Jonathan Bates. You can tell much research First time reader of of"Jonathan Bates" and this was interesting to me because I have read the works of Wordsworth and like All poets,some I like some, some not so much. I don't know so much of him being a so call"Radical" but find this interesting. I learned a lot about his life,his likes and dislikes. What was behind some of his reasoning for poems,where they had come from. As in his personal life very informative and interesting in this writing from Jonathan Bates. You can tell much research has gone into this book. If you are interested in poetry if you are interested in this poet and his life this is a very good read. It was too me kinda slow starting out,but give it a chance it does get better! Received this from Net Gallery !

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike Toms

    Wordsworth’s was a career of two halves; the first containing some of the finest lines ever written; the second - with the exception of a few moments of inspiration - not so much. The young Wordsworth was a radical in a political sense and other books I have read on Wordsworth have made much of this. This political Wordsworth is the one you think of in relation to him being radical and revolutionary. However, Bates presents a different radical, highlighting just how radical was Wordsworth approa Wordsworth’s was a career of two halves; the first containing some of the finest lines ever written; the second - with the exception of a few moments of inspiration - not so much. The young Wordsworth was a radical in a political sense and other books I have read on Wordsworth have made much of this. This political Wordsworth is the one you think of in relation to him being radical and revolutionary. However, Bates presents a different radical, highlighting just how radical was Wordsworth approach to poetic form and subject. As you’d expect from Jonathan Bates, this is an authoritative and engaging book and well worth a read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    I listened to this book and the narrator was very engaging to listen to. I would recommend, however, that a written edition be available because each chapter was so dense with information the reader may want to refer back to. The book was just about Wordsworth’s early years, but the people and times he lived in and the world his writing changed. I very much enjoyed this biography and although not a light read it moved along engagingly.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Simon Harrison

    Much like its subject, it starts well but loses much and fairly trails off. It’s a great shame as Bates’ passion is clear throughout, however-much it only occasionally buoys the reader. Good but not great. The first part of Holmes’ Coleridge biog conveys the electricity of these great years far better.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mary Taylor Mann

    Bate’s biography is beautifully written and engaging. As a foray into the life of Wordsworth, it functions very well, blending the genres of biography and criticism and subtlety countering stereotypes. The extent of the intellectual and emotional bond between Coleridge and Wordsworth is not quite captured, and Bate seems more compelled by their split rather than their union. Less attention is (admittedly) paid to the years and writing post-1812, a tendency of Wordsworth biographers that Bate exp Bate’s biography is beautifully written and engaging. As a foray into the life of Wordsworth, it functions very well, blending the genres of biography and criticism and subtlety countering stereotypes. The extent of the intellectual and emotional bond between Coleridge and Wordsworth is not quite captured, and Bate seems more compelled by their split rather than their union. Less attention is (admittedly) paid to the years and writing post-1812, a tendency of Wordsworth biographers that Bate exposes and simultaneously perpetuates. Still, Bate’s passion for the poet is palpable, and his effort to connect Wordsworth to contemporary environmental concerns is admirable if incomplete.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rithaa Asairajan

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elin

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rosalie Wells

  15. 4 out of 5

    Darcy Moore

  16. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Nelmes

  17. 5 out of 5

    Hugh Coverly

  18. 4 out of 5

    old8legs

  19. 4 out of 5

    Frank Moore

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Briggs

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eliza

  22. 4 out of 5

    Peter Austerfield

  23. 5 out of 5

    Warrick

  24. 4 out of 5

    CL Bishop

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nishant Kumar

  26. 4 out of 5

    Fernando Martinez

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brian Willis

  28. 5 out of 5

    John Kling

  29. 5 out of 5

    robin andrews

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stumpy

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