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English Literature

William Wordsworth: The Prelude (extract)

Context

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is one of the most famous poets in the history of English Literature. He was born in Cockermouth in Cumbria, part of the region commonly known as the Lake District, and his birthplace had a huge influence on his writing. So did the fact that his mother died when he was only eight years old. His father wasn't always around, although William did use his library for reading. William spent time with his grandparents who lived in nearby Penrith, an even wilder and more rugged place.

Wordsworth is believed to have started writing poetry when he was at school; during this time he was orphaned by the death of this father.

He went to Cambridge University and just before finishing his studies he set off on a walking tour of Europe, coming into contact with the French Revolution, which informed his writing. He fell in love with a French woman and she had a child. Wordsworth returned to England before his daughter, Caroline, was born and war between Britain and France meant that he didn't see his daughter or her mother for many years.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed with Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy in 1796. They worked together on poems which became the collection called Lyrical Ballads, published two years later. This volume is a key text in the school of poetry known as 'The Romantics'.

In 1802, shortly after visiting his daughter in France, Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, a friend from his school days. They had five children together. 1812 was a terrible year for them as two of their children died.

Wordsworth was made Poet Laureate (the Queen's poet) in 1843. However, in 1847 he was badly affected by another death, that of his daughter Dora. He was said to be so devastated that he couldn't bring himself to write any more poetry.

He died of pleurisy, an illness that affects the lungs, in 1850, aged 80.

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