She reads poetry…Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1802

Lyrical Ballads 1798 - 1802

It is an ancyent Marinere,
And he stoppeth one of three:
“By thy long grey beard and thy glittering eye
Now wherefore stoppest me?”

I’m not someone who reads a lot of poetry but that’s something I would like to change, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to try this new Oxford World’s Classics edition of Lyrical Ballads, a collaboration by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, first published in 1798. This book contains both the original 1798 version and the revised, expanded one from 1802, together with their prefaces and appendices. There’s also an extensive introduction, chronology and notes, though I didn’t personally find the notes particularly helpful – and they were sometimes a distraction when I would have preferred to just concentrate on reading the poem.

From the point of view of a casual reader of poetry I don’t think it was really necessary to have both the 1798 and 1802 versions together in one book. I would have been happy with just the second one, as it seems to include all the poems from the first edition (though in a slightly different order) as well as a large number of new poems. For students of Romantic poetry, though, it will probably be useful to be able to compare the earlier edition with the later one and see how each was originally presented (any significant changes to wording etc are mentioned in the notes).

The only poem in this collection that I was already familiar with was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. It’s here in two different versions; in the 1802 one the language has been ‘modernised’, replacing some of the archaic spellings used in the original. I’ve liked this poem since the first time I read it at school and it really stands out among the other poems in the book as something special and unique. There are only a few other poems by Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads and the overwhelming majority are by Wordsworth; the most famous of Wordsworth’s is probably Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey. I’ve never thought Wordsworth would be a poet that I would like, but there are quite a few of his poems here that I enjoyed, including Goody Blake and Harry Gill, We Are Seven and The Thorn, all of which appear in both volumes, and in the 1802 collection I also liked his anti-hunting poem, Hart-Leap Well.

Whether or not you like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it can’t be denied that their Lyrical Ballads was an important work with an influence on both the Romantic Movement and the development of poetry in general. While there were only a few poems in this book that I thought had any real brilliance, I did enjoy reading most of them and found them all easy enough to read even for someone like myself who isn’t really a fan of poetry. The idea behind Lyrical Ballads was to make poetry accessible to the average person by using simple language that could be understood by everyone, so in this respect I think it was a success.

As this Oxford World’s Classics edition is quite academic it would probably be a good choice for students of Romanticism but I think for the general reader like myself it might be better to look for a collection of the most popular works of Wordsworth or Coleridge.

2 thoughts on “She reads poetry…Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1802

  1. Leander says:

    It looks as though we underwent the same set books at school, Helen! Sadly my experience of The Ancient Mariner left me rather less fond of Romantic poetry and with an abiding dislike of albatrosses… but perhaps it’s time to give it another go. From what you say, it does seem rather excessive to have two editions in this one book – valuable for academic study, perhaps, but surely not necessary for the general reader. Thanks for flagging this new volume – but I think I might follow your advice and buy one of their ‘greatest hits’ books before tackling this one. Looking forward to more good advice on poetry in the future. 😀

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it’s probably better to familiarise yourself with their more popular works first to see whether you like their style before trying Lyrical Ballads. I enjoyed quite a lot of the poems in this volume but there weren’t many that I thought were outstanding.

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