It has been supposed that Wordsworth’s idea of poetic language is merely a response towards, and a criticism of, ‘the Pseudo Classical’ theory of poetic diction. But such a view is partially true. His first impulse was much less a revolt towards Pseudo-classical diction, “than a desire to find a suitable language for the unfamiliar territory of human life which he was conquering for poetic treatment”. His goal was to deal in his poetry with rustic and humble life and to advocate simplicity of theme.
He believed the poet is actually a person talking to men and so he should use such a language as is used by men. The pseudo classical advocated that the language of poetry differs from the language of prose whereas Wordsworth believes that there isn’t any important distinction between them. The poet can communicate finest within the language which is admittedly used by men. He condemns the substitute language. Thus, William Wordsworth prefers the language actually utilized by ordinary people.
Wordsworth’s objective, as he tells within the Preface, was, “to choose incidents and situations from common life”, and naturally, he additionally meant to make use of, “a selection of language, really used by men”. He was to deal with humble and rustic life and so he also needs to use the language of the rustics, farmers, shepherds who have been to be the subjects of his poetry.
Using such an easy language has a number of benefits. The rustic language in its simplicity is extremely passionate. This is more so the case when these humble individuals are in a state of emotional pleasure. It is charged with the feelings of the human heart. Such a language is the pure language of the passions. It comes from the heart and thus goes on to the heart.
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Wordsworth was going to put in writing about simple life so he writes in simple language and for this he provides metre. In his opinion, we should not separate the language of poetry from the language of men in actual life. Figures, metaphors and similes and different such decorations should not be used unnecessarily. In a state of emotional pleasure, men naturally use a metaphorical language to express themselves forcefully. The earliest poets used only such metaphors and images in consequence naturally from highly effective feelings.
Later on, poets used a figurative language which was not the results of genuine passion. They merely imitated the way of the earlier poets and thus arose the artificial language and diction of Pseudo-classics. The poet should keep away from the usage of such synthetic diction both when he speaks in his own person, or by his characters.
Wordsworth doesn’t state what he means by language. Language is a matter of words, in addition to the association of these words. It is the matter of the use of imagery, frequency of its use, and its nature. Wordsworth doesn’t make clear what he precisely means by ‘language’.
Weaknesses in Wordsworth’s Theory
Coleridge was the first critic to pounce upon Wordsworth’s theory of language and to show its weaknesses. He identified, first, that a language so chosen and purified, as Wordsworth suggests, would differ on no account from the language of some other men of common-sense. After such a selection, there could be no distinction between the rustic language and the language used by men in different walks of life.
Second, Wordsworth permits the usage of metre, and this suggests a selected order and association of words. If metre is for use, the order of words in poetry is sure to differ from that of prose. It does so differ within the poetry of Wordsworth himself. So Coleridge concludes that there’s, and there must be, an important distinction between the language of prose and metrical composition.
Third, the usage of metre is as artificial as the use of poetic diction, and if one is allowed, it’s absurd to forbid the use of the opposite. Both are equally unimpeachable sources of poetic pleasure.
Fourthly, Coleridge objected to the usage of the word real. He writes:
“Every man’s language varies, according to the extent of his knowledge, the activity of his faculties, and the depth or quickness of his feelings. Every man’s language has, first, its individualities; second, the common properties of the class to which he belongs; and third, words and phrases of universal use. For, ‘real’, therefore, we must substitute, ‘ordinary’ or lingua communis.”
Fifthly, Coleridge identified that it’s not right that we derived the best parts of our language from Nature. Language is letter-moulded. The finest words are abstract nouns and ideas. If the poet needs to make use of the rustic language, he should suppose just like the rustics whose language is curiously inexpressive.
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