In this extract, taken from the preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads regarded as the manifesto of English Romanticism, W. expressed a new concept of poetry, which emphasized the authenticity of rustic life, the use of simple language, and the important of emotions and imagination.
Subject of poetry: poetry was to deal with "situation and incidents from common life". The best subject to write about were therefore "humble rustic life" and simple people living in countryside (not in town), since they were in close contact with nature, and their "elementary feelings" and habits were more likely to be understood, communicated and sympathized with.
Language: the poems were to be written as far as possible in "a selection of language really used by men", that is to say as far away as possible from "poetic diction" and as near as possible to the simple "language of men", through purified of any disagreeable or disgusting expression.
Role of imagination: imagination was to play a very important role, which W. identified with its capacity of "colouring", that is to say of modifying the objects observed, so as to "present them in an unusual aspect". In other words, it awoke and sharpened a special intuition or insight, which enabled the poet to perceived and see things which the ordinary mind is usually blind to, the eyes of the soul seeing farther and deeper than the eyes of the mind.
Poetry as memory: though the poet describes natural and simple objects and quiet landscape, he does not look at them with realism of cold, objective observation, but sees all things through the eyes of memory, which recollects emotions already lost and half-extinguished thoughts. Since poetry is the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings", these feelings are not immediate, but originate from "emotion recollected in tranquillity", recreate by the subjectivity of memory; it is not original emotion , but past feelings contemplated and reorganized.
Task of the poet: though equal to the rest of men in quality, the Poet stands apart from them because of his higher degree of sensibility and imaginative capacity: he is in fact "possessed of more than usual organic sensibility" and has also "thought long and deeply". He is therefore the best suited to get at the very essence of things and communicate them in a simple, unelaborated language. Moreover, he is also a moral teacher, whose task is to purify men's emotions through the "description of such objects as strongly excite those feelings".
W.'s task was to reconcile realism and poetry. In a time in which realism was usually confined to prose, and poetry still availed itself on artificial "poetic diction", W. was in fact the first who try to draw inspiration from everyday life and to write in a language as near as possible to actual spoken English. This attempt was not totally new, since the new poetic tendencies of the time had already produce interesting experiments in this sense. But W. was the first to bring these experiments to completion and, with his revolutionary ideas on poetic style, solved the discrepancy between form and content. Moreover, he worked out a theory if poetry of his own, which he expounded in the long preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads.
W.'s faculty for drawing inspiration from everyday life and objects led him a sort of mystic belief, whereby man and nature were different but inseparable parts of a whole universe, a total scheme created by God, or rather by a Mighty Power. Nature was endowed with a spirit and a life of her own, present not only in plants and animals, but also inanimate objects as well as stones and mountains. She was therefore a living presence speaking to all those who were able to enter into intimate relationship with her and understand her language. It was then through the fusion with nature, and through a quite contemplation of her beauty, that man could rediscover the image of God and become aware of his own inner life, since Man and Nature fitted together perfectly as parts of one Might Mind. Nature, in fact, was a friend and comforter to man, the only grater teacher from which, by penetrating into her divine essence, man could learn virtue and wisdom. The mission of the poet, like that of a prophet, was therefore to open men's souls to the inner reality of Nature and to the calm, meditation joy she can offer us.
Tintern Abbey shows how deeply W. was influenced by the associationist philosophy of David Hartley. Hartley was the first to use the principle of association in order to explain how the mind works. He maintained that no ideas are innate in man, but they all derive from the impressions of external objects, which set up vibrations in the nerves. Groups of vibrations then become associated with particular simple ideas. Human beings, endowed with a "power of association", eventually transform these simple ideas into others that are more complex and organized. For Hartley consequently, the three stages of mind's development are sensations, simple ideas, and complex or organised ideas and they correspond to the three ages of man childhood, in which there are only sensations from external world; youth, in which sensations give rise to emotions and simple ideas; and adulthood, in which man organizes his ideas through rational thinking. W. agreed with Harley's philosophy, but W. was convinced that we "receive" sensations, but we can "half create" them by giving rise to higher and more complex ideas in the further mental development.