Preface to Lyrical Ballads

I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind and in whatever degree, from various causes is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will upon the whole be in a state of enjoyment. Now, if Nature be thus cautious in preserving in a state of enjoyment a being thus employed, the Poet ought to profit by the lesson thus held forth to him, and ought especially to take care, that whatever passions he communicates to his Reader, those passions, if his Reader’s mind be sound and vigorous, should always be accompanied with an overbalance of pleasure. —William WordsworthPreface to Lyrical Ballads (

I’m taking a break from responding to an essay written by an “Intro to Literary Study” student who expressed frustration that a composition instructor (not me) who picked apart an essay about the death of the student’s grandmother. When students are too close to the emotions that inspire them to write, they don’t always see the value in thinking of the poem as a tool in which to re-create those same emotions in the reader.