In “Observations Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads,” Wordsworth argues that pleasure is obtained through gaining knowledge. He believes that pleasure can be created both through hard won knowledge and through simple observations laid out in ordinary language. Wordsworth says,
“[The Poet] considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other, […] with affections akin to those, which, through labor and length of time, the Man of science has raised up in himself, by conversing with those particular parts of nature which are the objects of his studies.” (Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads)
Wordsworth says though man and nature are adapted to each other, the knowledge—where knowledge equals pleasure—that man derives from nature only comes through “labor and length of time.”
In other words, pleasure is derived from difficulty. But at the same time, he believes pleasure can be translated from the poet to the common man through simple, well considered language. He states, “[W]e shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature, and in such connection with each other, that the understanding of the Reader must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections strengthened and purified” (Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads). The enlightenment, strengthening, and purification would come simply from reading the verse with no other work required of the reader to make sense of what he or she has read.
However, in practice, Wordsworth simply exchanges one form of difficulty for another. In exchanging complicated phraseology for common speech, he concedes that he must add in abstract symbolism to make up for the poetic difficulty that is lost. He says, “[A poem] must necessarily be dignified and variegated, and alive with metaphors and figures” (Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads). Therefore, the pleasure given in the poem—because pleasure equals knowledge—cannot be obtained through a straight reading of the text. The reader must grapple with the changing metaphors to come to any real understanding of the poem. The exchanging of difficulty is evident in the poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”
A straight reading of the text of this poem shows the speaker of the poem watching nature and gives little knowledge other than a strategy to alleviate boredom through remembering a scene of nature. With such little transfer of knowledge in a straight reading of this poem, according to Wordsworth’s own understanding, the reader must gain very little pleasure from this poem. In order to gain knowledge from the poem, the reader must exert effort to translate the elaborate symbolism of the poem. Through the difficult work of making sense of the metaphors of this poem, the reader may come to see the poet on high, as a cloud looking over his readership of lowly daffodils awaiting the next volley of knowledge coming down from the heavens.
Wordsworth, William. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.
—–. “Observations Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.