Biography of William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was born on April 17, 1770, in Cockermouth, Cumberland County, England. Wordsworth was the second of seven children born to Christopher and Anne Cookson Wordsworth. Both parents passed away by the time he was 13. After being raised by different relatives for a time, Wordsworth was sent away to Hawkshead Grammar School in the Lake District. There, he received a prestigious education in literature and the classics while also indulging in the beauty of the English countryside. His environment fostered a love of nature which would later emerge in his poetry.

In 1787, Wordsworth moved on to St. John’s College in Cambridge. Uninterested in the competitive nature of the university, he did not take his studies seriously, and instead began to write poetry. In 1790, Wordsworth decided to take an extended walking tour through revolutionary France during his summer break. Inspired by the political climate there, he became a republican sympathizer. Upon his college graduation, he returned to France and met Annette Vallon. They began a passionate affair and had a daughter named Caroline. Shortly after Caroline’s birth, Wordsworth ran out of money and was forced to return to England. The war between the two countries prevented him from marrying Annette, and he would not return to France until 1802.

In 1795, a relative’s legacy allowed him to reunite with his beloved sister Dorothy. The brother and sister eventually settled in Somerset together, where they moved close to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and Coleridge formed a mutually beneficial and inspirational relationship, eventually beginning the English Romantic movement with the publication of their Lyrical Ballads in 1798. The book includes Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey" and Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," arguably their two most famous works. In 1798, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Dorothy moved to Germany, where Wordsworth began work on The Prelude, and a group of poems known as the "Lucy Poems." In 1799 Wordsworth returned to the Lake District, where he would live for the remainder of his life. Wordsworth, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, became known as a "Lakeland Poet" because of the area where he lived—renowned for its wild landscapes, charming pastures, and countless lakes.

In 1802, after amicably separating from Anne Vallon, Wordsworth married a childhood friend named Mary Hutchinson. He and Mary had five children, although two of them died tragically in 1812. Wordsworth finally settled with his family and sister in Grasmere, England. He became widely successful and was named poet laureate in 1843, succeeding Robert Southey. William Wordsworth died on April 23, 1850 of pleurisy. He is buried at St. Oswald's Church, in Grasmere. His great autobiographical poem, The Prelude, was published posthumously.


Study Guides on Works by William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth’s “Lucy Poems” consist of five verses composed between 1798 and 1801. They include “Strange fits of passion have I known,” “She dwelt among the untrodden ways,” “I travelled among unknown men,” “Three years she grew in sun and...

In 1805, as he was reviewing the long creative process that would ultimately result in the posthumous publication of his epic verse The Prelude, William Wordsworth observed that the poem originated from an intense and overwhelming feeling that he...

William Wordsworth’s “The Thorn” was written in 1789. Wordsworth's inspiration for the setting of the poem, a mountain, came from his own experience of seeing a hawthorn tree on Quantock Hill in Somersetshire. The poem was included in the first...