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Cover of Radical Wordsworth by Jonathan Bate
April 2020

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Radical Wordsworth

The Poet Who Changed the World
Jonathan Bate

A dazzling new biography of Wordsworth’s radical life as a thinker and poetical innovator, published to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth.

William Wordsworth wrote the first great poetic autobiography. We owe to him the idea that places of outstanding natural beauty should become what he called "a sort of national property." He changed forever the way we think about childhood, about the sense of the self, about our connection to the natural environment and about the purpose of poetry.

He was born among the mountains of the English Lake District. He walked into the French Revolution, had a love affair and an illegitimate child, before witnessing horrific violence in Paris. His friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge was at the core of the Romantic movement. As he retreated from radical politics and into an imaginative world within, his influence would endure as he shaped the ideas of thinkers, writers and activists throughout the nineteenth century in both Britain and the United States. This wonderful book opens what Wordsworth called "the hiding places of my power."

W. H. Auden once wrote that "Poetry makes nothing happen." He was wrong. Wordsworth’s poetry changed the world. Award-winning biographer and critic Jonathan Bate tells the story of how it happened.


Sir Jonathan Bate is a Foundation Professor of environmental humanities with a joint appointment in the Department of English and the Global Futures Laboratory at ASU.

Praise for this book

"A captivating read. Jonathan Bate has produced a life of the longest living major Romantic poet foreshortened through those 'spots of time' that left their most enduring impact on his mind."

Denise Gigante
Stanford University

"Wordsworth did indeed change the world, and Jonathan Bate superbly explains not only how the poet achieved that, but also why the change is for the better. This book has something for both those who know Wordsworth a little, and a lot."

James Engell
Harvard University