A celebration of verse, on Wordsworth's 250th birth anniversary

William Wordsworth, whose 250th birthday we celebrate this year, revolutionized our conception of poetry when he began to write using the language of ordinary men and women. Wordsworth contends that our souls existed before our bodies, so that “trailing clouds of glory do we come/ From God, who is our home.” Alas, as we age, theworld’sbusyness blots out the remembrance of our celestial origin. “Whither is fled the visionary gleam?/ Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” These days Wordsworth generally gets bad press because he grew prim and conventional as he aged. But in this anniversary year of his birth, we should honor his dazzling youthful achievement, which Seamus Heaney calls — in his introduction to a recent Folio Society edition of Wordsworth’s “Selected Poems” — the “largest and most securely founded in the canon of native Englishpoetry since Milton.” In American poetry, our Wordsworth is Walt Whitman, whose “Leaves of Grass” upended 19th-century literary gentility with a barbaric yawp heard round the world: “I celebrate myself . I am large, I contain multitudes.” That young hotshot is sumptuously celebrated in “Poet of the Body: New York’s Walt Whitman,” a Grolier Club exhibition catalogue by Susan Jaffe Tane and KarenKarbiener based on Tane’s stunning collection of Whitmanian books, pictures, manuscripts and ephemera. As this American icon himself emphasized in one of the passages chosen by Wineapple, “I am not to be known as a piece of something, but as a totality.” Simply stated, ValĂ©ry’s poems are hard to understand. As his voluminous notebooks show, he possessed a Leonardo da Vinci-like breadth of interests and one central obsession: How does the mind work? We must try to live!” Gallery: Explore the UK's literary inspirations (Starsinsider) It wasn’t Robert Conquest’s strong point either. His “Collected Poems,” edited by his widow, Elizabeth Conquest, ranges from tender love lyrics to deft occasional verse to unquotable, obscene limericks.