[With] an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
April is National Poetry Month, and here at 16Personalities, we’re celebrating by taking a closer look at the personality type of one of the most influential poets in the English language: William Wordsworth.
Wordsworth was one of the founders of English Romanticism, a literary movement centered on individuality, human imagination, and emotion. A poetic innovator, Wordsworth broke with the conventions of his time in many ways. He was both highly praised and heavily criticized in his lifetime, sparking more than 200 years of lively debate.
Before we delve into his personality type, here’s a brief overview of Wordsworth’s life and work.
Life of a Poet
William Wordsworth (1770–1850) developed an early appreciation for nature and poetry growing up in the English countryside. Both of his parents died when he was a child, but he maintained a close, lifelong friendship with his sister Dorothy, who was a poet in her own right.
As a young man, he was influenced by the radical politics of the French Revolution and his famous friendship with fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and Coleridge collaborated on a collection of poetry called Lyrical Ballads that was first published in 1798 – an event that has traditionally been regarded as the beginning of the Romantic period. Wordsworth produced the majority of his best work between 1797 and 1808. He married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, and the couple had five children, two of whom died in 1812.
Later in life, Wordsworth continued to write but grew much more politically and religiously conservative. Most critics (then and now) have agreed that his poetic powers diminished as he aged. Nevertheless, he came to be regarded as one of England’s most venerable cultural figures. He was named Britain’s poet laureate in 1843 and retained that honor until his death in 1850 at the age of 80.
Three months after his death, his wife published what would become his most famous work, The Prelude, an autobiographical epic poem that he began writing in 1798 and revised several times. Many have called The Prelude the greatest achievement of English Romanticism.
You can read an in-depth overview of Wordsworth’s life and work here.
Much of Wordsworth’s poetry, including The Prelude, is an exercise in self-expression and autobiographical narration. So his poems say a lot about his personality.
In his preface to the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth argues that good poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” This assertion might as well be a testament to what it’s like to be a Mediator (INFP) personality type:
- to be spontaneous and open to experience,
- to understand your experiences in emotional terms,
- to feel compelled to remember, reflect upon, and draw meaning from your experiences, and
- to require tranquility and solitude in order to engage in that reflection.
We see these characteristics as pervasive in his life, in his work, and in his Mediator personality. Let’s explore his personality traits in more detail.
In late 18th-century England, if you wanted to be a poet or artist of any importance, you had to be in the center of the action: London. At least, that was the conventional wisdom.
But Wordsworth hated the noise, crowds, and distractions of the city. “The world is too much with us,” he complains in a sonnet, and we “lay waste our powers” in the concerns of day-to-day living. So he settled in his native Lake District instead, retreating to nature for renewal and inspiration every chance he got.
As an Introverted personality, Wordsworth needed to have time alone to focus, reconnect with himself, and reenergize. In the final stanza of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” he celebrates “that inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude” – an excellent Wordsworthian depiction of an Introverted Mind.
Wordsworth believed wholeheartedly in the power of the human imagination. His own imagination is on full display in his vivid imagery and figurative language. He was also constantly reflecting on his memories and searching for meaning. He often tried to capture in his poetry how the human mind works. And that psychological focus was uncharted territory for poetry at the time. Looking at just one poem title serves as a prime example: “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.”
While his language may seem old-fashioned to readers now, it was actually revolutionary in his time. Believing that poetic diction had become too artificial and pretentious, Wordsworth sought to express himself (relatively) plainly in “the real language of men.” That earned him plenty of scorn from high-minded critics of the day. But, like a true Diplomat personality type, he stuck with his principles and ideals. To him, poetic expression was a matter of morality.
In his poetry, Wordsworth always put feelings first. Modern readers may find his work too sentimental and effusive, but it marked a drastic shift from the rational, public poetry of his predecessors in the Enlightenment period. He was deeply interested in authentic self-expression, and his poetry was personal, intimate, spiritual, and intensely emotional.
Although he had a reputation for being egotistical, he could also be a source of empathy and support for his family and close friends, notably Samuel Taylor Coleridge. When Coleridge was struggling with addiction, Wordsworth took him into his home with his wife and young children for nearly two years, until the strain on the family became too much.
For Wordsworth, an important part of being able to express profound emotion was getting out in the world and experiencing it in the first place. Despite his Introverted personality, he understood that each new experience – even everyday ones from “common life” – could spark an idea, memory, or insight for his next poem. He was a disciplined writer, but spontaneity was essential to his creative process.
Nature was, of course, his favorite source of inspiration. “Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books,” urges the narrator of “The Tables Turned,” and “let Nature be your teacher.” As Wordsworth saw it:
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
In 1798, that particular “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” was a very bold claim to make.
Putting It All Together
The turn of the 19th century was a tumultuous time of revolution and industrialization. People were trying to understand their place in a changing world. As a perceptive, inventive Mediator personality, William Wordsworth was just the poet to shake things up with new subjects and styles. He shared with the world a new vision for how humans, nature, and art could coexist in harmony.
Although artistic tastes and philosophies have changed a great deal since then, Wordsworth’s Romantic spirit of spontaneous, authentic expression has inspired many other generations.
Here at 16Personalities, we hold accuracy in high esteem. That said, there’s only so much research we can do on a person. Without being able to interview and assess a living Wordsworth, our label of Mediator can only ever be theoretical. William Wordsworth was both influential and controversial in his time, and he still is today – but we think his poetic sensibility makes him a fitting model of a Mediator personality.
So, do you have your own theories? Let us know in the comments below!