Woodsworth, Burns, and a Changing Perspective on Art

Prior to the romantic period, art (and, more specifically, artistic writings) was something that was separated by class. Largely due to the lack of access to texts, a small group of people could actually read and write texts, thus limiting the audience and perspective of each piece of writing. There was an emphasis on things like advanced language and specific structure as opposed to subject matter and the ability to form pieces in whatever way the author chooses too. Writing, therefore, was almost a science. There was a right and wrong way to make art.

Writers like Woodsworth and Burns were able to change this perspective. Thanks in large part to the creation of the printing press, literature became more accessible to the general public and, in turn, literacy rates increased. This increase in accessibility allowed for a new perspective to form on the art of writing. Poetry written by prominent men about their lifestyles was not relatable to the new audience of literature, and therefor there came the need for a change in pace. Woodsworth and Burns are two authors that recognized this change and it can be seen in their works. For example, In Burns’s To a Mouse, the author describes how he nearly killed a mouse “wi’ murdering paddle.” This ‘paddle’ is a plough, and the situation described in the poem is when Burns is ploughing a field and nearly kills this mouse. By describing a situation in which he is ploughing a field, Burns is demonstrating a relatability to the common people. Both Burns and Woodsworth saw this as an importance in the field of poetry. As stated in Woodsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads, the primary goal of poetry “was to choose incidents and situations from common life.” He goes on to describe how it is important to use “language really used by common men.” Both of the authors’ works contain language that is not as complex as other poets. They use slang words and other commonalities found in language to, once again, appeal to the common reader.

The work of Woodsworth and Burns was revolutionary and it truly challenged the way in which art was scene. Nowadays, art in all forms is not required to fit a certain format. In fact, the breaking of expectations is a celebrated aspect of respected works. It demonstrates an acceptance of asking questions and challenging the status quo. Take, for example, The Beatles. Now, I am not proclaiming that Woodsworth and Burns are “The Beatles of poetry”. I just want to call to attention the change in perspective on how art is viewed and who can view it. Prior to The Beatles, songs on the radio were typically under 3 minutes in length and songs were appreciated as individual pieces. Due to their popularity, The Beatles were able to change the general perspective on music as an artform. They created high-production albums with orchestral parts; they wrote songs like Hey Jude that was a radio hit that has a total length of over 7 minutes; they even created entire genres such as psychedelic rock and metal music with songs like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Helter Skelter. Again, I am not trying to say Woodsworth/Burns and The Beatles are one in the same. I just want to call to attention how the ability to challenge the status quo an change how art is scene is something to be respected and celebrated, in all fields.

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