William Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770, in Cockermouth, West Cumberland, located in the northern part of Englands Lake District. This area of England is famous for its splendid array of natural landscape. After losing his mother when he was just eight years old, Wordsworth was sent to live with Ann Tyson, who allowed Wordsworth to freely roam the beautiful countryside near Esthwaite Lake. The freedom Ann Tyson gave young Wordsworth allowed him to experience nature, and led him to a deep affinity and love for it. As critic Matthew Arnold says in his essay on Wordsworth, It is Wordsworths relationship with nature that regards him as one of the most important poets of the Romantic period, allowing him to create great poetry because of the extraordinary power in which he feels joy is offered in natureand because of the power in which he shows us this joy and renders it (Encarta Encyclopedia online criticism).
In 1798, the fist edition of Lyrical Ballads was published. Although the work incorporates some of Samuel Taylor Coleridges poetry, the majority of the pomes belong to Wordsworth. With the publication of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth was able to publicly proclaim his belief of the importance of nature. The following paragraphs discuss some of Wordsworths poems, as found in the 1802 edition of Lyrical Ballads, and how they reflect Wordsworths use of nature.
The first poem I will discuss is Wordsworths Ode: Intimations of Immortality. The theme of the poem deals with childhood memories of nature incorporating into the adult mind. The poem focuses on Wordsworth’s belief that life on earth is a faint silhouette of an untainted existence recollected in childhood, yet it is forgotten through
the process of becoming an adult. In the first stanza, the speaker reflectively says there was a time when all of nature seemed dreamlike, yet that time has past. In the second stanza, the speaker says he still sees the rainbow, and the rose is still lovely. He says the moon looks across the sky with pleasure, and the sunshine is a glorious birth (1.16). In the third stanza, while listening to birds sing and watching lambs play, the speaker is wounded with a painful thought, but the sound of a nearby waterfall and the music of the gusting wind brings back his strength. He announces his sadness will no longer ruin his experience. In the fourth stanza, the speaker announces to nature that his heart takes part in the blissful celebration surrounding him, and he is wrong to feel sullen on such a sweet May morning. However, a field in the distance and a pansy at his feet makes him think of something that is gone (4.53). He asks what has happened to the visionary gleam, and wonders, Where is it now, the glory and the dream? (4.56-57).
The speaker of the poem is at odds with nature, yet Wordsworth consciously constructed the poem in this fashion to make the speaker an example of how unhappy a man can be if he is not connected with nature. Understanding that his grief comes from his inability to experience the May morning, as he would have as a child, the speaker attempts to be joyful. However, he is only able to experience happiness when he realizes he does possess the ability to understand nature.
My next example of Wordsworths use of nature is found in his poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. The speaker of the poem relates himself to a cloud. He says he is wandering like a cloud floating above hills and valleys when he sees a host of daffodils beside a lake. The dancing flowers flutter along the lakes shore, while the waves of the
lake dance beside them. The speaker says, A poet could not but be gay,(15) in such a joyful company of flowers. The speaker goes on to say that he gazed and gazed, but thought little of the wealth the scene would bring him. But now, whenever he feels vacant or pensive, (20) the memory of the dancing daffodils flashes upon that inward eye / That is the bliss of solitude, (21) his heart fills with pleasure, and dances with the daffodils (24).
Literary critic Donald Davidson says This simple poem, one of the loveliest and most famous in the Wordsworth canon, revisits the familiar subject of nature with a particularly simple musical eloquence (great poets.com). The poem depicts the speaker as a wanderer who discovers a field of daffodils, which he calls upon in memory to comfort him when he is lonely. Wordsworths brilliant use of reverse personification in the first few stanzas of the poem metaphorically compares the speaker to an object of nature. While the cloud represents the speaker, the daffodils personify human beings. Again, Wordsworth uses an image of nature to bring happiness to the speaker. According to critic Lance McKeon, This technique implies an inherent unity between man and nature, making it one of Wordsworths most basic and effective methods for instilling in the reader the feeling the poet so often describes himself as experiencing. (litcrit.com)
Another example of Wordsworths use of nature comes from his sonnet It is a Beauteous Evening. The sonnet is about a young girl who teaches the speaker a lesson about the relationship between nature and childhood. It begins with the speaker describing the scenery around him. The speaker reveals in the first few lines of the
sonnet that it is a beautiful evening, the sun is sinking down in its tranquility and The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea (5). The speaker relates the ocean to the mighty Being, (6) and the sound of the ocean is compared to thunder. The speaker addresses the young girl who walks with him and tells her, though she seems untouched by solemn thought, (10) he himself is absorbed by her divine nature. He says the young girl worships in the Temple’s inner shrine (13) merely by being, and that God is with thee when we know it not (14).
As critic Dorothy Lang stated in her essay on Wordsworth, This sonnet is one of the many excellent sonnets Wordsworth wrote in the early 1800s. It is one of the most personal and intimate in all of Wordsworth’s writings, and its aura of heartfelt serenity is genuine as anything in the Wordsworth canon (IPL online criticism). Shortly before Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, he returned to France to see his former mistress Annette Vallon, and their child, Caroline, who was now a ten-year-old girl. Dorothy Lang also states in her essay, This sonnet is thought to have originated from a real moment in Wordsworth’s life, when he walked on the beach with the daughter he had not known for a decade (IPL online criticism).
Critic Matthew Arnold states in his essay that It is a Beauteous Evening is, Unlike many of the other sonnets of 1802, it is not charged with either moral or political outrage; instead it is as tranquil as its theme (Encarta Encyclopedia online criticism). The main technique of a sonnet is to combine imagery of natural scenes with religious imagery. The first two lines of the sonnet make the first metaphorical comparisons, stating the evening is a holy time, (2) and quiet as a nun (2). In the last few lines, as
the speaker observes the purity of the young girl, he says her wholesomeness does not make her less divine (11). The message Wordsworth is relaying is that in childhood, one is innately connected to nature and united with its present moment and natural surroundings.
Furthering my example of Wordsworths use of nature, I present his sonnet, The World is Too Much With Us. In the sonnet, the speaker angrily accuses modern society of having lost its connection with nature and with everything thats meaningful. He says the sea bares her bosom to the moon, (5) and the winds howl, and humanity is still out of tune. The speaker looks coldly at the world. The speaker yearns for a world more connected with nature, so that, standing on this pleasant lea, (11) he might see images of ancient gods rising from the waves, a sight that would give him great pleasure. He imagines Proteus rising from the sea, (13) and Triton blowing his wreathed horn (14).
According to critic Maxwell Hoskins, in his essay analyzing The World is Too Much With Us, This sonnet falls in line with a number of sonnets written by Wordsworth in the early 1800s that criticize or admonish what Wordsworth saw as the decadent material cynicism of the time (cliffnotes.com). Although the sonnet is relatively simple, it angrily states that human beings are lost in materialism and are out of touch with nature. In the last line of the sonnet, the speaker radically suggest that he should have been raised as a pagan, so he could still see ancient gods in the actions of nature, thus gaining spiritual comfort.
The familiar Wordsworthian theme of communion with nature is angrily stressed in this sonnet. Critic Maxwell Hoskins also stated in his essay, The sonnet is important for its rhetorical force (it shows Wordsworth’s increasing confidence with language as an implement of dramatic power, sweeping the wind and the sea up like flowers in a bouquet), and for being representative of other poems in the Wordsworth canonnotably London, 1802, in which the speaker dreams of bringing back the dead poet John Milton to save his decadent era (cliffnotes.com).
My final, and best example of nature as a theme in Wordsworths work comes from the poem Tintern Abbey. It opens with the speaker declaring that five years have passed since he last visited the location and encountered its peaceful scenery. He examines the objects he has seen before, and describes their effect upon him: the steep and lofty cliffs (5) impress upon him thoughts of more deep seclusion (6). The speaker leans against a dark sycamore tree and looks upon the cottage and the orchard trees bearing unripe fruit. He sees the wreaths of smoke (17) rising up from cottage chimneys between the trees, and imagines they might rise from vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods, (20) or from the cave of a hermit in the deep forest.
The speaker then describes how his memory of these beauteous forms (22) has worked on his mind in his absence from them. When he was in crowded towns, or even alone, the memory of the scene provided him with sensations sweet, / Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart (27-28). His vision of the woods and cottages offered him tranquil restoration (30). He was affected by these images and they influenced his actions, making him more kind and loving. He believes the memory of the scene offered
him access to a mental and spiritual state in which the world seemed less of a burden, and he becomes a living soul (46) with a view into the life of things (49). The speaker then says the memory of the woods has affected him so strongly that he returns to the memory in times of fretful stir (52).
In the present moment, the speakers memory of his first experience in the woods combines with his present view of them, and he relishes in the memorys revival. Happily, he knows that his present experience will provide many wonderful memories for future years. The speaker is aware of his maturity now and realizes what he missed the first time he encountered the scene. As a young boy, the speaker bounded o’er the mountains (68) and through the streams. In those days, nature made up his whole world: waterfalls, mountains, and woods gave shape to his passions, his appetites, and his love. That time has past, he says, yet he does not mourn it, for though he cannot resume his old relationship with nature, he has been adequately compensated by a new set of more mature gifts. For example, the speaker can now look on nature, not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes / The still, sad music of humanity (89-91). Now, the speaker can feel the presence of something more powerful from the glow of the setting sun. He feels the energy of the ocean, the air upon his body, and now has a deeper understanding of man. This energy seems to him a motion and a spirit that impels / All thinking thoughts…. / And rolls through all things (100-102). It is for this reason, the speaker still loves nature, still loves the mountains, pastures and woods, for they harbor his purest thoughts and protect the heart and soul of his moral being (111).
Even though the speaker now has a better understanding of the importance the memory of the scene has given him, he says he would still be satisfied with the memory, for it reminds him of the time he spent there with his sister. His dear, dear sister, (121) is also his dear, dear Friend (116). It is his sisters voice and mannerisms that remind the speaker of his former self, helping him to see the man he has become.
Realizing he has grown within the five years that have passed, the speaker offers a prayer to nature that he might continue to deeply relate with his surroundings, as he says, Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her (122-123). Nature’s power over the mind that seeks her is so strong that it makes that mind resistant to evil tongues, (128) rash judgments, (129) and the sneers of selfish men, (129) instilling instead a cheerful faith (133) that the world is full of blessings. The speaker then encourages the moon to shine upon his sister, and the wind to blow against her, and he says to her the memory of this experience will heal her in later years, if she should feel sad or dreary. He also tells his sister if he should die, the memory of the woods will help her to remember the love he found in nature. He says this so his sister will remember what the woods meant to him, though he had not seen them in five years, they became more dear to him–both for themselves and for the fact that she is intertwined within the memory.
The theme of Tintern Abbey is best described as a childhood memory that has bonded with the beauty of nature. According to critic Matthew Arnold, Both generally and specifically, this subject is hugely important in Wordsworth’s work, reappearing in many of his poems (Encarta Encyclopedia online criticism). With this poem, Wordsworth emphasizes the theme: that the memory of pure communion with nature in childhood works upon the mind even in adulthood, when access to that pure communion has been
lost, and that the maturity of mind present in adulthood offers compensation for the loss of that communion. Wordsworth uses the speakers experience as an example of how humans are capable of seeing nature, and only by creating a relationship with nature, will humans gain the strength needed for dealing with life.
Tintern Abbey is a monologue, in which the speaker talks to himself, referencing specific objects in the scene, and occasionally addressing others–once the spirit of nature, occasionally the speaker’s sister. Critic Donald Davidson states, The language of the poem is striking for its simplicity and forthrightness; the young poet is in no way concerned with ostentation, instead speaking from the heart and in a plainspoken manner (great poets.com. The poem’s imagery is composed of the natural setting in which the speaker is surrounded by.
Tintern Abbey, also includes hints of religious sentiment. Even though the speaker never describes the Abbey in the poem, the idea of the abbey being a sacred place to the spirit, saturates the scene as though the forest and the fields are the speaker’s abbey. Donald Davidson states, This is reinforced by the speaker’s description of the power he feels in the setting sun and in the mind of man, which consciously links the ideas of God, nature, and the human mind–as they are linked in much of Wordsworth’s poetry (great poets.com).
In conclusion, The publication of Lyrical Ballads represented a landmark moment for English poetry; it was unlike anything that had come before, and paved the way for everything that has come after (Encyclopedia Britanica online). According to the theory he set in the preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth wrote poetry that resulted from the spontaneous overflow (Wordsworth 161) of emotions. He wrote poetry in the simple language of common people and much of his poetry originated from an emotion recollected
in a state of tranquility (Wordsworth 161). Wordsworth surrendered to his emotions so the tranquility of his feelings dissolved into his poems. Critic Donald Davidson states, This explicit emphasis on feeling, simplicity, and the pleasure of beauty over rhetoric, ornament, and formality changed the course of English poetry, replacing the elaborate classical forms of Pope and Dryden with a new Romantic sensibility (great poets.com)
Wordsworth gave memorable expression to the romantic mindset developed by his German predecessors and contemporaries (Encarta Encyclopedia). Romantics focused on the importance of emotions, love and pleasure. They stressed imagination over reason, and believed in the spiritual superiority of nature rather than harsh mechanical shrewdness. They believed art was created to restore a lost harmony between the individual and nature and between nature and society. Wordsworth stated, the poet writes under one restriction only, namely, the necessity of giving immediate pleasure (Wordsworth 165). The pleasure derived from writing poetry was a loving acknowledgment of the beauty of the universe (Wordsworth 165) to Wordsworth, and indicated to him that the human mind was the mirror of the fairest and most interesting properties of nature (Wordsworth 169).
Wordsworths most important legacy, besides his lovely, timeless poems, is his launching of the Romantic era, opening the gates for later writers such as John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron in England, and Emerson and Thoreau in America (Encarta Encyclopedia).
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