NATURE IN WORDSWORTH’S POETRY : Romanticism is an imaginative point of view that has influenced many art forms. Love of nature played an important part in the revival of romanticism.


The Beneficial Influence of Nature

Throughout Wordsworth’s work, nature provides the ultimate good influence on the human mind. All manifestations of the natural world—from the highest mountain to the simplest flower—elicit noble, elevated thoughts and passionate emotions in the people who observe these manifestations. Wordsworth repeatedly emphasizes the importance of nature to an individual’s intellectual and spiritual development. A good relationship with nature helps individuals connect to both the spiritual and the social worlds. As Wordsworth explains in The Prelude, a love of nature can lead to a love of humankind.

In such poems as “The World Is Too Much with Us” and “London, people become selfish and immoral when they distance themselves from nature by living in cities. Humanity’s innate empathy and nobility of spirit becomes corrupted by artificial social conventions as well as by the squalor of city life. In contrast, people who spend a lot of time in nature, such as laborers and farmers, retain the purity and nobility of their souls.

Keats and nature

Nature was one of the greatest sources of inspiration for Keats. Like Wordsworth he had a cult of nature, though, unlike him, he did not see an immanent God in it. He simply saw another form of Beauty, which he could transform into poetry without the aid of memory; he only enriched it with his Imagination. While Wordsworth thought that “sweet melodies are made sweeter by distance in time”, Keats believed that “heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter”, i.e.: beauty imagined is superior to beauty perceived, since the senses are more limited than the Imagination and its creative power.

While Wordsworth´s love for nature is well explained by the fact that he grew up in the Lake District, thus being influenced by the suggestive landscape, it is harder to understand the connection between Keats and nature, since he was a city boy. For this reason, unlike Wordsworth, whose relationship with nature was spiritual, he looked at nature with the eye of the aesthete, recreating the physical world, including all living things.

Nature was a major theme among the Romantics, but Keats turned natural objects into poetic images. When he already knew that he was going to die, he looked back at childhood and realized that concrete contact with natural objects at that time was responsible for the positive associations they continued to communicate in adulthood.

Nature led Keats to the formulation of a concept he called “negative capability”, described as the ability to experience “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact or reason”, managing to negate personality and opening to the reality around. It is an intuitive activity of mind, a metaphysical process in which nature is a potential source of truth. That of the poet is a visionary activity, which uses natural objects as means to represent the poet’s ideas. Though a great number of images connected with nature in Keats’s poems are used only to represent experiences, thus becoming a symbol of the psyche.

Nature in Shelley and Wordsworth

For Shelley, nature represents a powerfully sublime entity which feels utter indifference for man. Certainly, Shelley describes such beautiful scenes as “earthly rainbows stretched across the sweep / Of the ethereal waterfall”. At the same time, however, he recognizes nature’s merciless potential:

But a flood of ruin
Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky
Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing 
Its destined path, or in the mangled soil
Branchless and shattered stand: the rocks, drawn down
From yon remotest waste, have overthrown
The limits of the dead and living world,
Never to be reclaimed.

According to Shelley, nature is at once splendorous and deadly, a dynamic force that cannot be tamed by man. While appreciating nature’s aesthetic majesty, Shelley warns man not to equate beauty with tranquility. Rather, Shelley advises us to view nature from both sides of the coin, admiring its unapproachable synthesis of power and grace. For Wordsworth, on the other hand, nature plays a more comforting role. Like Shelley, Wordsworth sees nature as an eternal and sublime entity, but rather than threatening the poet, these qualities give Wordsworth comfort. As Wordsworth writes:

I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.

Rather than placing man and nature in opposition, Wordsworth views them as complementary elements of a whole, recognising man as a part of nature. Hence, Wordsworth looks at the world and sees not an alien force against which he must struggle, but rather a comforting entity of which he is a part.

Shelley was an atheist, a fact which certainly contributed to his vision of nature as a powerfully indifferent entity. Having no benevolent God to give reason and order to the world, Shelley lived in an immensely intimidating universe of powerful and fractious components. Nature could be beautiful for Shelley, but that does not imply that it was caring. Shelley seems to echo Pascal, who said, while gazing at the stars, “The silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” Wordsworth, on the other hand, was a relatively solid and conservative member of the Church of England.

Thus, with the faith of religion to back him up, Wordsworth was able to look at nature and see the benevolence of God behind it. For Wordsworth, the world could be a place of sorrow, but it was not cruel. Though suffering surely occurred, Wordsworth comforted himself with the belief that all things happened by the hand of God, manifesting Himself in the ultimately just and divine order of nature.

 Read it also:  Major poets of Renaissance Age


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