Romantic Period (1770-1830) 1.1Economic and social changes
Historians of English literature denote by the Romantic period' the time between the year 1798, in which Wordsworth and Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads, and 1832, when Walter Scott died, and when The Reform Bill was carried in Parliament and the Victorian era started.
This was a
turbulent period, during which
The early period of the French Revolution, marked by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the storming of the Bastille to release imprisoned political offenders, evoked enthusiastic support from English literals and radical social thinking stimulated by the Revolution. Tom Paine's Rights of Man (1791-92) and William Godwin's Inquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), which predicated an inevitable but peaceful revolution of society when all property would be equally distributed and all government would wither away. This latter book had a great influence on Wordsworth, Shelley and others. Later, however, English sympathizers dropped off as the Revolution followed its violent course with executions, massacres, guillotining of thousands in the Reign of Terror, and later with the dictatorship of Napoleon. Wordsworth wrote :
Frenchmen had changed a war of self-defence
For one of conquest losing sight of all
Which they had struggled for
(The Prelude II. 206-9)
For Wordsworth and other English sympathizers of liberal views, these events caused a dilemma, because Napoleon, the 'champion' of the French Revolution became an aggressor, a despot.
Yet this was the time when economic and social changes were creating a desperate need for corresponding changes in the political system, and new the manufacturing class were beginning to demand a power in government proportionate to their wealth. 'The industrial Revolution' which began in the mid-eighteenth century with improvements in machines for processing textiles, and was given impetus when James Watt perfected the steam engine in 1765 replaced hand labour and gave a change in economic and social conditions. A new labouring population massed in towns. In rural communities the destruction of home industry was accompanied by creating privately owned agricultural holdings. This process or change introduced more effective methods of agriculture and animal breeding but it created a new landless class which either migrated to the industrial towns or remained farm labourers working on starvation wages. Thus, the population was becoming increasingly polarized into two classes of capital and labour, the large owner or trader and the poor wageworker, the rich and the poor. The conditions of the labouring class: long working hours, harsh discipline, little money, large scale employment of women and children caused dissatisfaction. They did not have even votes and were prevented by law from unionising. They organized petitions, protest meetings, agitation, hunger riots and destruction of machines.
tranquil harmony of the scene. The landscape itself is a 'wild secluded scene'
with its steep and lofty cliffs', 'rolling mountain streams', 'murmur and as a result of this landscape the poet also is in deep seclusion'. They are in personal unity. It is not the physical sensation that is important but the poet's images, mood, inner self.
The first part prepares us for the account in the second paragraph of what Wordsworth's mental image of the landscape carried in the memory has meant to him in the years since his last visit. In this wild secluded scenery there are cottages, orchards, farms, mid groves and copses, sportive wood, wreath of smoke. Thus, the opening verse paragraph evokes a meditative calm suited to the next stage of the poem, in which Wordsworth turns away from he external scene and concentrates upon an explicit exploration of his own consciousness.
In the second section he is far away from the banks of the Wye, but he carried him in his memory:
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
But oft, in lonely rooms and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing into my poorer mind,
With tranquil restoration:
(Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, 11, 24-30)
Those memories, the spirit of the landscape help him in his lonely and
weary hours somewhere in city rooms, in the organized civilization. His
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul
(Tintern Abbey, 11, 43-46)
At such moment the external word does not exist for him, he is not concerned in it, all the doubts and worries are suspended, only 'the living soul' exist as a sublime state. These lines reminds me of the modern lyrics of 20th century which is mostly about philosophical and psychic questions.
This kind of moment when everything ceases to operate, only the moment of silence and stopping dominate occurs in other Wordsworth's poems, for example, in There was a boy, the moment of insight occurred as the boy 'hung/listening'. These moments induce images, visions of the unity of the universe and man is being part of that unity. As I've marked in the title of my thesis, this is the personal unity of nature, man and the universe, more closely the nature are integrated, this is an internal unity. Through the exercise of
harmony, and the deep power of joy
We see into the life of things.
(Tintern Abbey, 11, 48-49)
This harmony is needed because the man is forced to live 'amid the many shapes of joyless daylight', amid the 'fretful, unprofitable stir'. And in this troubled life he, the poet can turn to the Wye valley-memory.
This expression 'see into the life of things' is rather mysterious and philosophical, I think, he means by this that he is able to grasp the meaning of a world which at other times is 'unintelligible', he acquired a gift by watching and meditation to understand the essence, the inner side, the spirit of the things.
The poem as a whole contains several repetitions, moves back and forward between past and present; in this way we can follow the process of the poet's meditation, the course of Wordsworth's thoughts as he attempt to clarify and evaluate what nature has meant to him.
In the third paragraph the present is returned, 'And now'. He is back again and the image is confronted with the reality. The scenery is as impressing again as it was five years ago, and the poet hopes that 'this present pleasure' will revive in the future when he needs it. He wants to store this sight, the momentary joy, the real sensations again. Nature means life and food now for him.
He has changed since he last was here:
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by.)
To me was all in all.
As a boy the physical sensation was important, the tall rock, the gloomy wood, the colours, the nature meant 'an appetite' for him without associations:
That had no need of a remote charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye. That time is past
(Tintern Abbey, 11, 81-83)
But as an adult man he is different, and the nature has another meaning for him:
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing often time
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh, nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbe me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
(Tintern Abbey, 11, 78-96)
The poet traces the evolution of his relationship with nature, from careless physical enjoyment, sensory pleasure to inner meditation of them, to seeing the invisible force that unifies the whole of nature, he gets to that point
when is able to see into the things. He is developing from boyish emotions to mature reflexions, grasping the essential.
There is a newer layer of meaning of nature for the poet. Nature is morally benefices, exists in its clarity, innocence and in this aspect it can be a teacher.
The final paragraph reveals us the presence alongside Wordsworth of his sister Dorothy, who belongs to the poet's childhood and his reminder of the part. He believes that nature will be to Dorothy the restorative force that is has been to him.
In this poem we see a lot of, various attitudes towards nature. Nature has a lot of meanings for the poet. We can make a list of them, as follows:
1. Nature as a comforter in absence, in sorrow, in the ugly rush of city life
2. Nature as the object of appetite, as the object for the picturesque
3. Nature as a source of and scene for pleasures, such as walking, riding, roaming
4. Nature as an entrance into a state of meditation, contemplation, a state'wise passiveness'; a state of visionary insight, trance-like state
5. Nature as the home of the spirit of the world, the things have spirit
6. Nature as the unity of the inner and outer world; the boundary between the inner world of mind and outer world of nature disappears
7. Nature as the guide to human morality
8. Nature as a simple joy and pleasure.
All these different attitudes to nature occur in the poem, the order is not fixed in the way I have listed. The end of the poem goes back to the beginning, they (Wordsworth and his sister) are impressed again with nature and it
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me
And these my exhortations
(Tintern Abbey, 11, 143-146)
2.2.4. Lucy poems
There are five poems which are connected with a girl figure. They are the so called Lucy poems. The real person is not known.
may therefore have been a composite figure made up from several girls Wordsworth knew. There
are not exact descriptions about her. He does not identify the girl to correspond someone.
The important thing, however, is not that knowledge of whether or not Lucy
really existed, that is not really important to appreciate these poems. Four of
them were written in
The novelty of these poems is that they bring a new element to Wordsworth's nature concept. This is the 'death' motive which becomes part of the nature by Lucy's death. Death is absorbed by nature, death (by Lucy) and nature are in unity. Lucy belongs to nature both in her existence and her death too. She lived isolated from people, the humanity somewhere in a forest in the mountains. She had an intimated relationship with nature. Nature witnessed her life, her happiness and her death, too. By her death she became part of the nature, its eternal life.
These poems reflect a new attitude towards nature, the vivid representation of a particular kind of life, namely Lucy's. They show Wordsworth's views on death, the ending of life which is not awful or
I think these poems are more philosophical that the previous ones were. It is probably the topic that makes him to think philosophically.
And now let's take the poems in detail to support the above introduction.
In Strange fits of passion the poet tells a night journey he once made to Lucy's cottage. During the journey he fixes his eye on the descending moon which, as he nears his destination, suddenly vanishes behind the cottage roof. In the meanwhile, he is caught by the 'Kind Nature's gentle' scene, his route is leading through 'the wide lea', 'the hill', 'the orchard plot', but all the way he keeps his eyes on the descending moon. And after this soft and lovely picture follows a harsh, noisy, threatening scene:
My horse moved on, hoof after hoof He raised and never stopped.
When down behind the cottage roof, At once, the bright moon stopped.
(Strange fits of passion, 11, 21-24)
The sudden disappearance of the moon which breaks the above trance shocks the poet into consciousness of the inescapability of death:
`0 mercy!' to myself I cried,
If Lucy should be dead!
(Strange fits of passion, 11, 27-28)
At this moment the nature, represented by the moon's descending and Lucy's death are linked, they are inherently together, inseparable.
In the Lucy poems the girl's closeness to nature is suggested by recurrent natural imagery. Here, Lucy is compared with the rose 'Fresh as a
rose in June.' Her beauty seems everlasting to the poet, he looked her beauty `every day', and she really remained beautiful for ever, at least, in the poet's memory. The poet uses past tense, even in the beginning, 'What once to me befell'. This suggests to me that he kept Lucy's figure in his memory for ever.
How Wordsworth treats these two links, - the natural phenomenon and Lucy's death shows mastery. He ties them and they together vanish. The poet gazes fixedly at the sinking moon which foreshadows some threat:
The sinking moon to Lucy's cot
Came near, and nearer still.
(Strange fits of passion, 11, 15-16)
And the threat becomes real, he takes Lucy with him to the eternity.
In She dwelt among the untrodden ways the poet remembers Lucy again, tries to recall her figure not explicitly, not her physical appearance but her qualities by metaphors, she is an elusive figure. This remote area 'the untrodden ways beside the springs of Dove' is not located exactly, we do not know the place where Lucy really lived, but it is not necessary again. Lucy does not belong to a particular place, but she is and was at one with the whole of nature.
Lucy's character is grasped by imageries:
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye! - Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
(She dwelt among the untrodden ways, 11, 5-8)
The half-hidden violet suggests how Lucy was unnoticed by the world, she is outside an organized society, belongs to the natural world. In the previous poem she was compared with a rose emphasizing her beauty, now she
'The floating clouds their state shall lend
To her; for her the willow bend; Nor shall she fail to see
Even in the motions of the Storm Grace that shall mould the Maiden's
By silent sympathy.
(Three years she grew, 11, 19-24)
These lines are so soft and light and have musical effect due to the often used '1' sound, this part is gentle and melodious. But this pleasant mood and intimacy is interrupted by the harsh reality, the sobriety.
.. The work was done
How soon my Lucy's race was run!
(Three years she grew, 11, 37-38)
However, the final word is not this, there is continuity Lucy remains in nature, in the poet's memory, or as he says in another poem, in A slumber did my spirit seal
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
(A Slumber did my spirit seal, 11, 5-8)
2.2.5. A brief summary on the Lyrical Ballads on the basis of the poems analysed
1. These poems correspond to those aims which are declared by the Preface The figures are from 'low and rustic life'. They are more simple, more direct, nearer to nature. These are no artificial, elevated people. They are part of nature.
2. The poet's style, the language is adequate this scenery. He speaks spontaneously, in an everyday conversational manner, not in an elevated, elaborated, 'poetic' style. His poems are honest, clear, even when he describes philosophical thoughts, meditation.
3. These poems are not traditionally nature poems. not pictorial descriptions of a certain location. We do not reconstruct the actual geographical place. The natural landscape is not for itself, it induces the poet's imagination, it gets his mind into creativity. Wordsworth reflects his associations evoked by physical sensation, flow of the ideas of his inner mind. His inner self, his psyche is revealed by his contemplation, meditation. It is not the superficial which is important but the hidden layer, the hidden essence of the things both in his characters and in the natural world. He tries to grasp the depth, the essential behind the surface, the physical appearance. In this way he discovers the close intimate unity of the man and nature. They are inseparable, even death can not detach this relationship, because nature accepts man in his death, by this she (the nature) owns him, that is, man gets into another dimension by his death and becomes part of the universe, more narrowly the nature.
In Wordsworth's nature there are cosmic forces, celestial powers. Nature is represented in her living existence. She has soul, trees, flowers, sun,
Nature has a lot of aspects for the poet:
natural surroundings, the habitat for trees, flowers and animals
- physical joy, pleasure for man
as induction to the poet's inner mind
the meeting point of man and nature: by this as a part of their unity
balance of cosmic powers
- benefiting elements; adopts poor, simple people
part of Universe
morality: everything is honest, simple modest in it
comforter in sad moments, helps to survive tragedies
- peace, calm against 'unintelligent' rush city life
I have chosen this poem from a later period, it was written in 1807. The reason why this poem represents a separate chapter is that it can be considered as a summary of those features which characterize Wordsworth's nature poetry.
This poem was born also under the contemplationlike, inward impulse of the immediate encounters with life induced in him by the luxuriant English landscape. Wordsworth was more as we have seen before of an explorer and consolidator of a total experience of nature, he at an ultimate point of feeling shows the unity of every living creature and object in his poem and their eternity.
Wordsworth was absolutely captivated by the unspoilt nature: floating clouds, vales and hills, woodlands, meadows, flowers. He was particularly fond of daffodils. He had earlier experience with there flowers roaming in the countryside with her sister, Dorothy. She recorded this empirical encounter in Grasmere Journal (15 April 1801):
We saw a few daffodils close to the water-side But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers higher up, but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of that one busy highway (qtd. in Noyes: 220.)
Dorothy gives us a description true to life and aims at recreating the immediate feeling under which she was at the moment of seeing the daffodils.
Wordsworth's view is different: he meditates, induced by bodily sensation of nature to produce what can be viewed as a fusion of himself and the environment.
Wordsworth's description of the scenery is not external, pictorial but internal, metaphorical and unified in tone and feeling with the workings of nature and the whole universe. Wordsworth perceives the breathtakingly beautiful nature differently from others; he does not catalogue their qualities but tries to find out the heart for the whole circulation of nature and human beings, everything and everyone in constant pulsing liveliness with its nourishing, never-ending and life-sustaining energy. This hidden power may be divine. A quotation recorded by Aubrey de Vere enlightens Wordsworth's view which he made on nature during their walk.
'But nature does not allow an inventory to be made of her charms! He [the poet] should have left his pencil behind, and gone forth in a meditative spirit; and, on a later day, he should have embodied in verse not all that he had noted but what he best remembered of the scene; and he would have then presented us with its soul, and not with mere visual aspects of it (qtd. in Noyes: 210).
The whole poem, in my opinion, has both a vertical and a horizontal dimension along which Wordsworth attempted to reveal the universal psychological make-up of the human race and his unity with the universe as a whole.
I would like to begin with the horizontal dimension. In the first stanza, we can find a cloud that stands for the poet as well as for all the human beings
that feel isolated, lonely, separate and at the mercy of the world around them. The poet's existence can be likened to a cloud, a small condensed puff of water vapour expressing its fragility, the poet-cloud is exposed to the mercy of stronger powers. The deeper message by this metaphor suggests that a human soul can be easily devoured by the emerging industrialization as a cloud can be torn to pieces by strong wind.
The cloud is, nevertheless, lonely as it floats over the vales and hills. It views, at first, the daffodils as a crowd and then as a host, whose harmonious movement is shared by the waves of the lake, which dance beside them. The waves of the lake, as a mirror, reflect the flowers' brightness (they are described as sparkling) and the poet, more and more increasingly grows aware of the joyously harmonious landscape thus slowly coming to the realization that he himself cannot be the same aimlessly wandering cloud described in the opening lines of the poem. He, the poet has joined the unity of the daffodils, after mingling with them and the waves of the see, his heart fills with pleasure, he becomes the part of this magic:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company.
(I wandered lonely as a cloud, 15-16)
The poet seems to have travelled the horizontal line of his feeling towards the scenery tying together the two different poles of it. Solitary separateness as indicated by the cloud and the harmonious unity with nature as described by the jocund of the daffodils and the waves.
The new vertical dimension can be compared to a tree whose individual parts have no existence of their own: can a trunk live without its leaves and branches? No! Can the leaves nourish the flowers without a trunk? Obviously not! And the fruits from flowers cannot develop without the roots. By this I want to say that this unity in nature must have led Wordsworth to regard the whole universe as a tree the parts of which cannot lead a solitary existence but have to be coined together, into an inseparable unity by something invisible,
And dances with the daffodils.
(I wandered lonely as a cloud, 11, 24-25)
This means, for me, the poet is able to catch the hidden energy, of the universe, to get a deeper insight into the essence of the things, which underlie all sensation. For this he needs a meditative process:
. on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
(I wandered lonely as a cloud, 11, 19-21)
The title of my thesis is The personal unity of man and nature in Wordsworth's poetry, I think, by the analyses of the selected poems and especially this latter one, I have managed to reveal Wordsworth's attitude to nature and more broadly, to the universe which is a complex attitude. It has two main aspects: sensational perception and introspection contemplation, they are inseparable, from the sensation derives the introspection.
For Wordsworth poetry is not imitation, copying the world, but through concrete illustrations, through meditative activity of the poet's mind, the poet freely steps into the world of creation, perfection represented by the poem.
Wordsworth is able to redeem the blindfolded humankind from triviality and selfishness by demonstrating the workings of the nature to which all of us organically belong. Added to this, by revealing the common psychological laws, through persuasive, concrete illustrations which underlie all sensation and sensibility the poet is capable of showing the hidden, radiating energy, the divine permeation.
For me, personally Wordsworth's poetry was a great revelation, I did not guess before the investigation that this topic, the nature poetry, can have so many dimensions, even philosophical ones, too.
It is surprising for me how modern these poems are, they are not sweet romantic, sentimental at all. They have actual, contemporary message for us, too, for the readers of the 2l century.
I have acquired some knowledge by reading Wordsworth, I have been acquainted with a certain nature concept and the beautiful English landscape, and the relation of man with nature. It inspires me to read more of Wordsworth's poetry and to read his work more deeply.
Suffering was largely confined to the poor while the landed classes, the industrialists and merchants prospered. Women constituted a deprived class, they were regarded as inferior to men in intellect and other talents, they had no opportunities for education / higher education, they had no legal rights, votes. Therefore, the women-movement, the suffragette movement started for women's rights.
1.2. The literary scene
Turning to the literature: this era was full of different poet figures
Contemporary critics treated them as independent individuals or grouped them into a number
of separate schools: 'the
There was not a shared theory which connected them, but there was something distinctive about their time, as Keats said: 'Great spirits now on earth are sojourning'. There were: imagination, experimental boldness, creative power, creative energy of mind. This was 'The Spirit of the Age', as William Hazlitt, ope of the contemporary poets named. The period had its origin in the French Revolution. The Revolution generated a pervasive feeling this was a great age of new beginnings. In his Prelude Wordsworth wrote:
And human nature seeming born again the whole Earth, The beauty wore of promise.'
(`The Prelude', Book 11)
The poetic theory, the poetic principles were written in some essays, among them in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. As we shall see in later
chapters Wordsworth refused to accept a literary 'ancien regime', traditional conventions in it and wanted a free and natural way for poetry. Eighteenth-century theorists had regarded poetry as an imitation of human life, a mirror held up to nature. Romantic poets had another view, very different from the previous one. They considered the individuality, the imagination more important. They said the primary values were mind, emotions and imagination of the poet.
Blake and Shelley described a poem as an embodiment of the poet's imaginative vision, which are opposed to the ordinary world of common experience. Coleridge introduced into English poetry an organic theory of the imaginative process and the poetic products.
The lyric poem written in the first person became a major Romantic form and this was the most essentially poetic of all the genres. The ' 1 ' is not an speaker, who tells the events but is the poet himself with his features, thoughts. Beside, there are other genres, fictional writings, narrative and dramatic forms, that is, long epic poems, novels, dramas. The role of the poet changed, too. The poet regards himself as a 'Bard', a `poet-prophet' and they set out to revise the Biblical promise of divine redemption.
Poetic spontaneity is a characteristic feature of the romantic poets, too, which means the immediate reflection, and free from all rules and artist manipulation. The artist is independent, not limited by rules or other commitments. Keats has a simile to express this.
'if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.'
Romantic poets thought that poetry is not the result of labour and study, the emphasis is on the free activity of the imagination, which is related to instinct, intuition, emotions.
If we make a list of the poems from this period, we can see that the natural scene has become a primary poetic subject. The background of social and economic change helps to explain the Romantic enthusiasm for nature. The countryside was valued because it was seen as superior to the rigid, strict environment of the growing industrial town. There was nostalgia for simple,
Some of the romantic poets were interested in the Supernatural especially Keats, Coleridge, Blake, Shelly. Coleridge's function in Lyrical Ballads was to achieve wonder, in some poems the incidents and agents are supernatural. In the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, and Kubla Khan he opened the poetry toward the mystery and magic, there are materials from ancient folklore, superstition to impress the reader. Exoticism can be observed in his poems, too, but in Keats's poems we can find old balladistic forms and medieval setting for events, too. Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge in their poetry explored visionary states of consciousness, Coleridge was interested in mesmerism, and he studied the literature of the occult and esoteric. Dreams and nightmares are presented in some of his poems there is extraordinary, too, the cult of Beauty, and the destructiveness of love or longing for death.
Romantic writers experimented boldly in poetic language, genres, versification, they sought new directions. And they did it if we think of Blake's symbolic lyrics and visionary poems; Coleridge's ballad-narrative of sin, Wordsworth's epiclike spiritual autobiography, The Prelude, Shelley's symbolic drama, Prometheus Unbound, Keats's great sequence of Odes, Byron's ironic survey of all European civilization, Bon Juan.
There is another great difference between these poets and those of the eighteenth century: the new poets isolated themselves from society, they like
solitude, the individual Mind, the leitmotif is 'single, solitary, alone, by oneself, while the earlier poets dealt with men and women as members of an organized, and usually an urban society and they belonged to this society, they integrated it. The new poets separated from society, either they rejected it or it rejected them.
Parallel with Romantic lyrics there were other genres, too. The 'familiar essay' a commentary on a subject, review written in a relaxed and intimate manner flourished, the three leading essayists were Hazlitt, Lamb and De Quincey, like the poets, they were personal and subjective; their essays have autobiographical, analytic and impressionistic elements.
For dramas, for the stage these times, literary conditions were not favourable. Although, almost all the great Romantic poets tried to write dramas, poetic plays. Some of there were Byron's Manfred, Shelley's Prometheus Unbound The Cenci or Coleridge's Remorse, but they were ill adapted to the theatre, they lacked credible characters and theatrical variety.
There is another name for major poets of this era, the great Five including Blake, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth. In their reaction against the idea of a common world as the eighteenth century had believed in it, they found their objects in wonder mainly in what is strange and unusual
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