Wordsworth's nature poems — analyses
2.1. Wordsworth's early nature poem — Descriptive Sketches
of childhood were a recurrent source of inspiration for the adult poet. He was born at Cockermouth in
That one, the fairest of all Rivers, lov'd
To blend his murmurs with my Nurse's song,
And from his older shades and rocky falls,
And from his fords and shadows, sent a voice
That flow'd along my dreams.
(`The Prelude', Book I 11, 270-274)
When his mother died in 1778 he was sent to the grammar school at Hawkeshead. He spent his
free time exploring the
After his father's death his guardians sent him up to
The rocks rise naked as a wall, or stretch
Far o'er the water, hung with groves of beech;
Aerial pines from loftier steeps ascend
Up from the lake a zigzag path will creep
To reach a small wood-nut hung boldly on the steep.
(Descriptive Sketches, 11, 237)
But we can observe some parts where his true interest appears; the scenery is affected by his images, e.g. a description of an Alpine sunset or when he writes about the relationship between man and Nature:
Once, Man entirely free, alone and wild, Was blest as free — for he was Nature's child He, all superior but his God disdained, Walked non restraining, and by non restrained Conferred no law but what his reason taught
Did all he wished, and wished but what he ought.
(Descriptive Sketches, 11, 433-441)
Nature means freedom, an unlimited world for the poet, in Descriptive Sketches. He is impressed
by the wonderful sights of the
2.2.1. The idea of collaboration. The Preface to Lyrical Ballads —Wordsworth's poetic theory
January 1795 he received a legacy of £900 from a friend, and this enabled him to set up house
with his sister Dorothy at Racedown in
At this time he made friends with critic, philosopher and fellow-poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge's encouragement increased Wordsworth's confidence in his own poetic gift. He deepened Wordsworth's interest in the ideas of David Hartley, according to whom sense impressions are the origin of all our thoughts, emotions and moral principles. Physical sensations work on the consciousness and give rise to ideas which remain when the objects which caused them are no longer present.
The twelve months from July 1797 were a period of intense literary collaboration. Coleridge later commented that, he Wordsworth and Dorothy were 'Three persons and one soul'. Long walks and talks on nature of the poetry and much reading of each other's work gave rise to numerous poems and evoked critical theories by Wordsworth in the Prefaces in Biographia Literaria.
The idea of working together on a book of poems on one of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's walking tours. They agreed between the types of poem they would contribute to the joint volume, Wordsworth will write poems on everyday life, and he Coleridge will write wonder-poems, about supernatural things. In the event Coleridge contributed only four of the twenty-three poems in the book, though 'The Ancient Mariner' was given additional prominence by being placed at the front of the volume.
In the Preface Wordsworth described 'all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings'. He put the emphasis on the inner feelings of the author, on the individuality. Furthermore, he writes 'for our' continued influxes of feelings, experiences coming from the external world and adds associations to them.
`Our feelings will be connected with important subjects, till at length, if we be originally possessed of much sensibility such habits of mind will be produced, that by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those habits, we shall describe objects and utter sentiments'.
Apart from the new poetic theory described by him, he declares that his object was to make the incidents of common life interesting by tracing in them, truly though, not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature. His subject-matter was to be drawn from 'low and rustic life' because in such a setting the `essential passions of the heart' are more likely exhibited. The humble people, even the outcast are the subjects of his poems, peasants, peddlers, village figures, convicts, idiot boy, mad mother, - some way outside the organized society. So, Wordsworth brought the province, country life into literature.
His plain style was different from others, he refreshed the literary style with the 'real language of man'. He rejected the conventional poetic diction, he wanted to bring into the literature a 'plainer and more emphatic language `originating from rural figures who are 'less under the influence of social vanity they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated
expressions'. He finds this language more philosophical than the one used by the other poets whose expressions are arbitrary capricious and elaborated. However, he raises the question 'What is a Poet?' His answer:
`He is a man speaking to men: a man endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind.'
(The Norton Anthology at English Literature, p. 164)
So, the poet is a man endowed with a more than usual capacity to perceive and feel and to revive his perceptions and feelings in the absence of their objects. The poet can communicate his experiences, and communicate them in such a way as to give pleasure.
2.2.2. Detailed analysis of some of the more significant nature poems
Lines written in Early Spring — the joyousness the lilting gaiety is something new and different from anything Wordsworth hitherto written.
Through primrose tufts in that green bower The periwinkle trail'd its wreath;
And `tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes
The budding twigs spread out their fan
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can, That there was pleasure there.
(Lines written in Early Spring, 11, 9-16)
He catches that moment when Nature revives, everything is full of the new life, he uses a lot of verbs of motion: hop, trail, play, spread, catch, expressing the vividness of the season. The place is not named exactly, because this atmosphere is characteristic everywhere, he senses a general spring spirit.
But a shadow lies over the spring landscape, he feels sad and painful:
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
(Lines written in Early Spring, 11, 7-8)
He is not able to forget about something that makes him weary, perhaps this is being a man, the human's fate or some other problem that overshadows the joy and pleasure. But the spring landscape impresses him, too, and he realizes that there is no reason to lament, to be sad.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
(Lines written in Early Spring, 11, 2 1 -24)
The ending is interesting and a little mysterious: by using question-mark he leaves the question open without a definite statement. The spirit is very similar in the verse To my sister.
'There is a blessing in the air,
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
The grass in the green field.'
(To my sister, 11, 5-8)
He is amazed by this sensation and shifts into a philosophical sphere,
Love now a universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing
From earth to man, from man to earth:
- It is the hour of feeling.
(To my sister, 11, 21-25)
This is a 'carpe diem' mood, 'one moment may give us more than years', his message is to enjoy the moment of pleasure. Man and nature are in unity nature can affect man and fill him with emotions, thoughts which he reflects through words, sometimes philosophically.
Altogether, nature exists as a source of simple joy and pleasure, not for itself, but for people living in it, who sense it.
Expostulation and Reply and The Table Turned are significant because they offer an explicit account of some of Wordsworth's central ideas about nature. In Expostulation he calls his friend William (William Hazlitt) who is attached to books and meditation:
Why, William, on that old grey stone,
sit you thus alone,
And dream your time away?
(Expostulation and Reply, 11, 1-4)
He gets him to get up and drink the spirit, urges him to abandon his wise passiveness.
In The Tables Turned the poet repeats his urge to quit his books and trouble and enjoy the delights of nature. He says to him 'Enough of Science and of Art; Close up those barren leaves because the books are dull and thrife, and he had better listen to music of nature
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.
(The Tables Turned, 11, 15-16)
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous form of things: -
We murder to dissect.
(The Tables Turned, 11, 26-28)
Again, nature is seen as a beneficent, educative influence. Nature is the Teacher and brings sweet love.
As I see from these poems — according to Wordsworth — man should not abandon the nature, he is inseparable from nature, it represents the man's context, man is in harmony, in unity with Nature. Man and nature are inseparable. There cannot be joy, balance, understanding, love, if this connection is dissipated, torn. Without nature the man is deprived from pleasure, harmony.
As I noted in the previous chapter, many of the Lyrical Ballads portray characters outside the mainstream of society, - the poor, the rejected, the outcast. Besides their description, these poems reflect social and political views, too. Wordsworth sympathizes with these figures, feel sorry for them and arouses the morality, the responsibility of the society.
One of these
figures is The Old
The opening description of the beggar expresses his loneliness by emphasizing the secluded nature of his surroundings:
Surrounded by those wild unpeopled hills,
He sat, and ate his food in solitude.
He is part of nature, almost inseparable from it. That is why he is unconscious of his natural surroundings and other people who give him alms. He is bent double with age and his eyes gaze fixedly at the small patch of ground immediately, before him. But being deprived of the sight of 'fields with rural works, of hill and dale, And the blue sky paradoxically increases the old man's closeness to the elements of nature. He is not a detached observer, who views the external world, the nature from outside but he is an insider, belongs to nature, the surrounding world. The other side is the society, the people who act charity, who expertise the simple affections. The beggar is isolated from them he is outside the community, he is in unity with nature. Wordsworth recognizes the harshness of the beggar's existence, the 'frosty air' and 'winter snows' to which he is exposed, but to wrench him from the environment he has chosen and to which he belongs would be crueller:
- Then let him pass, a blessing on his head!
And, long as he can wander, let him breathe
The freshness of the valleys; let his blood
Struggle with frosty air and winter snows.
Let him be free of mountain solitudes;
And have around him, whether heard or
The pleasant melody of woodland birds!
So in the eye of Nature let him die.
Of course, the poem has a political message, too, Wordsworth had democratic views and defended the outlaw, the figures excluded from the society.
The autobiographical poems Nutting and There was a Boy provide illustration of the influence of nature upon a child's consciousness.
Nutting recalls a boyhood expedition to gather hazelnut. This reminds me of a free verse form, the poem is not divided into stanzas, if flows freely.
The opening lines recalls Wordsworth's adventure from his childhood when he set off equipped with wallet and nutting crook turning his steps toward a far distant wood.
O'er pathless rocks,
Through beds of matted fern, and tangled thickets,
Forcing my way, I came to one dear nook
Unvisited, where not a broken bough
Drooped with its withered leaves, ungracious sign
Of devastation; but the hazels rose
Tall and erect, with tempting clusters hung
A virgin scene! — A little while I stood
Breathing with such suppression of the heart
As joy delights in;
(Nulting, 11, 14-23)
The boy is impressed by this marvellous sight, by this virgin scene, it is the silence, the joy and the richness itself. This is an untouched unvisited spot where quietness and abundance tiny sweet sounds have their own dominance. The boy sat there petrified under the influence. But then he suddenly stood up:
And merciless ravage: and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower,
Deformed and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being.
(Nutting, 11, 43-48)
The boy savagely attacks the trees - alliteration and heavy monosyllables emphasize the sudden explosion of brutality. When he leaves the glade the boy is triumphant, rich beyond the wealth of kings, though at the same time he also felt regret at what he had done.
In this poem the boy is a solitary figure, too, but he is different from a beggar who is harmless for nature, the boy wants to possess what nature has, therefore he rapes, damages the nature. But he cannot be accused because he is too young and his childish excitement amazement is the reason to tear the branches and to have the nuts.
In destroying the bower the boy seems insensitive to the life that is in nature and that links nature to man. Nature offers sensual appetite to man. Immediately the boy entered the nook he was overtaken by a selfish desire to possess the beauty, to fulfil his wish. The boy breaks violently the peace and calm of the nature. The nature has to tolerate, has to give up, suffer from their mutual relationship.
But from the end of the poem it is obvious, that the boy learnt from his experience. It left him with a changed perception of nature: an increased awareness of nature's quiet being and of the respect that this deserves.
Then, dearest Maiden, move along these
In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand
Touch — for there is a spirit in the woods.
(Nutting, 11, 54-56)
`David Pirie makes the interesting observation that elsewhere in Wordsworth the ideal relationship between man and nature — a relationship in which there is genuine mutual interchange — is described in terms of a marriage.'
There was a Boy recollects another solitary experience of nature. The boy of the poem would spend many of his evenings imitating the hooting of owls, in the hope that real owls would respond to his cries. In describing the resultant eruption of natural sounds Wordsworth vividly evokes the excitement of the experience:
and they would shout
Across the watery vale and shout again,
Responsive to his call, - with quivering peals,
And long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild
Of jocound din!
(There was a Boy, 11, 11-16)
After this noisy, busy, motion part, after the outburst of physical activity follows a quieter sensation.
And, when there came a pause
Of silence ..
. in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain — torrents; or the visible scene Would enter unawares into his mind
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven received Into the bosom of the steady lake.
(There was a Boy, 11, 16-25)
The notion of the ultimate harmony and tranquillity of the universe is brilliantly reinforced by the image of sky entering 'Into the bosom of the steady lake'.
The boy's unconsciousness of the full significance of his experience is important and is indicated by `unawares'; unknown to the child, the images of nature entering his mind would exercise a permanent influence on his perception of the world. Wordsworth later wrote of the poem:
I have represented a commutation and transfer of internal feelings co-operating with external accidents to plant, for immortality, images of sound and sight in the celestial soil of imagination.
(Preface to Poems, 1815)
The concluding stanza, which tells us the boy died before he was ten years old was added to the original version of the poem.
I agree with those critics who say that it weakens the overall effect of the poem and makes the poem sentimental. I consider it is not necessary, rather, it is unnecessary.
But this ending can have a function, - from this aspect it is important —that is, the adult poet looks back to his boyhood, when the intuitive sense of the ultimate harmony of man and nature is at its most intense in childhood and
diminishes with the passing of time. At the close of the poem Wordsworth can therefore be seen as mourning the loss of the visionary power of his boyhood.
2.2.3. From sensation to contemplation on Lines. Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey
This poem I am trying to analyse is markedly different from most of the other Lyrical Ballads. It is a disputed poem whether the poet is a Pantheist or a Platonist in it, all this means that this is a more complicated poem, the poet's attitudes towards nature and its influences on man are extremely complicated.
I would rather say this is a philosophical poem, and the nature exists in its complexity, it has different meanings for the author.
Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour appeared at the end of the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. The most intensely personal autobiographical of the poems in the poet's inner life, it expresses some of Wordsworth's central ideas about nature, perception and spiritual growth. The form is different, too, it is written in blank verse, but this is diverse from the idiot Boy or the Old Cumberland Beggar, where the blank verse is conventional enough, this is a peculiar idiosyncratic blank verse. Its language is not simple, either; both its grammar and vocabulary are complicated, there are long sentences, difficult structures.
In the poem's opening verse paragraph the approach of nature could be traditional, as if he gives us a pictorial description of a rural scene: mountain
springs, lofty cliffs, dark sycamore, orchards, hedge-rows, pastoral farms,
But the emphasis is no longer on the scene itself, but wholly upon what the scene means to him five years ago, and what it means to him now, in 1978. He writes from an entirely personal angle. Almost every sentence begins with the word `I'; he says: 'I hear', 'once again I behold'; 'I again repose', `once again I see', 'I have owed to them', 'how oft in spirit have I turned to thee, 0 Sylvan Wye' In short, it is the value and the meaning of the scene
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me.
(She dwelt among the untrodden ways, 11, 11-12)
In Three years she grew Nature explicitly says that it will take the Child to herself nature intends to make Lucy a 'Lady', Lucy will be its for ever. This unity is expressed openly, ex verbis, nobody can interfere in it.
The 'Lady' involves maturity, that is, Lucy will grow up and exits in another dimension, this dimension is the eternity represented by Nature. Nature is free of the limitations of human mortality, she provides freedom and rest. In the second stanza we can observe that nature exists in her opposing forces: 'sun and shower', law and impulse', 'rock and plain', 'earth and heaven', they are in balance. This is another unity, unity of opposite natural forces, nature is dominated by harmony of cosmic elements, especially by linking earth and heaven. This means that nature is present in death as well as in life.
In this lyric the dual attitude that is typical of Wordsworth can be traced: on the one hand, the physical delight in the natural world, on the other side the reflections of the poet's mind to nature, to death.
Lucy has the vitality of a fawn racing across lawns and up mountains springs, but at the same time she is an elusive, sublime creature 'breathing balm':
And hers the silence and the calm
Of mute insensate things.
(Three years she grew, 11, 17-18)
So, the properties of Nature, aspects of the physical world trigger the creativity of the poet's mind — the daffodils which gently sway in the breeze beside the lake. The calm surface of the lake, which mirrors the dancing of the flowers, is gently being stroked by exactly the same wind that blows a solitary, fragile and sad cloud personifying the poet himself. The cloud, it seems to me, is lost in the huge sky, but the poet remained there along the bay to participate in that magic.
The vertical dimension is not kept in space, thus, we freely move from the sky and the cloud, from the vales and hills to daffodils just to rise suddenly to Milky Way and then again land gently onto the sparkling waves of the lake which join the daffodils in their glee. The change of positions between the different existing parts nourished by divine energy is possible, they belong together, the parts of the same 'tree' that is, the whole universe: the waves of the lake are mirroring the harmonious movements of the daffodils whose order of growth along the margin of the bay is, in turn, reflected in the line-up of stars in the Milky Way. Each part is important equally, the stars are not more important than the flowers and the lake in not more harmonious in its movement than the daffodils. In one word: everything mingles and fuses with one another. And the poet becomes aware of the unity that exists in nature, he is also transformed and transfigured, his heart and his whole being turn into a part of this unity and is now able to feel this magical power which ties the whole universe:
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