Main Characteristics of William Wordsworth Poetry

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1. Wordsworth as a poet of Nature.

      Wordsworth is the high priest of Nature. His attitude towards Nature is very peculiar and noble. The poetry of Nature reaches high watermark in him. No other poet has surrendered himself so completely to the spell that Nature casts upon the human mind. As Pope is regarded the greatest poet of the town and of artificial life, so Wordsworth is the greatest poet of the country and of natural life. Many of the precursors of Romanticism like Cowper and Crabbe, show a feeling for Nature. Crabbe, in particular, is remarkable for the minute and precise delineation of natural objects. Wordsworth, in his dealings with nature, goes beyond Crabbe. He not only portrays it with the loving care and precision of an artist, but also perceives a spirit that informs Nature. He is thus both a painter in words and a mystic. He holds hourly communion with the Power that pervades and transcends Nature. Thus his love of Nature was boundless. His knowledge of Nature was unlimited. His descriptions of Nature were very graphic, accurate and minute. In fact, he got “the keenest eye of all modern poets for what is deep and essential in nature.” Moreover, in all his descriptions “every touch is true, the copying of a literary phrase, but the result of direct observation.” All these qualities led him to think that nature is the embodiment of the Divine Spirit, which is the fundamental principle of his natural philosophy. In other words, he feels that nature is the greatest of all the teachers and it is an instrument for spiritual communion, and through nature, we may gain constantly in power, peace and happiness.

      Wordsworth’s development as a devotee and worshipper of nature is clearly marked by various stages. In his youth he took up the physical beauty of nature. In this stage he was attracted by the outward appearances of nature, and her grandeur in colour and beauty. He described the details of the external features of Nature precisely and accurately. For example, he described ‘the periwinkle trails its wreaths’ through primrose tufts; ‘the celandine is muffled up in close self shelter’; the green linnet ‘is a brother of the dancing leaves’; and he observed the beauty of the ‘moon that hares her bosom to the sea / It was the age of sweet sensations. He was enchanted by the sights and sounds of Nature. He tells us in his poem, Tintern Abbey that as a child he bounded over hill and dale.

“As the years advanced, moods of melancholy thought became more and more pronounced. Somber effects in nature are preferred because they harmonize so easily with the newly arising serious thoughts: the passion for nature is no longer an all-consuming appetite, but a growing communion.”

      When ultimately the French Revolution, with its large hope of Equality and Liberty, drew out all the homage of his heart for mankind, and with its excesses a few years later dispersed all his glorious visions into a mist of despair, he went back to nature to seek some hope and consolation there. Through the tender ministrations of his devoted sister, Wordsworth regained his spiritual equilibrium, in his own suffering, his endurance of it, and his final triumph through the agency of nature, he saw the one problem of mankind The future of man rested not with the masses congregated in cities for political emancipation, but with the types represented by the simple peasantry of England, gifted with fortitude and patience. Again and again, lie reverted to the moral of their simple and n unsophisticated lives, and derived from the trivial incidents of the life of a leech-gatherer consolation and strength as from the biography of a hero, or a saint. Michael, Matthew, Simon Lee, The Idiot Boy, are sympathetic, almost affectionate studies of simple life to which the poet was drawn by its moral dignity, pathos, and grand primeval emotions.

      “The unity of life in man and nature, and their common purpose, formed the basis of his thoughts. Nature is so prized by him, because it can ennoble and enrich a mind that is receptively open to its influences. In all his poems of nature there runs a vein of moral feeling. The meanest flower that blows, gives his thoughts that ‘lie too deep for tears.’ In the setting sun he perceives the race of man come to a finish, and in the quiet sounds of nature he hears the ‘still sad music of humanity. Flowers, woods, and rocks become not symbols significant only to a man who can read their meaning but obvious manifestations of a divine element in nature easily realizable by any man.”

      We have noted the development which occurred in Wordsworth’s attitude towards nature. In the last phase, he was forever spiritualizing the moods of Nature and winning from them moral consolation; and it was his special characteristic to concern himself not with the strange and remote aspects of the earth and sky, but with Nature in her ordinary, familiar an everyday moods. In The Tables Turned, he observes:—

One impulse from a vernal wood,
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can.

      Similarly, he broods that the primrose and the Daffodil are symbols to him of Nature’s message to man; the grandeur of the mountain’s torrent appeals to him because he can link its beauty in his mind with the glory of the floating clouds, with the charm of a young girl’s face. A sunrise for Wordsworth is not a pageant of colour, it is a moment of spiritual consecration. In other words, Nature is to Wordsworth not a glorious spectacle alone,—a wondrous collection of lovely objects—but a vast and infinite Presence, throbbing with life, scintillate with passion essentially individual, supremely conscious. It is not the face of Nature that appeals, but the soul that is in her, which shows itself in phantom flashes of beauty and splendor through all her objects. The interpretation of Nature of the last phase gives the following chief points

      (a) Wordsworth’s Pantheism. But the greatest contribution of Wordsworth to the poetry of Nature is his unqualified Pantheism. He believes that God shines through all the objects of Nature, investing them with a celestial light — a light that never was on sea or land. He ‘finds Him in the shining of the stars’; he marks Him in the flowering of the fields. This immanence of God in Nature gives him mystic visions. Nature is no longer a mere vegetation subject to the law of growth and decay, not a collection of objects to be described but a manifestation of God. Nature is a Revelation and Wordsworth is the Prophet. Wordsworth came to believe that beneath the matter of universe, there was a soul, a living principle, acting, even thinking, it may be living, at least, speaking to him, communicating itself to him. In all things, in all natures, in the stars. This active principle abides, from link to link. It circulates the soul of all the words.

      (b) Wordsworth’s Mysticism. Aubrey de Vere speaks of Wordsworth as a mystic. Indeed, his mysticism is such a fundamental and pervading element in his poems that it must be considered very carefully. Wordsworth believes that God pervades the entire Universe — both animate and inanimate. It is in the thought of God that the Universe exists, and its life is in God’s thought. Not only that—the life in every flower, bud, insect, and the mossy stone on the hillside is a part of the Divine Life. As such, Nature (and every object in it) has a life of its own, and is even conscious of it. That is why Wordsworth, in all his moods of inspired ecstasy or calm contemplation, is thrilled through and through with the sense of some inscrutable Presence in Nature to which the soul of a man is linked by some mysterious bond of connection:—

      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; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking thing, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.

      (C) Nature led Wordsworth to the love of Man. In this mood he does not separate Nature from humanity; both interpenetrate. Therefore, Nature does not remain merely a source of delight; it becomes an educative influence.

      In another poem ‘Three Years She Grew’ he is even more explicit in describing the influence of Nature on man. Nature serves as both law and impulse/inspiring man with noble thoughts and restraining him from all evil. Moreover, he finds joy at the heart of Nature.

      So in poem after poem, he advises people to turn to Nature which is a never-failing source of joy and inspiration. His well-known sonnet, ‘The World’, takes to task those people who have surrendered themselves to the pursuit of wealth.

      (d) Nature’s formative and educative influence. Wordsworth is of opinion that Nature can impart the ideal, physical, mental and spiritual, education. “To Wordsworth Nature appeals as a formative influence superior to any other, the educator of senses and mind alike, the sower in our hearts of the deep laid seeds of our feelings and belief. It speaks to the child in the fleeting emotions of its early years, and stirs the young poet to an ecstasy, the glow of which illuminates all his work and the rest of his life as Raleigh says: “Both in The Prelude and in the Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth is careful to distinguish the several phases of his love for her. And by the education of Nature, lie meant a real process, not a series of ingenious analogies. In the wonderful poem on the Education of Nature, he speaks mystically, perhaps, but not fancifully.”

      (e) Elevation of the things of daily life. “Perhaps one of the keenest pleasures, the poet can give us, is that sudden sense of gladness, of exultation almost, when we come upon some idea or feeling, existing vaguely and imperfectly in our own minds, expressed in all the fullness of glorious language. The poet voices our own thoughts and emotions for us as we never could for ourselves.”

      (f) A condition for Inspiration of Wordsworth’s Poems of Nature. There is, however, a condition of this inspiration for Wordsworth. Such impulses come to him in solitude. He is the poet of solitude. The solitary reaper appeals to him because she is solitary. There is always a quiet scene that sets his mind at work. Solitude and quietness were very necessary for composition. In one of his Prefaces, he says that poetry ‘takes its origin in emotion recollected in tranquility. The poet always recalls some scene of beauty and the impressions that it produced. Poetry is born out of such recollected impressions and emotions in a calm state of mind. In a short poem, he describes this poetic process. Far oft, when on my couch I lie. In vacant or in pensive mood. They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude.

      Thus Wordsworth’s poetry has been always admired by people for the solace that it brings. In the Victorian age men like Leslie Stephen, Stuart Mill and Mark Rutherford found Wordsworth’s Nature-religion a fit substitute for Christian theology which had failed to satisfy the religious aspirations of sensitive minds. Matthew Arnold, though he did not like the so-called philosophy of Wordsworth, placed his poetry very high because of the joy that he feels and offers to us in nature. In the twentieth century, a philosopher like an Whitehead has found Wordsworth’s dealings with Nature highly cogent and coherent. Wordsworth’s conception of Nature has certain drawbacks which will be discussed under the heading, Defects of Wordsworth’s Poetry

2. Wordsworth as a Poet of Childhood.

      Wordsworth’s highest poetry springs from his recollections of childhood. He was a peculiar kind of child, endowed with extraordinary sensibility. The first two books of The Prelude make it clear beyond doubt how intense his apprehension of the things around him was. In another poem, Tintern Abbey, he has also described the sensuous, thoughtless joy that he found in the scenes of Nature. The coarser pleasures of my boyish days and their glad animal movements left a permanent impression on his mind, it is no wonder, then, that the three lines that he prefixed to his ‘Immortality Ode describe the glory and power of childhood:

      Wordsworth was an imaginative child; as a man he could best revive his flagging energies by evoking past moments of creativeness. Some of these moments of heightened sensibility are described in the first two books of The Prelude. In fact, he wrote this poem to ‘rescue from decay’ his early ‘visiting’s of imaginative power.’ Wordsworth himself gives reasons for cherishing these recollections:

      In another passage he calls these recollections of childhood ‘the hiding-places of man’s power / He is anxious to preserve them:

      According to Wordsworth it is in the period of childhood that we find a ‘Splendour in the grass, a glory in the flower. There are many poems which tell vividly of the glory of childhood. ‘To The Cuckoo is a remarkable short poem. The cuckoo is a link with his childhood, and is therefore valued by the poet: The ‘visionary powers’ are always associated with childhood. It is, however, the ‘Immortality Ode’ which celebrates childhood. The poet regrets the passing away of childhood, when he had the visionary power, and everything appeared to him ‘appareled in celestial glory’. But now that he is grown up, he can see those things no more in the same light - the light that was never on sea or land.

      The child is a the symbol of soul which brings in this world the knowledge which is not of to is world. A child possesses knowledge of his prenatal existence. He calls the child ‘the best philosopher,’ ‘Mighty Prophet V ‘Seer blest, P. Yet there is only one recompense for the loss of childhood. The man retains recollections of the joy and glory that were in childhood:

      But Wordsworth’s treatment of childhood is not of universal application. The poet has generalized from his own experiences as a child. True, the love of Nature in Wordsworth s own case was intense in childhood and declined afterward; but to say that it is universally so is to state what is extremely dubious. As a critic says: “In some people and with the majority of educated persons, the love of Nature is almost imperceptible in boyish years but strong and operative at thirty.” Finally, Wordsworth wrote of childhood when he was grown-up. He has, perhaps, idealized his period of childhood. Yet it cannot be denied that one can derive inspiration from, and take strength in this period. Many of our problems can be solved by looking back to it.

3. Wordsworth as a Poet of Man.

      Wordsworth’s attitude towards Nature gave him a special attitude towards Man. As we have noted that Wordsworth regarded Nature to be permeated with a living soul. He perceived that there was a harmony between the soul of Nature and soul of Man. This harmony is everlasting if Man’s soul is unsophisticated. The child, the humble and simple peasant and the salesman had the constant communion with Nature. Because of this fact, he idealized and exalted the child and the unsophisticated farmer. He ignored the Man of the politicians, the statisticians and the moralists. He believed that Nature can solve the intangible problems of mankind. He was quite desperate about the consequences of French Revolution which brought destruction and havoc throughout Europe. Then he sought shelter in the objects of Nature. Firstly his sister, Dorothy, restored his mental equilibrium and then Coleridge joined him. But Nature played an important role to consider. Man once more. He always chose for his heroes and heroines, not famous men and women stupefied by victory and intoxicated with glory and power, but humble peasants, innocent farmers, artless shepherds, lonely reapers and Highland girls, and showed that in their commonplace careers, there was ample material to move the soul. Regarding Wordsworth’s attitude to Man in relation to Nature, Raleigh observes: “Wordsworth had not loved and studied Nature in vain. The man is compared to certain natural appearances which have something of mystery and dignity about them.”

      Wordsworth is truly the poet of man. But his chief work was done in his own country, and among his own folk. He is the foremost singer of those who throw around the lives of homely men and women the glory and sweetness of song. He made his verse ‘deal boldly with substantial things his theme was ‘no other than the very heart of man’; and his work his become what he desired it to be, a force to soothe and deal the weary soul of the world, a power like one of Nature’s, to strengthen or awaken the imagination is mankind.

      “It is quite natural that Wordsworth should elect to deal with the more primal life of country places, where simple and human qualities were not overlaid by artificial conventions Ignoring the coarseness and
pettiness of this life, he fixed his gaze upon the qualities of strength, endurance, unaffected simplicity, courage, and hope. And thus he winnows away the baser elements, until he finds the pure gold. Nature and Humanity he treats ever in the same way:

“Love had he found in huts where poor men lie, His daily teachers had been woods and rills, The silence that is in the starry sky, The sleep that is among the lovely hills.”

      “Apart from the sanctifying touch of Nature, men and women are poor creatures to Wordsworth. The farther we travel from Nature, the more paltry we become. This is the burden of his splendid sonnet The World is too much with us. Better, he says in effect, people the woods and streams, the plains and ocean, with nymphs and gods and goddesses, and retain something of the fresh simplicity and austere endurance of Nature, than give our souls to the mere accumulation of wealth and to the superficial life of pleasure.”

      Thus Wordsworth’s poems are not devoid of human values of life. His great poems The Prelude, Ode to Intimations of Immortality and Tintern Abbey are concerned with human life. To quote William J. Long: “To this natural philosophy of man Wordsworth adds a mystic element, the result of his own belief that in every natural object there is a reflection of the living God. Nature is everywhere transfused and illumined by Spirit; man also is a reflection of the Divine Spirit; and we shall never understand the emotions reused by a flower or a sunset until we learn that Nature appeals through the eye of man to his inner spirit. In a word, nature must be ‘spiritual! discerned’ In Tintern Abbey, the spiritual appeal of nature is expressed in almost every line; but the mystic conception of man is seen more clearly in Intimations of Immortality, which Emerson calls ‘the high-water mark of poetry in the ninetieth century’. In this last splendid ode, Wordsworth adds to his spiritual interpretation of nature and man the alluring doctrine of pre-existence, which has appealed so powerfully to Hindoo and Greek in turn, and which makes of human life a continuous, immortal thing, without end or beginning.

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