Nature Element in William Wordsworth Poetry

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      As a poet of Nature, William Wordsworth stands supreme. He is “a worshipper of Nature”: Nature’s devotee or high-priest. Nature occupies in his poems a separate or independent status and is not treated in a casual or passing manner. Tintern Abbey is a poem with Nature as its theme.

      Wordsworth pursues Nature in a way different from that of Pope. Unlike Pope, Wordsworth sincerely believed that in town life and its distractions, men had forgotten nature and that they had been punished for it. Constant social intercourse had dissipated their energy and talents and impaired the susceptibility of their hearts to simple and pure impression. One of his sonnets is eloquent of this idea:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;

      Wordsworth brings a new and intenser interest in Nature. Pope looks at Nature as objectively as possible, naturally his view is hardly colored by his ‘hyper-individualism’. It has been stated that the antithesis to Pope’s idea of Nature is hyper-individualism. Interestingly enough, Wordsworth’s explorations of what Nature had to say to him spring from his hyper-individualism. Thus, with Wordsworth the poetry of Nature took on a new range, passing beyond sensuous presentation and description to vision and interpretation. Under the influence of Nature, he experiences a mystic mood, a transcendental feeling.


First Stage

      He loved the outward appearances of Nature, her grandeur in color and beauty, her form and external features like many other poets of his own and subsequent ages; and with the precision and faithfulness of a lover, he described her form, and experienced a child-like joy in simply describing the details of the features of Nature with wonderful accuracy; ‘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’; the tuft of hazel trees ‘twinkles to the gusty breeze’; he heard the two fold song of the cuckoo, he saw the beauty of the ‘moon that bares her bosom to the sea’.

Second Stage

      But the external features of the land, the sea, the sky, the sun and the moon, were not all the sources of joy to him. “Wordsworth is one of the world’s most loving, penetrative, and thoughtful poets of Nature. He found much of his greater joy in the presence of her calm, her beauty, her external revelations of a Divine hand. For Nature possesses a soul, a conscious existence, an ability to feel joy and love”. In the Lines Written in Early Spring, he says:

“And. ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes”.

      In the Immortality Ode, he incorporates this belief in the lines”.

“The moon doth with delight,
Look round her when the heavens are bare.”

Third Stage

      But what was more, he not only conceived that Nature was alive; “it had, he imagined, one living soul, which entering into flower, stream or mountain, gave them each a soul of their own. Between this spirit in nature and the mind of man, there was pre-arranged harmony which enabled nature to communicate its own thoughts to man, and man to reflect upon them, until an absolute union between them was established.”

      And it was his belief that man makes himself miserable by tearing himself away from the heart of Nature,—by waging a foolish strife with Nature:

But we are pressed by heavy laws—The Fountain.

Fourth Stage

      This brooding communion with Nature brought him much wealth of moral illustration; and this he communicated in poetic language for the benefit of the spiritual side in the human nature. The poet-philosopher considered it a mission of his life to be teacher of mankind. Many of the smaller poems were written with the object of teaching mankind the truth that his subjective contemplation revealed to his own mind; such are the Lesser Celandine, The Fountain, Two April Mornings.


      Wordsworth had a complete philosophy of Nature. Four points in his creed of Nature may he noted:

      (a) He conceived of Nature as a living personality. He believed, that there is a divine spirit persuading all the objects of Nature. This belief finds a complete expression in Tintern Abbey he tells us that he has felt the presence of a sublime spirit in the setting sun, the round ocean, the living air, the blue sky, the mind of man, etc. This spirit, he says, rolls through all things:

A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things....
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

      This belief in a divine spirit pervading all the objects of Nature is called Pantheism.

      (b) Next, Wordsworth believed that the company of Nature gives joy to the human heart. In Tintern Abbey, he expresses the joy he feels on revisiting a scene of Nature. Not only is the actual sight of this scene pleasing. The very memory of this scene has, in the past, soothed and comforted his mind; he gained “Sweet sensations” from these objects of Nature in hours of weariness. Nature has a healing influence on troubled minds as he tells his sister. Wordsworth looked upon Nature as exercising a healing influence on sorrow-stricken hearts.

      (c) Above all, Wordsworth emphasized the moral influence of Nature. He spiritualized Nature and regarded her as a great moral teacher, as the best mother, guardian and nurse of man, as an elevating influence. He believed that between Man and Nature there is spiritual intercourse. According to him, Nature deeply influences human character. In Tintern Abbey he tells his sister Dorothy that “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her”, that Mature can impress the human mind with quietness and beauty; that Nature gives human beings lofty thoughts. He advises Dorothy to let the moon shine on her and the winds blow on her, i.e., to put herself under Nature’s influence.

      In his eyes, “Nature is a teacher whose wisdom we can learn if we will, and without which any human life is vain and incomplete.” He believed in the education of Man by Nature. In this he was somewhat influenced by Rousseau. This interrelation of Nature and Man is very important in considering Wordsworth’s view of both. In Tintern Abbey he also distinguishes his love for Nature as a boy from his love for her as a man. As a boy, his love for Nature was a physical passion; as a grown-up man his love for Nature is intellectual or spiritual. As a boy, Nature was an “appetite, with its aching joys and dizzy raptures;” as a man his love is thoughtful because of the still, sad music of humanity which he has heard.

      In the Immortality Ode also he tells us that as a boy his love for Nature was a thoughtless passion but now the objects of Nature take “a sober coloring” from his eyes and give rise to profound thoughts in his mind because he had witnessed the sufferings of humanity:

To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that lie too deep for tears.

      (d) Wordsworth’s attitude to Nature can be clearly differentiated from that of the other great poets of Nature. He did not prefer the wild and stormy aspects of Nature like Byron, or the shifting and changeful aspects of Nature and the scenery of the sea and sky like Shelley, or the purely sensuous in Nature like Keats. It was his special characteristic to concern himself, not with the strange and remote aspects of the earth and sky, but Nature in her ordinary, familiar, everyday moods. Nor did he recognize the ugly side of Nature; Nature ‘red in tooth and claw’ as Tennyson did. Wordsworth is to be distinguished from the other poets by the stress he places upon the moral influence of Nature and the need of man’s spiritual intercourse with her.


      The philosophical content of The Prelude is made up largely of Wordsworth’s doctrine of Nature, which is outlined and repeated in other poems also—especially in the Tintern Abbey and Lucy’s education of nature. It has been rightly pointed out the Wordsworthian philosophy of Nature, with its emphasis upon the divinity of Nature, Nature’s holy plan, the one life in the Universe and in Man, the joy in the widest commonalty spread and Nature as a source of wisdom and moral health etc., was derived from the current speculations of the day, to which poets, philosophers and scientists had contributed alike. Wordsworth took these tenets from the deep-rooted convictions of the day and gave them the authenticity of personal experience and the vitality of the poetic expression. Keats has rightly stated that the conventional proverbs, precepts and dogmas of religion are meaningless to us until they are tested on our pulse, come home to our business and bosom and have become the formative influences in our moral and spiritual life. This is actually what Wordsworth has confessed in so many words, on so many occasions. There is, therefore, little force in the observation of Arnold and others, including Morley and Raleigh, that the philosophy or doctrine of Nature in the poetry of Wordsworth is an illusion. As a matter of fact Wordsworth regarded himself with Coleridge as a philosophical poet and his philosophy according to his own confessions, was hewn out of his own experiences and entitled him to the position of the teacher of society which he was anxious to achieve and maintain.

      The basic principle of this doctrine is the unity of man and Nature as partakers in the one and the same life, which meant a preordained harmony between the two. Nature was animated by a soul which was the ‘Eternity of thought’, wisdom, love, joy and ‘the central peace subsisting at the heart of endless agitation.’ Every object in Nature was alive and full of joy and energy, subsisting in perfect love and concord and waging no strife with other objects as in unfortunately the case with the human individual and multitudes.

      Nature, thus, is best fitted for the position of man’s teacher; she brings ‘sweet love’ as contrasted with the bookish knowledge which is an ‘endless strife’. Hence Wordsworth stresses the necessity of ‘wise passiveness’, the attuning of the mind to the mood of nature so that the whole scene may sink into it or the mind may drink in the influence like a child at the breast of the mother. Thus, it follows that influences of ‘deeper birth’ are likely to come in solitude.

      Nature was both law and impulse with powers to kindle and restrain so that her beauty and fear were equally necessary for the growth of the poet’s mind. The Prelude in its early part is mostly occupied with the growth of the moral sense affected by Nature’s ministration of fear in the young poet. But as the story proceeds the picture of the changing pattern of relationship between the poet’s mind and Nature is clearly unrolled. The four stages distinctly marked in Tintern Abbey are present in the The Prelude also and have been described by Prof. Dowden as those of blood, senses, heart or imagination and spirit. The first is the stage of childhood when he either bounded as a fawn unmindful of Nature or received suggestions through fear inspired by her. The second stage covers boyhood and youth when his heart awakened to the loveliness of nature and ‘sounding cataracts haunted him-like a passion and the form and color of the objects absorbed his whole heart. But as he advanced in life and came face to face with the suffering of humanity, especially during his stay in France, the wild joys and giddy raptures of youth mingled with the melancholy note of experience:

The still sad music of humanity
Nor harsh, nor grating but with ample
Power to chasten and subdue.

      It is a Being which pervades the universe, as described in the Tintern Abbey in the grand but well-known passage, as something far more deeply interfused, whose dwelling is the light of the setting sun and the wide ocean, and the living air and in the mind of man, a spirit and motion which moves all thinking things and all objects of all thought, and ‘rolls through all things’.

      This was Pantheism, the identification of God with Nature, which was anti-Christian. As Wordsworth advanced in age and his revolutionary fervor declined into the sober light of orthodoxy he began to re-examine the early version of The Prelude (1806) in order to make its doctrine more conformable to the Christian sentiment. The pantheistic passage in The Prelude, therefore, is immediately followed by verses which place God, the Uncreated, above and beyond His creation, so that the objects of Nature are made to look up to Him and sing the one song of thanks and glorification of His mercy and might.

      The final position reached in The Prelude is a further modification of Pantheism. Growth of mind means the growth of Imagination, which is at once ‘the amplitude of mind, and Reason in her most exacted mood’ and an aspect of Love and intellectual sympathy of thought soaked in feeling. The great mind with its full-grown imagination faces Nature, a reservoir of beauty, power and energy and the exquisite ‘wedding’ of the two is productive of the best and greatest of poetry.

      This partnership between Mind and Nature is based upon ‘mutual domination’ which means that sometimes the mind can change and transfigure nature by its own energy and imagination, but on other occasions, it is caught by the spontaneous beauty and grandeur on the face of Nature, as angels are caught by the higher harmony of heaven as they enter the celestial domain after their journey through the other regions in the sky.

      The difference from the transcendental philosophy finally adopted by Coleridge is quite apparent. In this philosophy nature is made alive by the mind of man and the ‘object’ becomes one with the subject; it is a philosophic ‘monism’, while the Wordsworthian doctrine is based on ‘dualism’; the entities of mind and Nature are wedded together but not fully identified, each retaining its separate strength to modify and color the other.


Nature and Man in Wordsworth Poetry

      “Wordsworth had his passion for Nature fixed in his blood,” observed De Quincey; “it was a necessity of his being like that of the mulberry leaf to the silkworm, and through his commerce with Nature did he love and breathe. Hence it was from the truth of his love that his knowledge grew. If Wordsworth has a favorite subject it was Nature and when he treated of man it was essentially in relation to Nature. It was the love of Nature that led him to the love of man. In the words of Pater, “Wordsworth approached the spectacle of human life through Nature. When he thought of man it was as in the presence and under the influence of effective natural objects and linked to them by many associations.”

      This theme of the influence of Nature on man is the noblest part of Wordsworth’s teaching in poetry. Nature is the best educator and she is ever interested in Man and tries to impress human mind from its earliest dawn:

I believe
That Nature, often times, when she would frame
A favour’d Being, from his earliest dawn
Of infancy doth open up the clouds
As at the touch of lightning, seeking him
With great visitation
(The Prelude Book I, Lines 362-367)

Wordsworth’s Treatment of Nature is different from that of other Poets

      Nature in Wordsworth’s poetry is not regarded as a background for his pictures of men nor, as earlier poets has also somewhat shown it, as mere mirror reflecting the feelings of man, but rather as a wonderful power around us calming and influencing our souls. None before him had seen in Nature what Wordsworth could And in her. He looked at Nature as the mystic of the old days read the page of holy writings. An essentially Wordsworthian feature of his treatment of Nature is his intense spirituality. Read below what he speaks of Nature:

.....she can so inform
The mind that, is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, neither evil tongues
Rash judgments, nor the success of selfish men
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold.
Is full of blessings.
(Tintern Abbey: 125-135)

      The similar idea is beautifully and effectively expressed in these lines:

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music. There is a dark
Invisible workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.
(The Prelude Book. I, Lines 351-355)

      In the same poem and the same book, also read:

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought!
That givest to forms and images a breath
And ever-lasting motion.

      Wordsworth insists that through contact with Nature, the heart is exalted and made happy. Such happiness and exaltation is moral and in such a moral condition the heart can do no wrong. “Wordsworthian Nature and Wordsworthian Man appear profoundly akin.”

How Does Nature Teach?

      Let man react his sensibilities to the beauty of the sunset the quiet dark night, the fragrance of flowers, the calm strength of mountains, and freshness of the vernal wood, and he will be possessed of peace that would lend a color to his life. This thought is in all that Wordsworth writes. At the sight of the rainbow his heart “leaps up with exaltation”; the daisy will “repair it with gladness”; with the daffodils it “dances”; the “meanest flower that blows” can give poet “the thoughts too deep for tears.” This is the mystical conception of Nature of Wordsworth. For this we have to approach nature in a mood of passive receptiveness. He called Nature “the nurse, the guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul of all my moral being.”

Wordsworth Theory of Nature based on Personal Experience

      “The poetry of Wordsworth,” says Herbert Read, “is heavily surcharged with the personal quality”. He writes of that which he has experienced in his own life. Nature had educated him. She had uplifted him to a life of peace and delight. In The Prelude upon his thoughts.

To more than infant softness, giving me
Among the fretful dwellings of mankind,
A foretaste, a dim earnest, of the calm
That Nature breathes among the hills and groves.

      He tells us:

A child I held unconscious intercourse
With the eternal Beauty, drinking in
A pure organic pleasure from the lines
Of curling mist;

      and further

.....the earth
And common face of Nature spake to me
Rememberable things


Nature by extrinsic passion first
People my mind with beauteous forms or grand,
And made me love them.

      The passages have no two meanings. The poet addresses the “Presences of Nature” “in the sky and on the earth who have employed these agencies to haunt him among his boyish sports.

      Here is the poet who had been brought up in natural surroundings “It was my joy to wander half the night among the cliffs and the smooth hollows, and ‘in these night wanderings, I was alone,” says Wordsworth in The Prelude Book I:

I heard among the solitary hills
Low breathings coming after me, and sounds
Of undistinguishable motion, steps
Almost as silent as the turf they trod ....

      These are mystical experiences he had. His faith in the formative influence of Nature continued to be what it was in his early years. What he received in the impressionable period of his life, continued to be his forever.

      Wordsworth “has written some of the greatest poetry of Man, some of the greatest poetry of Nature .... He is a poet of man, alone facing the sublimities of the simplicities of Nature or of men and women who are a portion of these simplicities. Man in society, in cities, and the state, he knows them; as a poet he does not know them.” (C.H. Herford) The best in man comes out during his companionship with Nature. In fact, Nature has the power to draw out from within us those hidden powers that go to build what we essentially are. Latent is made manifest through contact with nature. Nature is all-pervading and Universal Mind which is also all-pervading is ever in an established relation with Nature. This fact has been realized by Wordsworth in the way in which no one else has so far realized it and nor will ever do so.

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