Pantheism & Mysticism in William Wordsworth Poetry

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      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 worlds.


      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 it 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
AU thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

      Introduction: The basic feature of mysticism may be described as “an attitude of mind founded upon an instinctive or experienced conviction of unity, of oneness, of likeness in all things”. The instinctive conviction in the case of the Romantic poets came mostly out of their communion with Nature. Wordsworth’s poetry illustrates his philosophical beliefs which are: (1) the immanence of the universal spirit of God in all Nature making it alive; (2) intercommunion between God’s soul in Nature and God’s spirit in Man; and (3) the chastening effect of this communion in tranquilizing and elevating the human spirit and putting it in tune with the infinite. These beliefs are not “reasoned” by the intellect but “instinctively felt” or experienced by Wordsworth.

      Wordsworth is not Contented with Outward Aspects of Nature: Wordsworth differ from other Nature poets mainly because he conceived Nature as something much more than the beauty of its external appearance. The joy and peace he got from Nature was not merely due to her beauty, but because he could “feel” the life in Nature.

      Observation of Outward Aspects of Nature Leads to a Transcendental Experience: Wordsworth observes natural objects and instinctively reaches spiritual revelation. The recollection of these “beauteous forms” of Nature have inspired him into

.....that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lightened...

      It is that serene mood in which the “affections gently leads us on”, and we are “laid asleep in body, and become a living soul”, says Wordsworth in Tintern Abbey.
In the child, the experience of divinity in Nature is spontaneous and. unprepared. He “feels” the celestial glory in the natural objects; the meadow, the grove, and the stream, the earth, and every common sight seems:

Apparelled in celestial light
The glory and. the freshness of a dream
(Ode: Intimations of Immortality)

      In The Simplon Pass, the echoing crags, the steep rocks, the dense decaying forest, the tumultuous stream, the stationary blasts of waterfalls, the torrents which seem to fall from the sky, the roaring winds, the unfettered clouds and the calm blue sky—all this “Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light” brings to Wordsworth a spiritual experience.

      Immanence of a Universal Spirit in Nature: Wordsworth senses that Natural objects

Were all like workings of one mind, the features
Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree,
Characters of the great Apocalypse,
The types and symbols of Eternity
Of first, and last, and midst, and without end.
(The Simplon Pass)

      The eternal spirit in Nature is mentioned in Tintern Abbey too. Wordsworth’s communion with Nature inspires him to feel:

A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts;

      He feels this “Presence” in the light of setting sun, the ocean and the living air, the blue sky and in the mind of man. It is the spirit

.....that, impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought
And rolls through all things.

      When there is communion with Nature, there is communion with God, for it is the spirit of God which dwells in life. To discover behind the diverse forms and phenomena of nature the “One Inseparable and Changeless”—this was the mystic note in Wordsworth. Thus he can say in his Ode: Intimations of Immortality:

Thanks to the human heart by which we live
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that lie too deep for tears.

      Intercommunication between God’s Soul in Nature and God’s Spirit in Man: Wordsworth believed in an internal harmony between man and Nature, because the same conscious spirit that dwelt in the ocean and the blue sky lived in the mind of man: “God in man spoke to God in Nature, spoke to God in Man.” It is necessary not to stress on any one element in Wordsworth’s poetry, for the naturalistic, the humanistic and the theistic components are equally important. The three together lead to his belief in the “motherhood of Nature, the brotherhood of Man, the fatherhood of God”. His Nature-mysticism and pantheism is not severed from his sympathy with fellow human beings. Nature speaks to him of the “still sad music of humanity”. In Elegiac Stanzas, the picture of the stormy seas helps him to understand human suffering and reveals to him the truth that “Not without hope we suffer and we mourn.”

      In The Thorn, Nature is seen as a symbol of the human situation. The old and aged thorn exposed to the winter gales is similar to the wretched woman who sits by it and moans by day or night, under the sun or the stars. The tragic figure seems to come to a union with the elements:

And she is known to every star
And every wind that blows

      It is significant that Nature protects her from the hostility of the villagers. God through Nature directs us that our attitude to this woman should be one of pity and sympathy.

      In Resolution and Independence: the leech-gatherer is compared to a stone on top of a hill and a sea-beast, suggesting fortitude and immense strength of mind and silent perseverance. He has absorbed this quality from his close co-existence with Nature. His words suddenly reveal the truth to Wordsworth. As he sees in his mind’s eye the old man pacing about the weary moors, he glimpses the truth of the universe.

      The Mystic’s Belief of Life Never Ending: To Wordsworth, as to all mystics, life does not begin or end in the ordinary sense. The soul of Man is immortal, as is the spirit of nature, for both are the immanent spirit of God, the Eternal Being, “of first, and list, and midst, and without end”, as he says in The Simplon Pass. It is the idea that man’s soul is immortal which informs the Ode on the Intimations of Immortality. The child sees a divine light in Nature because of his recollections of his heavenly life before he came on earth. Later on, Man can perceive the truth by recollecting the experience of his childhood.

      Conclusion: Mysticism in Wordsworth is inseparable from his Pantheism. The central faith that an unbroken chain binds all things in the outward world, and that the spirit of man can commune with God through nature, informs Wordsworth’s poetry. The cardinal doctrine is that a spiritual power lives and breathes through all the works of Nature, and the emotional intensity of the contemplator can alone reveal the presence of the spiritual beneath the material, concrete and outward appearances of this phenomenal world. As Caroline Spurgeon has observed, “Wordsworth was not only a poet, he was also a seer and a mystic”. He had caught a vision of the life in Nature. He believed that everyone could attain this vision. But as H.W. Garrod points out, Wordsworth, unlike other mystics, does not try to escape from the senses, for the mysticism of Wordsworth is “grounded and rooted actually in the senses.”

University Questions

Wordsworth’s Mysticism is part of his Pantheism. Discuss this aspect of his poetry.
Poetical Pantheism animates the best poetry of the Romantic Revival and it breathes through the best work of Wordsworth. Elucidate with illustrations.

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