Have you ever seen the end of a rainbow? Or a frozen dew on the leaves of a rose bush? Nature has a way of creating art just by existing and going through its natural processes. Its effortless style of composing rhythm through the hustling of the winds is the best example of unexplainable beauty in motion. It is therefore no wonder why this kind of beauty has been the subject of every imaginable form of art. There are countless of ways to capture its perfection and a thousand more ways to interpret them. Since the beginning of time, nature has been a favorite inspiration of poets. They have made them more alive than they could ever be and this has helped us appreciate its beauty in slow motion.
The age of British Romanticism was an age of aesthetic discovery and experience and was centered on the appreciation of the sublimity of nature and its scenic qualities. Many poets during this period used strong emotion whether it is of love or horror and were seen in relation to nature and its link with humanity. Flowery words and hyperbolic comparisons dominated the verses of various poets.
One of the most notable romantic poets during this time was William Wordsworth. Wordsworth’s works focused on the immersion of humanity in nature and not just a mere spectator but as something that is actively involved in its process. A certain oneness with nature is the defining characteristic of Wordsworth’s work.
Ironically, although Wordsworth was known for his portrayal of nature he also steered away from the conventions of sublimity. In earlier works of this period there was an emphasis on the experience of the person and the pleasing feeling he/she encounters through the object. The object serves as an enabler and the perceiver becomes the most important and redeeming quality of the work. But Wordsworth, as I described earlier, did exactly the opposite.
In order to understand the difference of Wordsworth’s poetry with the rest of this period’s work I shall compare it with an author who wrote with a Subjectivist or Romantic approach. P.B. Shelley’s To A Skylark is a concrete example of subjectivism in poetry. Shelley starts by addressing the skylark as a “blithe spirit” and this seems to raise the object into something more celestial or more divine than it actually is. From the very first line it is important to note that nature, in the form of the skylark, is already highly romanticized by the author. The work’s form also contributes to its theme by giving it an almost songlike structure with its repetitive pattern. It goes on by saying that the skylark is “That from Heaven” and is further exalted by descriptive metaphors such as “Pourest thy full heart In profuse strains of unpremeditated art,” “Like a cloud of fire,” “Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun,” “like a star of Heaven,” “like a poet hidden” “like a high-born maiden” “like a glow-worm golden” and “like a rose embowered.” These metaphors further separates the object, even to a point of distinction, from the subject and the subject merely becomes a bystander or a narrator of an experience rather than the one going through the experience itself.
As Shelley’s work progresses the skylark is described in such a way that it no longer resembles an ordinary bird. The reader is made to believed that it is now of a higher entity to the point of divinity. This is evident as the subject describes the skylark as a “Spirite” that inspires or that “Teach him (me) half the gladness that thy brain must know. Such harmonious madness” And in a rather unexpected twist of events the subject becomes the object, the one who must serve as an instrument which “From (his) lips would flow, the world should listen.”
Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey in contrast brings together nature and humanity’s experience with it rather than emphasizing one more over the other. Tintern Abbey starts with the speakers description of its surroundings and the speaker’s past experience with it. He talks about the “(These) waters, rolling from their mountain-springs with a soft inland murmur.” Note that although Wordsworth uses the same metaphors as Shelley, it is downplayed by the connection that exists between nature and the speaker. He narrates or describes nature but in such a way where he is still a part of the scene which he depicts. He illustrates” That on a wild secluded scene impress Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect.” The theme of Tintern Abbey centers on the communion of the speaker’s memory with nature and this is found in his works.
This great theme of communion between human memory and nature reincarnates the lost interaction through the ability “look on nature” and hear “human music” The subject recalls that in his youth he has indeed lost his interaction and communion with nature to the point where he took no notice of his surroundings and deemed them insignificant to his human existence. But now after “FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length of five long winters!” he finally acknowledges not just its mere presence but his unity with the woods and as well as his thoughtlessness during his youth.
Wordsworth’s work is notable for its straightforward form and simplicity. He hardly makes use of great metaphors to describe nature and this defining characteristic makes it very different from “To a Skylark.” Unlike Shelley’s work he hardly makes use of ostentatious words to describe nature which symbolizes how nature is neither of higher existence nor a subordinate. Nature is in fact just as notable and as marvelous as humanity and the communion of the two is what draws greater inspiration.
In addition the presence of his sister in the monologue provides some kind of similarity with Shelley’s To a Skylark. Both the sister in this work and the subject in “To a Skylark” serve as instruments or speakers to the world of the beauty and importance of nature to humanity. Although the two poets did it differently, it seems that they both wanted to show the same message to their readers.
Aside from this, the sister in Wordsworth’s work shows continuity to this kind of relationship or communion. Through the image of the sister the subject envisions himself “and what (I) he once was.” He goes on by saying that this communion with nature has enabled him to be impervious to “evil tongues,” “rash judgments,” and “the sneers of selfish men,” instilling instead a “cheerful faith.” The speaker then encourages the readers, through the image of the sister, to find comfort and knowledge in this communion just as he once had. He prayed to let the moon Shine on thee in thy solitary walk; And let the misty mountain-winds be free To blow against thee” and he reminded her that “if solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief, Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts Of tender joy” the memory they shared “ on the banks of this delightful stream We stood together; and that I, so long A worshipper of Nature” This shows how although human interaction won’t last forever, the memory of these interactions are grounded and triggered by a certain surrounding which then immortalizes the memory of such interaction.
The main difference between the two works is mainly on the role which the poet or the subject of the work plays in relation to nature. Shelley obviously uses humanity as a narrator who merely describes his surroundings and is detached from it. Note that Shelley rarely describes the feeling of the subject with regards to what he was seeing or experiencing. He focused more on the imagery of the whole situation and used humanity as a catalyst to give movement and personify nature.
Wordsworth on the other hand emphasizes the communion between nature and humanity and how one brings life to the other through their interactions. He portrays the interaction as “tranquil restoration” and “sensations sweet, / Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart” even with just the recall of the memory. He shows how nature influences him to become a better person through his deeds and kindness. He becomes a “living soul” with a view into “the life of things.” This demonstrates how nature and one’s relationship with it becomes an essential part of humanity.
With the entire current buzz on environmental protection and preservation the works of both Shelley and Wordsworth are opportune to remind the world of how we must treat our surroundings. We may be Shelley who sees nature as a divinity to be respected, feared, loved, and cared for. Or we can Wordsworth who sees nature as a friend, a companion that completes us in a symbiotic relationship based on companionship, respect and love. No matter which poet you fancy, the bottom line is that the environment is the greatest muse of all time and should therefore be preserved for future generations.
Wordsworth, William. “Tintern Abbey.” Blupete Poetry Pick 09 May 2006 Poetry 02 May 2009