For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Monday, 4 May 2009

Nature Is Good For You

Wordsworth (who also became Poet Laureate like Tennyson after him and Carol Ann Duffy recently) believed profoundly in the sublime, affective power of nature. The natural world pervades Wordsworth's poetry. For him nature was significant in many ways. For him nature was -

a moral force: The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,/The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul/Of all my moral being. Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey; One impulse from a vernal wood/May teach you more of man;/Of moral evil and of good,/Than all the sages can. The Tables Turned;

an educative force: Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife,/Come hear the woodland linnet,/How sweet his music; on my life/There's more of wisdom in it./And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!/And he is no mean preacher;/Come forth into the light of things,/Let Nature be your teacher. The Tables Turned;

a spiritual and mystical source: There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,/The earth, and every common sight,/To me did seem/Apparelled in celestial light,/The glory and the freshness of a dream. Ode;

a source of poetic inspiration: ...Visionary Power/Attends upon the motions of the winds/Embodied in the mystery of words;/There darkness makes abode, and all the host/Of shadowy things do work their changes there,/As in a mansion like their proper home;/Even forms and substances are circumfused/By that transparent veil with light divine;/And through the turnings intricate of Verse,/Present themselves as objects recognised,/In flashes, and with a glory scarce their own. The Prelude;

a former Eden; an unpolluted childhood paradise lost to the adult self: Whither is fled the visionary gleam?/Where is it now, the glory and the dream? Ode;

a soothing agent of comfort and solace: A soft eye-music of slow-waving boughs,/Powerful almost as vocal harmony/To stay the wanderer's steps and soothe his thoughts. Airey-Force Valley;

a blessing and a joy: Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze/That blows from the green fields and from the clouds/And from the sky... The Prelude; My heart leaps up when I behold/A Rainbow in the sky. My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold;

a living, breathing entity of feeling and wisdom, existing on a higher plane than 'the mean and vulgar works of man': ... And 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 things, all objects of all thought,/And rolls through all things... Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.

a stimulus to the imagination: ...Thus sometimes were the shapes/Of wilful fancy grafted upon feelings/Of the imagination, and they rose/In worth accordingly. The Prelude; Imagination! lifting up itself/Before the eye and progress of my Song/Like an unfathered vapour... The Prelude;

a setting for epiphanies later recollected in tranquillity: For 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,/And then my heart with pleasure fills,/And dances with the Daffodils. I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud;

a channel for some pantheistic God: A meditation rose in me that night/Upon the lonely Mountain when the scene/Had passed away, and it appeared to me/The perfect image of a mighty Mind,/Of one that feeds upon infinity,/That is exalted by an underpresence,/The sense of God, or whatso'er is dim/Or vast in its own being... The Prelude;

and a remembered treasure store of beauty: ...Though absent long,/These forms of beauty have not been to me,/As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:/But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din/Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,/In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,/Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,/And passing even into my purer mind/With tranquil restoration... Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I think Wordsworth's belief in the "sublime, affective power of nature," comes—if you'll pardon the pun—quite naturally.

Wordsworth's was a true naturalist in the observational sense—he looked, watched, interpolated, correlated, understood. A poet who wrote within nature rather than merely of nature. Because of this depth and ease, he realized that nature is not sometimes just a metaphor of various aspects of human life—attitudes, beliefs, social structure, desires, and so on—but that human life and nature are one, that each reflect and inform the other. Nature affected him because he found in it the moving forces of human life, and they found their way into his poetry because he understood that behind us all—creative creatures that we sometimes are—lies inseparable nature.

The Solitary Walker said...

Beautifully put, Grizzled. I think you're right to stress Wordsworth's instinctive belief in the inclusiveness of all nature. His upbringing, the environment of his boyhood, his natural temperament and talent probably meant that he had to be this way, write this way.

The philosophical ideas about God and nature and so on in poems like 'Tintern Abbey' and 'The Prelude' are sometimes delighfully obscure, and 'poetic' - for this is a man of feeling, and instinct, and poetic creativity, not a calculating and experimental scientist or pedantic philosopher.

I very much like your insight that he was a poet who wrote within nature rather than merely of nature. Yes, that gets to the heart of it, I think.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

You've inspired me to borrow a book so that I can read his poems in full!