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England Romantic Poets

The poetry of the English Romantic period (1800-1832), often contain many
descriptions, and ideas of nature, not found in most writing. The Romantic poets
share several charecteristics in common, certainly one of the most significant
of these is their respective views on nature.Which seems to range from a more
spiritual, if not pantheistic view, as seen in the works of William Wordsworth,
to the much more realistic outlook of John Keats. All of these authors discuss,
in varrying degreess, the role of nature in acquiring meaningful insight into
the human condition. These writers all make appeals to nature as if it were some
kind of living entity calls are made for nature to rescue the struggling writer,
and carry his ideas to the world. One writer stated in his introduction to a
Romantic anthology: The variety of this catalogue implies completedness; surely
not phase or feature of the outer natural world is without its appropriate
counterpart in the inner world of human personality. Nature, then, can be all
things to all men. To the revolutionary Shelley, the rough wind wails, like the
poet himself, for the world’s wrong; or it lifts his own thoughts to scatter
them like leaves, like glowing ashes, over the world in an apocalyptic prophecy
of the coming Utopian spring. To Keats, beset by longing and heart-ache, the
happiness of the nightingale’s song intensified an unbearable consciousness of
unattainable pleasures. (6) Nature took a different role in each of the Romantic
poets, and even the PreRomantics, and Victorians writings, but each of these
writers has that one major thing in common: They all write extensively on the
role of nature in the lives of people. The English Romantic poets, hailing
mostly from the Lakeside district of England, would have grown up in a region
that is known for its natural beauty. These writers did not know the ugliness of
the city, nor do they have any experience of the crowded streets, and polluted
air of London. To these writers, the world is a very beautiful place. There are
wonderful virgin forests, pristine lakes and rivers, and beautiful wildlife,
making this region a wealthy little virtual paradise. Certainly this would (at
least partly) account for the facination with the natural world that can be
found in these poets. They mostly grew up seeing nature in its highest form of
beauty, and they were definately influenced by their environments. Throughout
the course of this paper, four poems, written by three poets, will be discussed
in some detail. Additional poems and poets will also be mentioned briefly as
this discussion progresses. They are Wordsworth’s Ode on Intimations of
Immortality, stanzas: One, two, four, and eleven, as well as parts of five and
eight. The second Wordsworth poem is: My Heart Leaps Up. The second poem will be
Percy-Byshe Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind. And the final poem will be: Bright
Star by John Keats. Each of these poems contain strong references to nature, and
its role in the developement of human identity, and additionaly, of the
sacredness, almost divinity that is to be found in nature. Throughout these
poems, the reader will find, as has been mentioned, a varrying (yet still
somewhat common) idea of the importance of nature. This should help the reader
to catch a little insight into how the English Romantics viewed man and his role
within nature, as well as nature’s role within human society and specificaly,
how nature can effect and individuals development over his lifetime. Let us now
turn to the first poet that we will discuss, William Wordsworth. Wordsworth,
along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, released a book of poems titled: Lyrical
Ballads. With this book came the beggining of the Romantic period. Wordsworth
declared that: ” Poetry, should be written in the language of the common
man and should be about incidents and situations from common life”
(Francis, 36). Clearly this is a rejection of the Neo- Classical tradition, and
an embracing of ordinary things and people. Wordsworth can really be classified
by his very romanticized view held toward nature: A love of nature is one of
Wordsworth’s predominate themes. For him, birds, trees, and flowers represent
and invisible spirit that is present everywhere in the universe. (ibid) Clearly
Wordsworth fits very nicely into this paper’s claim toward the Romantic view of
nature. In the first poem of his that we will discuss, Ode on Intimations of
Immortality, we can see many great examples of his use and view of the natural
world. Additionaly it is interesting to note his discussion on children, whom he
believes to be “closer to God than adults” (ibid). We will now pause
to quote from the afforementioned stanza’s: Ode on Intimations of Immortality 1
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common
sight, To me did seem Apperelled in celestial light, The glory and the freshness
of a dream. It is not now as it hath been of your;– Turn wheresoeve’er I may,
By night or day, The things which I have seen I now can see no more. 2 The
rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look
round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and
fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That
there hath passed a glory from the earth. 4 Ye blessed creatures, I have heard
the call Ye to each other make; I see The heavens laugh with you in your
jubilee; My heart is at your festival, My head hath its coronal, The fullness of
your bliss, I feel– I feel it all. Oh evil day! if I were sullen While Earth
herself is adorning, This sweet May morning, And the children are culling on
every side, In a thousand valleys far and wide, Fresh flowers; while the sun
shines warm, And the babe leaps up on his mother’s arm:– I hear, I hear, with
joy I hear! — But there’s a tree, of many, one, A single field which I have
looked upon, Both of them speak of something that is gone: The pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat: Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now,
the glory and the dream? 11 And O ye fountains, meadows, hills, and groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves! Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your
might; I only relinquished one delight: To live beneath your more habited sway.


I love the brooks which down the channels fret, Even more than when I tripped
lightly as they; The innocent brightness of a new-born day Is lovely yet; The
clouds that gather round the setting sun Do take a sober coloring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality; Another race hath been, and other
palms are won. Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, To me the meanest
flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for
tears.(46-52). Notice divine imagery throughout. The writer uses the phrase:
“Apperelled in celestial light”, reffering to the earth as if it can
put on the light from the heavenlies, like clothing. He compares its glory to
that of a dream, or from something in a far of land. Stanza two has images of
raibows, the moon, waters, and sunshine. Very celestial and important images,
beyond what we normaly discuss when we are discussing nature. Stanza four,
discusses children, as was mentioned earlier, before going on to discribing the
tree and the field that: ” speak of something that is gone”, and of
the pansy that does the same. He personifies these images of nature, as if they
have a specific tale of another age, to tell. At one point, in stanza five, he
refers to: “Nature’s priest”, as if nature is really his deity, and
there exists a clergy surrounding it (48). Simalarly in stanza eight, he writes
of a “Mighty prophet!” (49). He is talking of a human as the prophet,
but as prophet of what? Of nature. So it is thus far very clear that Wordsworth
is regarding nature as somehow being divine. To him, the natural world is almost
a God. He goes on in stanza eleven, to discuss nature as people sometimes
discuss a religious experience. He cries to the “fountains, meadow, hills,
and groves”, that he feels their might in his heart, and his “one
delight to live beneath (their) more habitual sway” (51-52). He even seems
to suggest that nature has a personality that cares for mankind “That hath
kept watch o’er man’s mortality” (52). Nature is given such a great
significane that even “the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that
do often lie to deep for tears” (ibid). Wordsworth’s ideas about nature
seem to change a little as he ages, which is undoubetdly due to his move towards
Christianity. Here, however, he definately expresses the typical Romantic view
of the natural world. Some critics have assumed that: ” The Ode is
Wordsworth’s conscious farewell to his art, a dirge sung over his departing
powers'” (Trilling, 123). Other writers dissagree, but none the less, the
significance still remains. If Wordsworth has decided to describe his growing
feebility, and loss of ” the glory and the dream…”, than nature has
certainly been given a very important role to play (53). He chooses creatures
from the physical world to relay his suffering and his intense hope. The
flowers, fields and trees all ask him what has happened, where has his poetry
gone too. Why can he no longer see the celestial light on the world? He has
really given nature the highest role in his writing. As we turn now to the
second poem by Wordsworth, we will find many of the same themes througout. The
second peom, My Heart Leaps Up, follows many of the same conventions: My Heart
Leaps Up My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my
life began; So it shall be when I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or
let me die! The child is father of the man; And I could wish my days to be Bound
each to each by natural piety. (53). Here we have Wordsworth declaring his
appreciation for beauty in the natural world, perhaps partly for the same
reasons that he does so in the previous poem: “Wordsworth not only confirms
his senses but also confirms his ability to percieve beauty” (Trilling,
126). Additionaly, it is clear that Wordsworth had a great admiration for
natural beauty as a youth, and claims that he still has it and if he ever looses
it, he wishes to die. He, once again, places a great deal of weight on his
perception of nature and the physical world’s importance on human life. Another
item that we can draw from the text is his statement that “The child is
father of the man” (53). This is typical of Wordsworth, who often regarde
the child to posses greater wisdom than the adult. Children are closer to God,
and they have an innate appreciation for the world’s beauty, that their aged
counterparts often do not possess. Many of the same kinds of ideas can be
witnessed in the next writer that will be discussed. Percy Bysshe Shelley, was
the other major early romantic writer, besides Wordsworth and Coleridge. Shelley
was ” an idealist who believed in the essential goodness of human
nature” (Francis, 82). Shelley was more preocupied with visions of the
“absract, misty and ethereal” (ibid). Certainly not the everyday,
physical world that Wordsworth largely concerned himself with. The poem we will
look at by this writer is Ode To The West Wind. Stanza’s one and five. Ode to
the West Wind 1 O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, Thou, from
whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter
fleeing, Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence strickin
multitudes: O thou Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed The winged seeds,
where they lie cold and low, Each like a corpse within its grave, until Thine
azure sister of the Spring shall blow Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and
fill (Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) With living hues and odors
plain and hill: Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; Destroyer and
Preserver; hear, oh hear! 5 Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is: What if my
leaves are falling like its own! The tumult of thy mighty harmonies Will take
from both a deep, autumnal tone, Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit
fierce, My spirit! Be thou Me impeuous one! Drive my dead thoughts over the
universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of
this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguesed hearth Ashes and sparks, my words
among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of a prophecy!
O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? (83, 85). Like Wordsworth,
Shelley appeals to nature, as a higher power, to rescue him from the
“thorns of life” (84). In the first stanza, Shelley writes of autumn,
vivid images of the dead leaves, and winged seeds that cover the earth. Anyone
who has ever seen fall, can clearly picture all the beautiful colours of
“hectic red”, covering the trees (83). All soon to be replace by only
the death that comes with winter, until the Spring “shall blow Her clarion
o’er the dreaming earth” (ibid). He personifies the Spring, as if it has
some kind of power to wake up the sleeping world, and usher in an era of new
life. Spring can fill the world with “living hues” and preserve and
destroy all things (ibid). The fourth stanza (not hitherto quoted), contains
images again of the wind lifting the dead leaves up, and seemingly giving them
life. He compares the freedom of the leaves, to the freedom he has experienced
as a boy, and his longing to return to such a carefree state. Then comes his
most concise pleading for nature’s help “Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a
cloud! I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed! (84). The final stanza, quoted
in its entirety above, finally completes the metaphor of his “dead
thoughts”, as leaves (85). He is imploring the wind to spread his thoughts
over the earth so that they might somehow become part of a new awakening. He
also uses the metaphor of “Ashes and sparks” being driven across the
land, ignighting the world on fire (ibid). Finally he states that the wind is
like a trumpet of prophecy declaring the arrival of the Spring. Now we come to
the last poet, and consequently, the last poem that we will be discussing. It is
Bright Star by John Keats: Bright Star John Keats. Bright star, would I were
steadfast as thou are– Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night, And Watching,
with eternal lids apart, Like Nature’s patient sleepless eremite, The moving
waters at their preistlike task Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores Or
gazing on the new soft-fallen mask Of snow upon the mountains and the moon: No–
yet still steadfast, still unchangaeble, Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening
breast, Awake forever in a sweet unrest, Still, still to hear her tender- taken
breath, And so live ever– or else swoon to death. (110). Keats compares himself
to the stars and measurese his own stability by its. He wants to be like
nature’s “patient sleepless eremite” (110). Unchangeable, inmutable
and steadfast, not being subject to the whims of a moment or the fleeting
emotions that he was subject to. He also brings in images of a “soft-fallen
mask Of snow upon the mountains and the moon”(ibid). He also imagines the
snow being on his lover’s breast, it seems almost that he is refering to the
mountains or the moon. It is also interesting how he refers to the “The
moving waters at their preistlike task Of pure ablution round earth’s human
shores” (ibid). In keeping with common Romantic style, Keats has
incorporated an image of the spritual into his work, similarly to what
Wordsworth accomplishes in his Ode. Like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley John
Keats is definately under the impression of nature being a great and benign
force: Almost divine. However: Interestingly, this godlike nature beyond nature
is becoming, as it now emerges, increasingly humanized. It loves, suffers loss,
and mourns; and its essence thereby defines itself as something other than mere
being or thoughtless life– something like a type of mind (Hodgson, 81). This
becomes apperent in the later Romantic works, but even in these, the poets are
calling for compassion from nature. They want nature to look down upon them and
to suffer with them and trully, to rejoice with them. To restore them to their
health and defend them against their critics and naysayers. The Romantic poets
were rather preocupied with the natural world, as is probably pretty obvious by
now. So much of their ideas came from the very fact that most of them lived in
the Lakeside district, a very beautiful place. They grew up with a great
admiration for the physical world, and came to almost adopt a pantheistic
outlook on life, especially Wordsworth. Shelley and Keats were less focussed on
the spiritual realm, but as both of their writings clearly show, nature was
still highly regarded if not deitized. St. Stephen’s University Literature 350
Prof: M. A Smith April 2000 The Romantic Poets: and the role of Nature Craig
Williamson
Bibliography
Camilla, Sister Francis S.L, The Romantics and Victorians., The MacMillan
company, New York: 1961. Frost, William, Romantic And Victorian Poetry.,
Prentive- Hall. Inc, Englewood Cliffs: 1961. Trilling, Lionel. The Liberal
Imagination., Viking Press, New York: 1942. Consulted: Hodgson, A. John.


Wordsworth’s Philosophical Poetry 1797- 1814. UNP press., 1976.