Lake District – Source: Wikipedia
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
It has been many years since I last read this poem, and reading it again reminds me why I love the Romantic writers so much. This poem captures emotions I have felt too often.
In this poem, Wordsworth expresses contrasting emotions stirred by sitting quietly in a meditative state in Nature. On one hand, he experiences a serene spiritual connection to the beauty and harmony of Nature which surrounds him. But he is unable to sustain that feeling because as he revels in the joy of Nature, his thoughts involuntarily drift and he thinks about the tendency of humans to extract themselves from their connection with Nature, to see themselves as distinct from the natural world.
I live in a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains and Nature. When I go and hike in the woods, or sit beside a stream and let the sounds and scents of Nature transport me, I feel the connection which Wordsworth describes. But then I think of the things we have done to Nature, the exploitation and destruction for short-term gain. It saddens me deeply. But there is also the spiritual component. I was recently in Atlanta and observed people trapped within their cars, sitting in ten lanes of traffic, and I felt sad for these people. They have sacrificed their spiritual connection to what is important. I know this because I lived in a big city for many years and during that time there, I know my spiritual connection with the earth was diminished. What connection I had took a conscious effort to maintain. And as Wordsworth points out, we have done this to ourselves.
“Have I not reason to lament what man has made of man?” It’s a haunting line and it is as relevant today as it was when Wordsworth penned it over 200 years ago. I only hope that one day a poet will be able to rejoice in what man has made of man.