Tag Archives: William Wordsworth

“It is a beauteous evening, calm and free” by William Wordsworth: Worshipping the Divine in Nature

Caspar David Friedrich

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

In this sonnet, Wordsworth expresses what amounts to a religious adoration of nature. He is on the beach at sunset, observing the sun as it sets into the sea. And while Wordsworth’s spiritual connection with nature is obvious by the words of worship that appear throughout the poem, there two lines which really emphasize how much he views nature as a manifestation of the divine.

In line 5 he writes: “The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea.” What is telling about this line is that the word “heaven” is not capitalized, therefore asserting that heaven is not the abode of the divine. But “Sea” is capitalized. This emphasis on the earthly contrasted with the de-emphasis on heaven suggests that Wordsworth believes God resides within nature, and not in some unreachable heavenly abode. And in the next line, he takes the metaphor even further, referring to the Sea as “the mighty Being,” implying not only that nature is the residence of God, but that nature is, in fact, God incarnate.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Literature

With This Key Shakespeare Unlocked His Heart

Shakespeare

“Scorn Not the Sonnet; Critic, You Have Frowned” by William Wordsworth

Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of its just honours; with this key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch’s wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camöens soothed an exile’s grief;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains—alas, too few!

Today is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, so I wanted to post something in honor of the writer who has inspired so many throughout the years. Rather than post my thoughts on one of Shakespeare’s works, I decided to share this sonnet by Wordsworth.

In this sonnet, Wordsworth defends the poetic form of the sonnet against attacks from critics. It seems that even back then, artists hated critics. Anyway, Wordsworth provides examples of poets who used the sonnet as a vehicle to express themselves, and as such it is not surprising that Shakespeare is first among those mentioned.

Shakespeare wrote a total of 154 sonnets, and they express emotion in such a way that 400 years after his death, we still connect with his words. The cadence and rhythm resonate with our deeper selves, and each sonnet is nothing short of a perfect fourteen-line view into the heart of Shakespeare.

6 Comments

Filed under Literature

Analysis of “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth: The transcendent power of Nature

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This is one of my favorite poems, and it’s been a while since I read it last. But today was a beautiful and warm day, so after spending a few hours working in the yard, I got my copy of English Romantic Writers, opened to the section on Wordsworth, and read “Tintern Abbey” while sitting outside, basking in sunshine.

I first read this poem in college. As part of my English Lit class, we had to read all of the Lyrical Ballads. I was so moved the first time I read this poem. It expressed in words how I felt being in Nature, the transcendent feeling, the resonance deep within my soul. And that is what I want to focus this post on—how Wordsworth addresses the transcendent power of Nature in this poem.

The poem is fairly long, so I will not include the entire text, but here is a link to an online version should you want to read it in its entirety.

Poetry Foundation

In the second stanza, Wordsworth expresses how he had spent a long time away from Nature, living in the city. He describes how he visualized scenes in Nature as a way of maintaining his spiritual connection. He then goes on to describe how, being in Nature and focusing on the harmony of the natural world, one becomes open to the transcendent experience, experiencing enlightenment through the transformative power of Nature.

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, 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:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

As a kid, I love being in the woods. I would go camping, hiking, and fishing. It was a place of escape and adventure. But as I got older, I developed a different sense of Nature. I would go off and sit beside a stream, gazing at the water and listening to the gentle sounds that surrounded me, and then easily slip into a deep meditative state. Wordsworth expresses this feeling beautifully at the end of the fourth stanza.

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—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:

But it is the fifth stanza that in my opinion best conveys the reverence Wordsworth feels toward Nature. Not only is Nature a means for transcendence, it is also healing and nurturing. Like so many of us, there have been times in my life where I have gotten caught up in work, stress, and the monotonous grind of daily life. But all it takes is an hour or two in the woods, walking along a mountain trail or sitting beside a stream, and I feel restored, reconnected to my true self. This rejuvenation of spirit is what Wordsworth is describing in the following stanza.

A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

I know that most people envision Thoreau when they think about transcendent writers extolling the spiritual aspects of Nature, but Wordsworth wrote about Nature’s transcendent power fifty years before Thoreau penned Walden. If you have never done so before, I encourage you to sit outside on a warm sunny day and read “Tintern Abbey,” surrounded by Nature, as it was meant to be read. I suspect that doing so will have a profound impact on you.

9 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Lines Written in Early Spring” by William Wordsworth

Lake District - Source: Wikipedia

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.

11 Comments

Filed under Literature, Spiritual

“My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold” by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So it was when my life began;
So is it now 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 wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

This is a poem about how our experiences as children affect who we become as adults. Wordsworth begins by expressing his joy and excitement upon seeing a rainbow. He then states that he had the same feelings as a child, as an adult, and that he expects the same feelings when he gets old. He essentially establishes a connection between his past, present, and future. He also strongly asserts that when he reaches the point where he is no longer enthralled by the sight of a rainbow, which is a symbol for the beauty of Nature, then it is time for him to die.

When Wordsworth writes “The Child is father of the Man;” he is stating that his reverence for Nature is something that he learned as a child. His thoughts and feelings that he had as a child are what created the man he became. Likewise, those childhood impressions would continue to influence his life as he enters old age.

For Wordsworth, all his days are “bound each to each.” There is a natural connection between who he was, who he is, and who he will become, and it all grows from the seeds of wonder that were planted within him as a child.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

What Do John Lennon and Percy Bysshe Shelley Have in Common?

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Thumbing through the table of contents in my copy of English Romantic Writers, I spotted the sonnet “To Wordsworth” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The title piqued my interest so I figured I’d give it a quick read.

Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know
That things depart which never may return:
Childhood and youth, friendship, and love’s first glow,
Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn.
These common woes I feel. One loss is mine
Which thou too feel’st, yet I alone deplore.
Thou wert as a lone star whose light did shine
On some frail bark in winter’s midnight roar:
Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge stood
Above the blind and battling multitude:
In honoured poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty.
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.

I find it interesting when artists criticize each other. In this poem, Shelley is clearly irked by Wordsworth. Even the tone of the opening line, referring to Wordsworth as “Poet of Nature” has a mocking feel to it.

The main criticism that Shelley casts at Wordsworth is his obsession with the past. Wordsworth longed to recapture the magic and joy of childhood through his poetry, and I can respect that. But Shelley makes a valid point. Wordsworth became so obsessed with nature and childhood that he neglected the present, the future, and adult responsibilities. And what makes it worse is that Wordsworth’s earlier works were “Songs consecrate to truth and liberty,” but then as he gained fame and fortune, he sold out.

I have to say, though, that Shelley does come off as a bit self-righteous. When he claims that “I alone deplore” the common woes, I want to say: “Really? You’re the only one?” If you want to champion the common cause, you need to get down from the pedestal.

ImagineCoverI like both Wordsworth and Shelley, and I respect both of their literary contributions, just as I respect Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Just because artistic paths diverge does not make one artist’s contributions more important than another’s. Still, jabs like this make for interesting reading, just as John Lennon’s song “How Do You Sleep?” is an interesting critique on Sir Paul.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“The World is Too Much With Us; Late and Soon” by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth

I recently came across this poem on another person’s blog. I should have noted the blog to post a link, but I didn’t (my bad). Anyway, the poem resonated with me, so I got my tome of English Romantic Writers from college and looked it up.  Not surprising, I had read it in college and had made notes in the margins (marginalia, my history professor called them). It was interesting to look back on my thoughts on this poem from so many years ago and compare them with the impressions I have today.

Here is the poem for those of you who need:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

In the sonnet, Wordsworth laments the fact that humanity has separated themselves from Nature and lost its reverence toward the transcendent power of Nature. He states that “we are out of tune” with our environment, and this is an issue that continues to this day. Too many humans still look at the world as a resource to be exploited and not as something that we are a part of, something that should inspire us and a sacred entity to be protected and revered.

The lack of reverence for Nature that Wordsworth sees causes him to align himself with paganism. Pagans see divinity expressed through Nature, as does Wordsworth. The sound of the wind and sea, the green rolling hills, these things evoke images of ancient gods and fill him with wonder. One need only stand on a beach that is not cluttered with condos, or climb to the top of a mountain and gaze at the world below, to experience the same mystical connection with Nature that Wordsworth conveys in this poem.

As is often the case, reading a poem like this has inspired me. Weather permitting, I will go for a hike in the woods this weekend and renew my connection with Nature. I often wonder how the world would be if everyone took the time to read poems like this. Thanks for being one of those who reads and thinks. Cheers!!

5 Comments

Filed under Literature