England Romantic Poets Essay Research Paper The

England Romantic Poets Essay, Research Paper

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


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.


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