Sunday, December 12, 2010

William Wordsworth: As the Poet of Man

“There have been greater poets than Wordsworth but none more original”, says A. C. Bradley. Wordsworth’s chief originality is, of course, to be sought in his poetry of Nature. It must not be supposed, however, that Wordsworth was interested only in Nature and not in man at all. Man, in Wordsworth’s concep­tion, is not to be seen apart from Nature, but is the very “life of her life”. Indeed, Wordsworth’s love of Nature led him to the love of man. Scarcely a poem of his is solely concerned with nature-description. His poetry is expressive of the formative, restorative, reassuring, moral and spiritual influence of Nature on the mind and personality of Man. Nature, of course, may dominate, but “the still sad music of humanity” is never ignored.

Wordsworth’s passion for Nature is well-known and it is also known that his attitude to Nature underwent a progressive evolution— from ‘the coarser pleasures’ of the boyish days to an unreflecting passion untouched by intellec­tual interests or associations to the transitory stage of human-heartedness ac­companied by a lasting and more significant stage of spiritual and mystical interpretation of Nature.
Nature, according to Wordsworth is a living entity. Unlike other poets of Nature, he believes that Nature is endowed with life and consciousness and has the capacity of thinking, feeling and willing. The entire Nature is permeated by the feelings of joy and happiness, harmony and peace and there are no strifes, no cares and worries, no jealousy and hatred to disturb the peace and harmony, reigning in the heart of Nature:
Love, now a universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing
From earth to man, from man to earth
It is the hour of feeling.
Wordsworth’s approach to Nature is that of a mystic. He believed that God pervades the entire universe and all the varied phenomena are the outward manifestations of the same Eternal Reality. This belief of his has been termed as Pantheism and it was the last stage in the progressive evolution of his approach to Nature. Warwick James says, “At this stage the foundation of Wordsworth’s entire existence was his mode of seeing God in Nature and Nature in God.” In Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth realises the ‘presence of the Eternal spirit’:
Those 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.
It is tine that Wordsworth was a lover of Nature but he was also a lover of Man, though his love of man developed at a later stage in his poetic career. It was the French Revolution that made Wordsworth a poet of Man. Wordsworth lost his faith in the French Revolution as a political creed, but its effect remained intact on his mind. The Revolution humanised his soul and built him into a poet of Man. The singer of the beauties of Nature became the singer of the majesty of common humanity.
It is the humble and rustic life that is invested with glory and grandeur in his poetry. The city proletariat lay beyond his ken; it was not for him to sing the fierce confederate storm
Of sorrow barricaded evermore
Within the walls of cities
But rather
To hear humanity in woods and groves
Pipe solitary anguish
because the life of such people is not screened by conventions of society. It is their simplicity that brings out the hidden beauty of their characters—calm, independence, fortitude, mutual affection and self-sacrifice. They have a noble character because they live in close and constant company of Nature.
Nature constantly communicates its elevating thoughts to man. When the soul of man is in tune with the spirit of Nature, it receives impressions of virtue and wisdom that exercise an ennobling influence on human nature. Nature is “the best and truest of all teachers”.
Away from Nature city life deadens human perceptions. The Sonnet on Westminster Bridge underlines the same idea. The scene of London in the early hours of the morning impresses the poet and heightens his sensibilities because at the moment London is dressed in Nature and
silent, hare.
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
When man becomes indifferent to Nature and her elevating influences then, according to Wordsworth, the miseries and misfortunes of mankind arise. He laments the loss of man’s contact with Nature when he writes:
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.
We are out of rune with Nature. But when the individual mind and external nature are in harmony, it is natural that there is a communion between Nature and Man. Nature has the power to console mankind. It is when man’s mind is in harmony with the natural objects that a sudden flash of revelation comes upon him and he becomes aware of the unifying spirit behind everything. In Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth tells us how the best part of human life is shown to be the result of natural influences. Nature’s healing power was a rapturous experience for Wordsworth and he conveys it in Tintern Abbey; the recollection of the scenes seen five years ago soothes him in tormented moments:
...in lonely rooms, and ‘mid I he din of towns and cities
And he owes to them not only ‘sensations sweet’ but another gift also that is more sublime. It is:
that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery.
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of this unintelligible world,
Is lightened
In these moments of illumination, he has an insight into the life of things and finds that all is wrapped in a state of joy and harmony.
It is easy to associate Wordsworth only with the “joy” and “happiness” of human destiny. But, in fact, he was fully conscious of the “cloud of human destiny” and presents it in his poems. In Tintern Abbey, he speaks of the “still sad music of humanity” which colours the mature mind and makes Nature all the more significant. In the Immortality Ode again we read of the “soothing thoughts that spring out of human suffering”. Indeed, it is suffering that leads to the philosophic mind which finds meaning even in the “meanest flower that blows”. Thus, to conclude in the words of Herbert Read, “Man and Nature, mind and the external world, are geared together and in unison complete the motive principle of the universe. They act and react upon each other, ‘so as to produce an infinite complexity of pain and pleasure.” The functioning of this interlocked universe of mind and Nature is for Wordsworth the highest theme of poetry.

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