Nature in the Words of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge Essay

Nature in the Words of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

As well as Thomas Stearns Eliot

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            Romantic theory began to strengthen at the start of the 18th century during the French Revolution.  It was the time when men began to drift away one by one, with loved ones not being able to survive time’s presumptuous cruelty.  With menace just floating around the corner, grand writers like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and T.S. Eliot entered the romantic scene and began writing episodes that gave meaning to everyday scenes.

            Two of the greatest poems that Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote in 1798, in their book entitled “Lyrical Ballads,” are the poems Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree which Stands near the Lake of Esthwaite, as well as, The Nightingale.  We shall go over these two poems and compare them with the poems of Thomas Stearns Eliot, specifically the poems A Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, as well as, Sweeney among the Nightingales.  In the end, it will be evident that nature in the Romantic Theory takes the subjective definition, in which experiences are being looked back upon with predisposed thinking, which create the images.

Main Body

Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree by Wordsworth and Coleridge

            The first poem in which nature is a key term in the poems written by Wordsworth and Coleridge is “Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree” (please see the Appendix section at page 6).  Here, nature is being pictured in the first stanza as a world of travelers who are in need of rest.  It pictures a lonely yew-tree that is said to be far from the human dwelling, at a deserted place where no water resides and no wind gushes forth.  The second stanza mentions a pile of stones just below the tree, put by someone so arrogant who had experienced happy childhood and, for this, was scorned and hated upon, which made him turn his back against what nature call the earth, to sit on this pile of stones in solitude.  As written…

“No common soul.  In youth, by genius nurs’d,

And big with lofty views, he to the world

Went forth, pure in his heart, against the taint

Of dissolute tongues, ‘gainst jealousy, and hate,

And scorn, against all enemies prepared,

All but neglect: and so, his spirit damped.” (Wordsworth & Coleridge 22)

In nature, this proud and arrogant man would look at the world and find it to be so pleasing in the eye but that, oh, what despair this lovely scene causes him, for he is lost, with no loved one to give pleasure to his days.  What started as something beautiful ends up in anguish:

“And lifting up his head, he then would gaze…

Would he forget those beings, to whose minds,

Warm from the labours of benevolence,…

Of kindred loveliness: then he would sigh

With mournful joy, to think that others felt

What he must never feel: and so, lost man!” (Wordsworth & Coleridge 22)

            This nature of what Wordsworth and Coleridge describes as what pride and self-centeredness could do—of giving, not majesty but what they call littleness—is the very nature reflected in this poem.  It reflects that true dignity is not mirrored in terms of majesty but in the love and lowliness of heart that should give true happiness to this world.

            This type of nature that Wordsworth and Coleridge describe is also being mirrored in the poem of Thomas Stearns Eliot entitled “A Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” wherein the following lines picture what is essential when talking about nature to a romantic world:

“There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet

There will be time to murder and create,

And for all the words and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me, …” (Eliot 14)

These lines seem to suggest that, in the same way that Wordsworth and Coleridge picture the beauty of the world by means of love and the picture of giving, T.S. Eliot also views nature in ways that reflect over the true meaning of living.  However, it is important to mention that, as based on the two poems, nature in the Romantic Theory takes a subjective view, wherein it has been revealed that for what purpose would majesty, richness, and worldliness be when no true love or dignity creates for us a world that is real and not merely a dream.

Lastly, apart from how Wordsworth and Coleridge describes nature as a world of travelers in the first stanza, they also pictured it in the phrase “[t]he least of nature’s works” (23) of the last stanza as that which is the physical earth or the world.  Eliot, on the other hand, pictures it in the form of the society as a whole, and that which reflects more the world of the humans, which is partially similar to the two other authors.

The Nightingale by Wordsworth and Coleridge

            The second poem of Wordsworth and Coleridge in which nature is a key term is “The Nightingale” (please see page 7 of the Appendix).  Here, nature is being depicted in the first long stanza as the earth with all its clouds, light, stream, rain, plants, stars, and the birds, such as the Nightingale.  It tells us that “In nature there is nothing melancholy” (Wordsworth & Coleridge 23).  Then it suddenly takes a swift turn when ‘man’ is being mentioned.  What was supposed to be that which nothing can be found to be melancholy suddenly becomes gloomy with the mentioning of the night-wandering Man.  As stated in the lines…

“[S]ome night-wandering Man, whose heart was pierc’d

With the remembrance of a grievous wrong,

Or slow distemper or neglected love, …

First nam’d these notes a melancholy strain;

And many a poet echoes the conceit,

Poet, who hath been building up the rhyme.” (Wordsworth & Coleridge 23)

Then, for the second time, the word “nature” is being mentioned in the lines “And of his fame forgetful! so his fame / Should share in nature’s immortality” (Wordsworth & Coleridge 23), which speaks of the word as something in which human beings have learned to create as member of the society, such as fame, glory, or immortality.  The third time the word nature is mentioned refers to the same meaning as that which is used in the first mentioning: “[A]nd so his song / Should make all nature lovelier, and itself / Be lov’d, like nature!” (Wordsworth & Coleridge 23).  However, “[b]e lov’d, like nature” (23) as well as that mentioned in the line “[n]ature’s sweet voices always full of love” (23) links the word to women who are also part of nature.  The following lines correspond to the act of courtship, in which Nightingales have been used to refer to men in what transpires to be the nature between men and women:

“So many Nightingales: and far and near

In wood and thicket over the wide grove

They answer and provoke each other’s songs—

With skirmish and capricious passagings,

And murmurs musical and swift jug jug

And one low piping sound more sweet than all—

Stirring the air with such an harmony, …” (Wordsworth & Coleridge 24)

For the final instance that the word “nature” is used in the two poems, the word directly refers to man in the lines: “And I deem it wise / To make him Nature’s playmate” (24), wherein nature may refer to men while playmate may refer to the Nightingale that, in turn, refers to women.  Thus, in this second poem by Wordsworth and Coleridge, the word “nature” took the form or personification of what is physically on earth; of man; of something created between people in the society (e.g., immortality); of women; and, lastly, of men.

            Eliot also has a poem that speaks of nightingales in his poem that is entitled “Sweeney among the Nightingales.”  This poem talks of nature as that which also can be seen on earth, one of which are the animals, such as the ape named Sweeney, the zebra, the giraffe, the Orion, the dog, and the raven.  The word also mirrors the moon, the River Plate, the sea, the man, the woman, and lastly, the nightingale.  Eliot has not mentioned the word “nature” even for once, although it is being reflected in this poem in a manner that is constricted.

It is similar to Wordsworth and Coleridge’s use of nature in the recent poem discussed recently, especially that both of them mirrored the earth and its living organisms, especially at the beginning of the poems.  However, unlike Wordsworth and Coleridge’s use of nature, Eliot alternatively used it to reflect two things: first, nature as that which can be seen physically on Earth; and second, nature as that which causes earthly sin on Earth.  Apart from the first poem, this poem talks of nature as something that causes man to decide on whether to stay near good or near evil.  Nature is being represented as something related to spiritually.

Conclusion

            In all of the four poems that have been mentioned above, it is evident that the Romantic concept of Nature takes the subjective definition, in which experiences are being looked back upon with predisposed thinking, which create the images through the use of words that mirror the physical, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual images, and those that are related to chemistry.  It is like what nature was said to be doing even at this age and time, when the word appears to mirror everything for which the human mind is capable of reflecting over.  Thus far, the word appears as something that exposes an angle of our world.

Appendix

LINES LEFT UPON A SEAT IN A YEW-TREE WHICH STANDS NEAR THE LAKE OF
ESTHWAITE, ON A DESOLATE PART OF THE SHORE, YET COMMANDING A
BEAUTIFUL PROSPECT.

–Nay, Traveller! rest. This lonely yew-tree stands
Far from all human dwelling: what if here
No sparkling rivulet spread the verdant herb;
What if these barren boughs the bee not loves;
Yet, if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves,
That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind
By one soft impulse saved from vacancy.

–Who he was
That piled these stones, and with the mossy sod
First covered o’er, and taught this aged tree,
Now wild, to bend its arms in circling shade,
I well remember.–He was one who own’d
No common soul. In youth, by genius nurs’d,
And big with lofty views, he to the world
Went forth, pure in his heart, against the taint
Of dissolute tongues, ‘gainst jealousy, and hate,
And scorn, against all enemies prepared,
All but neglect: and so, his spirit damped
At once, with rash disdain he turned away,
And with the food of pride sustained his soul
In solitude.–Stranger! these gloomy boughs
Had charms for him; and here he loved to sit,
His only visitants a straggling sheep,
The stone-chat, or the glancing sand-piper;
And on these barren rocks, with juniper,
And heath, and thistle, thinly sprinkled o’er,
Fixing his downward eye, he many an hour
A morbid pleasure nourished, tracing here
An emblem of his own unfruitful life:
And lifting up his head, he then would gaze
On the more distant scene; how lovely ’tis
Thou seest, and he would gaze till it became
Far lovelier, and his heart could not sustain
The beauty still more beauteous. Nor, that time,
Would he forget those beings, to whose minds,
Warm from the labours of benevolence,
The world, and man himself, appeared a scene
Of kindred loveliness: then he would sigh
With mournful joy, to think that others felt
What he must never feel: and so, lost man!
On visionary views would fancy feed,
Till his eye streamed with tears. In this deep vale
He died, this seat his only monument.

       If thou be one whose heart the holy forms
Of young imagination have kept pure,
Stranger! henceforth be warned; and know, that pride,
Howe’er disguised in its own majesty,
Is littleness; that he, who feels contempt
For any living thing, hath faculties
Which he has never used; that thought with him
Is in its infancy. The man, whose eye
Is ever on himself, doth look on one,
The least of nature’s works, one who might move
The wise man to that scorn which wisdom holds
Unlawful, ever. O, be wiser thou!
Instructed that true knowledge leads to love,
True dignity abides with him alone
Who, in the silent hour of inward thought,
Can still suspect, and still revere himself,
In lowliness of heart.

(Source: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and William Wordsworth. “Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree which Stands near the Lake of Esthwaite, on a Desolate Part of the Shore, yet Commanding a Beautiful Prospect.” Lyrical Ballads. 10th ed. London: J. ; A. Arch, 1798. 22-23. Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. 23 October 2008 ;http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=30774;pageno=22;.

THE NIGHTINGALE;

A CONVERSATIONAL POEM, WRITTEN IN APRIL, 1798.

No cloud, no relique of the sunken day
Distinguishes the West, no long thin slip
Of sullen Light, no obscure trembling hues.
Come, we will rest on this old mossy Bridge!
You see the glimmer of the stream beneath,
But hear no murmuring: it flows silently
O’er its soft bed of verdure. All is still,
A balmy night! and tho’ the stars be dim,
Yet let us think upon the vernal showers
That gladden the green earth, and we shall find
A pleasure in the dimness of the stars.
And hark! the Nightingale begins its song,
“Most musical, most melancholy”[1] Bird!
A melancholy Bird? O idle thought!
In nature there is nothing melancholy.
–But some night-wandering Man, whose heart was pierc’d
With the remembrance of a grievous wrong,
Or slow distemper or neglected love,
(And so, poor Wretch! fill’d all things with himself
And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale
Of his own sorrows) he and such as he
First nam’d these notes a melancholy strain;
And many a poet echoes the conceit,
Poet, who hath been building up the rhyme
When he had better far have stretch’d his limbs
Beside a brook in mossy forest-dell
By sun or moonlight, to the influxes
Of shapes and sounds and shifting elements
Surrendering his whole spirit, of his song
And of his fame forgetful! so his fame
Should share in nature’s immortality,
A venerable thing! and so his song
Should make all nature lovelier, and itself
Be lov’d, like nature!–But ’twill not be so;
And youths and maidens most poetical
Who lose the deep’ning twilights of the spring
In ball-rooms and hot theatres, they still
Full of meek sympathy must heave their sighs
O’er Philomela’s pity-pleading strains.
My Friend, and my Friend’s Sister! we have learnt
A different lore: we may not thus profane
Nature’s sweet voices always full of love
And joyance! ‘Tis the merry Nightingale
That crowds, and hurries, and precipitates
With fast thick warble his delicious notes,
As he were fearful, that an April night
Would be too short for him to utter forth
His love-chant, and disburthen his full soul
Of all its music! And I know a grove
Of large extent, hard by a castle huge
Which the great lord inhabits not: and so
This grove is wild with tangling underwood,
And the trim walks are broken up, and grass,
Thin grass and king-cups grow within the paths.
But never elsewhere in one place I knew
So many Nightingales: and far and near
In wood and thicket over the wide grove
They answer and provoke each other’s songs–
With skirmish and capricious passagings,
And murmurs musical and swift jug jug
And one low piping sound more sweet than all–
Stirring the air with such an harmony,
That should you close your eyes, you might almost
Forget it was not day! On moonlight bushes,
Whose dewy leafits are but half disclos’d,
You may perchance behold them on the twigs,
Their bright, bright eyes, their eyes both bright and full,
Glistning, while many a glow-worm in the shade
Lights up her love-torch.

                              A most gentle maid
Who dwelleth in her hospitable home
Hard by the Castle, and at latest eve,
(Even like a Lady vow’d and dedicate
To something more than nature in the grove)
Glides thro’ the pathways; she knows all their notes,
That gentle Maid! and oft, a moment’s space,
What time the moon was lost behind a cloud,
Hath heard a pause of silence: till the Moon
Emerging, hath awaken’d earth and sky
With one sensation, and those wakeful Birds
Have all burst forth in choral minstrelsy,
As if one quick and sudden Gale had swept
An hundred airy harps! And she hath watch’d
Many a Nightingale perch giddily
On blosmy twig still swinging from the breeze,
And to that motion tune his wanton song,
Like tipsy Joy that reels with tossing head.

Farewell, O Warbler! till to-morrow eve,
And you, my friends! farewell, a short farewell!
We have been loitering long and pleasantly,
And now for our dear homes.–That strain again!
Full fain it would delay me!–My dear Babe,
Who, capable of no articulate sound,
Mars all things with his imitative lisp,
How he would place his hand beside his ear,
His little hand, the small forefinger up,
And bid us listen! And I deem it wise
To make him Nature’s playmate. He knows well
The evening star: and once when he awoke
In most distressful mood (some inward pain
Had made up that strange thing, an infant’s dream)
I hurried with him to our orchard plot,
And he beholds the moon, and hush’d at once
Suspends his sobs, and laughs most silently,
While his fair eyes that swam with undropt tears
Did glitter in the yellow moon-beam! Well–
It is a father’s tale. But if that Heaven
Should give me life, his childhood shall grow up
Familiar with these songs, that with the night
He may associate Joy! Once more farewell,
Sweet Nightingale! once more, my friends! farewell.

(Source: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and William Wordsworth. “The Nightingale.” Lyrical Ballads. 10th ed. London: J. & A. Arch, 1798. 23-24. Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. 23 October 2008 <http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=30774&pageno=23>.

Works Cited

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and William Wordsworth. “Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree which Stands near the Lake of Esthwaite, on a Desolate Part of the Shore, yet Commanding a Beautiful Prospect.” Lyrical Ballads. 10th ed. London: J. & A. Arch, 1798. 22-23. Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. 23 October 2008 <http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=30774&pageno=22>.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and William Wordsworth. “The Nightingale.” Lyrical Ballads. 10th ed. London: J. & A. Arch, 1798. 23-24. Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. 23 October 2008 <http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=30774&pageno=23>.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “A Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Poems by T.S. Eliot. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920. 13-16. Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. 23 October 2008 <http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?pageno=13&fk_files=911387>.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “Sweeney among the Nightingales.” Poems by T.S. Eliot. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920. 12-13. Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. 23 October 2008 <http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=911387&pageno=12>.

 

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