William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was born in Cockermouth in the Lake District in England, an area known for its exceptional beauty. This countryside had a profound influence on his childhood and later in life he came back to live in the Lake District with his sister Dorothy.
His autobiographic epic poem ‘The Prelude’ is his most famous work. It is a long poem of 14 sections written in the form of a self-exploration. Reading this poem gives a clear understanding of how deeply he absorbed nature into his thinking. At times it seems he walked into a kind of romantic celestial field of daffodils. ‘The Prelude’ traces the growth of his mind through dark regions of intellect to an escape into his connectivity with nature. This was especially so following his great disappointment after going to France and becoming actively involved in the French Revolution. His invented life-force being called ‘Nature’ provided both great joy as well as a spiritual answer to his life.
He was certainly a great appreciator of nature and although not a ‘political environmentalist’ in terms of the sensitivity of today he does highlight humanity as being subservient within the forces of a greater natural world. How this ‘animal’ called nature responds to the threats posed by an indignant humanity is another question.
Some selected lines from ‘The Prelude’ (First Book, lines 401 to 424)
Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought!
That giv’st to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion! not in vain,
By day or star-light thus from my first dawn
Of Childhood didst Thou intertwine for me
The passions that build up our human Soul,
Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man,
But with high objects, with enduring things,
With life and nature, purifying thus
The elements of feeling and of thought,
And sanctifying, by such discipline,
Both pain and fear, until we recognize
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.
Nor was this fellowship vouchsaf’d to me
With stinted kindness. In November days,
When vapours, rolling down the valleys, made
A lonely scene more lonesome; among woods
At noon, and ‘mid the calm of summer nights,
When, by the margin of the trembling Lake,
Beneath the gloomy hills I homeward went
In solitude, such intercourse was mine;
‘Twas mine among the fields both day and night,
And by the waters all the summer long.
WW also poses the question on whether we (you, I and humanity in general) have dim hearing to the voice of nature – are we caught up in the ‘vulgar works of man’.