In the Romantic Period in England there was a shift taking place in literature. Poets of the time period believed that a personal relationship with God or the Universe was more important than a larger collective religious or political one. The introduction of the Romantic Period in the Norton Anthology of British Literature states, “And the pervasiveness of nature poetry in the period can be attributed to a determination to idealize the natural scene as a site where the individual could find freedom from social laws (Greenblatt, 1377).” The poets of that day also believed that one could receive that personal relationship through the natural world. Literature focused on the individual great or small and was much more personal than it had been in the past. In accordance with the importance of the individual, Romantic poets expressed an importance and love of nature in their poetry. The poets William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley use their interpretations of nature, although different, to express the romantic idea of individualism. These poets used nature to express their feelings toward the individual and the importance they placed on a personal relationship with one’s inner self as well as God.
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William Wordsworth loved nature and lived in remote natural regions of England for much of his life. He had a relationship with the natural world that he lived in and around and this is evident in his writing. His poetry describes how he learns more about himself, and his relationship with God through learning and becoming more acquainted with nature. This principle is portrayed in this passage of Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey. He says,
“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 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:/ A motion and a spirit, that impels/ All thinking things, all objects of all thought, / And rolls through all things (Wordsworth, 88-102).”
This passage describes how Wordsworth has learned to feel the power of God or the Universe through nature. He has an individual spiritual experience when he looks at the natural world that he could not experience with masses of people in a church or in everyday society.
He then goes on to say that nature is a very important to him and is in a way a part of who he is. Wordsworth, when speaking about himself in this passage, says that he is “well pleased to recognize/ 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”(Wordsworth, 107- 111). To Wordsworth, nature was so important to him because he felt as if it was a part of him. He felt it was his compass and guide in his life. His view of nature is that he has grown and expanded because of what he experienced from it. This individual relationship he had with nature affected him so much it guided his actions in politics, religion, and other facets of life. He uses nature to symbolize himself and his soul. Individualism is shown in Wordsworth’s depiction of the natural world because in essence he becomes nature in his writing.
In similitude with Wordworth’s poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley uses the natural world in his writing to express individualism but in a slightly different way. In Mont Blanc, Shelley uses the daunting description of the mountain and the land around it to suggest that imagination has a lot to do with what one’s individual experience is from nature. He almost suggests that the mind is nature’s creator. In this passage from Mont Blanc, Shelley says,
“The everlasting universe of things/ Flows through the mind and rolls its rapid waves,/ Now dark-now glittering-now reflecting gloom–/ Now lending splendour, where from secret springs/ The source of human thought its tribute brings/ Of waters,–with a sound but half its own./ Such as a feeble brook will oft assume/ In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,/ Where waterfalls around it leap forever,/ Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river/ Over its rocks ceaselessly burst and raves” (Shelley ,1-11).
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This excerpt shows Shelley’s view of nature and the mind. He talks about how the universe flows through the mind and then he gives menacing descriptive imagery of woods, waterfalls, and the mountains. The imagery suggests that the mind or imagination was the creator of these daunting natural scenes. This shows Shelley’s opinion of nature in regards to the human imagination and the individual. A further example is evident in another excerpt from Mont Blanc, “The secret strength of things/ Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome/ Of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!/ And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,/ If to the human mind’s imaginings/ Silence and solitude were vacancy (Shelley, 139-145).” This passage reinforces the contrast of Shelley’s view of the human mind in regards to nature rather than the Wordsworthian view. Shelley firmly shows in his texts and particularly in Mont Blanc his belief in the natural world being born from the imagination of the individual therefore giving power to the person who created it.
Along with typifying the imagination as a creator of nature, individualism is discussed throughout his writing. Mont Blanc also displays the romantic notion of individualism through the discussion of the mind and human thought. The poem suggests that nature comes from the mind which creates a very personal and individual nature for everyone. In the mere suggestion of imagination and the human mind being the creator of nature, there lies individualism. The way Shelley portrays the individual in nature holds true to the Romantic notions of the time.
Individualism is a very romantic principle that was becoming increasingly important in this time period. This power given to the individual mind to think, believe, and understand ones self was embodied through the natural world in the works of William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Wordsworth suggested that the individual mind gains power and understanding from and because of the influence of nature. Shelley believed that the individual’s mind and imagination gives nature the power that it has over the individual. Although the method they used to establish individualism through nature was different, both of their works embodied that principle and epitomized the Romantic view of Individualism.
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