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Though I was pleased with the grades for my first two assignments, it was clear from reading through my tutors feedback that there were a number of areas for improvement in both.
Perhaps the most pressing was my tendency to rely too heavily on quotations from the module texts to surmise or reinforce the points I was trying to make. This had the undesirable effect of obscuring my own opinion; my tutor asserted that my ideas would be 'more effective and persuasive' (Padley, 2013a, page 2, comment s8) in my own words, and that in the future I should use the module debates merely to inform my own interpretation, 'rather than stand in place of it' (Padley, 2012a, PT3).
Also stressed was the importance of allocating sufficient word space to deal with every component of the question; In the feedback for TMA 02, my tutor explained that I spent far too much time outlining the 'background themes' (Padley, 2013b, PT3), and listed several key topics that were notably absent from my discussion that I could have commented on had I 'spent less time discussing the general contexts' (Padley, 2013b, PT3).
In future assignments, I will try not to dwell needlessly or disproportionately on any one topic at the expense of another, and to instead focus on and directly refer to the passages themselves, quoting them instead of the module books, and to discuss and compare them in sufficiently analytical detail.
2. Both passages are excerpts from poems which were written during what came to be known as the Romantic Period. Encompassing many realms of knowledge and discipline including the arts, philosophy and governing principles of the time, its influence on the literature of its day is perhaps best characterised by the way in which it affected man's view of his relationship with the surrounding environment, and how, as a result, it would come to be discussed and defined in a new light.
Though neither Shelley nor Wordsworth would consider himself a Romantic poet, both passages from Wordsworth's The Prelude (lines 104-129 of the 1799 edition) and Shelley's 'Mont Blanc; Lines Written In The Vale Of Chamouni' (lines 12-41) would fit this description of a 'Romantic' work. I mean this in the sense that throughout each passage the speaker describes his relationship with the landscape as one in which Nature is seemingly a form of autonomous, unrivalled power and authority; something for humans to revere and admire but also to fear in equal measure - which comes not only as a newly-realised revelation to the speaker, but is in stark contrast with the previously upheld views of the Age Of Reason in which man was the master of his environment which was predictable and inanimate.
In both cases, the speaker can be regarded as representing the poet himself, and, in what can be viewed as a sort of 'poetic dialogue' between speaker and environment, is describing or retelling the sensations of awe, fear, and as a result, awareness of human triviality that they experienced upon being in the presence of a mountain and becoming aware of its beauty and sheer scale.
In Shelley's work, the mountain in question is the titular Mont Blanc, and the description of the scenery throughout is based on Shelley's real life experiences travelling through the Chamonix Valley. In the excerpt from The Prelude, Wordsworth tells of a mountain peak looming over his boat as he rowed alone one night. Again, the heavy use of pronouns throughout the passage lead us to believe that it is Wordsworth speaking, and not that it is told from another character's perspective.
The effect that these encounters with the exterior landscape of Nature have on the mental and emotional interior of two poets is hardly ambiguous; it seems that both Shelley and Wordsworth perceive Nature in these instances as a source of sublime power. In the passage from The Prelude, Wordsworth is depicted as being struck by awe when in the presence of the mountain, and seems to undergo what would perhaps be described before then as a 'religious experience' that at first frightens him and then confuses him for days afterwards. He portrays the mountain as being alive; personifying it by describing it as uprearing its head 'as if with voluntary power instinct' and striding after Wordsworth as he tries to row away from it in fear. Later, he describes the event as 'that spectacle', and after his encounter his brain experiences 'unknown modes of being' and is left with 'Grave thoughts' that plague him by day and were the trouble of his dreams. The transformation in his attitude towards the landscape and his relationship with it is most evident in the contrast between his description of his rowing before and after becoming aware of the mountain; he goes from being a master of Nature and 'heaving through the water like a swan' to striking away with his oar to no avail to escape the mountains perceived advance, 'growing still in stature' he has to 'steal' his way back to the place where he can moor his boat. It's as if Wordsworth's entire perception of Nature and of his (indeed, Mankind's) dominion over it has been transformed by this single encounter with the mountain, which he describes in very frightening detail as being very much active, and this belittling experience dominates his thinking for the next few days. Shelley also attributes epic and vocal qualities to the environment around Mont Blanc, again utilising personification to similarly aggrandise the sublime and authoritative power he perceives in it. Evidence of this can be found in the lines in which Shelley describes the pine trees that he encounters as 'Children of elder time' and details the 'chainless' winds that come to 'drink' their odours as they swing to listen to 'old and solemn harmony'. He also uses language of a sort of royal luxury and majesty when describing the Earthly features of Nature, such as in the lines,
Thine earthly rainbows stretched across the sweep
Of the ethereal waterfall, whose veil
Robes some unsculptered image
The similarities between Wordsworth's and Shelley's piece do not end there and when taking into account the context of each piece, it is clear that there is perhaps a deeper interpretation to the conclusions and meaning of each passage. Just as the imposing mountain forces Wordsworth to confront and re-evaluate man's relationship with Nature in The Prelude, it is clear toward the end of the passage that it is very specific parts of the landscape that guide Shelley's thinking inward and cause him to muse on his own human mind and the dynamic of the role Nature plays in his perception. This is evident in the lines beginning with line 34,
Dizzy Ravine! And when I gaze on thee
I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
To muse on my own separate fantasy,
Now renders and receives fast influencings,
Holding an unremitting interchange
With the clear universe of things around;
One legion of wild thoughts...
This is illustrative of how the exterior landscape has affected Shelley' interior state, and led him to realise new truths (or, at the very least, reach new ways of thinking) about the way the human mind work and processes information as it is relayed to him by the outside world. Shelley's poem can be seen not only as a description of an event - a conversation of sorts between land and man in which the natural landscape caused Shelley to ponder the inner workings of his own mind, but also as a metaphor for the poet's role in life and in society; how the human mind detects and comprehends truth, and what qualification (if any) this affords the poet - who perhaps better understands Nature than any other.
Similarly, Wordsworth passage, when considered alongside the context with which it was written, can reveal a deeper meaning. The Prelude was intended to chart the development of Wordsworth's prowess as a poet in conjunction with his own spiritual growth. Each of the books represents a different period in his life as a different phase of his poetic style and aesthetic interests. Book one, of which the passage is an excerpt, deals with his boyhood and youthful poetic days. As such, it deals with his intuitive (perhaps automatic) stimulation by Nature. That the events of the passage in which his view of his exterior environment is turned upside down - leaving him troubled for days afterwards - can be seen not only as a metaphor for the development of his belief that humanity is a single part of Nature (and not the other way around), but also as a metaphor for his development as a writer from boy to man, and the shift of priorities in his mind that come with it.
In conclusion, both passages conform to Romantic sensibilities in their portrayal of Nature and the dynamic of the relationship between it and Man; both depict a relationship between speaker and landscape in which the speaker seems to comprehend (perhaps for the first time) and marvel at the sheer scale of Nature. This exterior stimulus resonates deeply with the emotions of both poets, and sends Wordsworth off in fear, only for him to spend days contemplating what this power shift in his perception of Nature means to him and to mankind in general, and of the regimes of poetry (which acts as an allegory for his becoming aware of and dismay at having to contend with more complex issues as he grew older). Shelley on the other hand seems to engage more with the idea that a constant dialogue between a very active Nature and people is taking place; it is the perceptions of an exterior landscape that are fuelling thought in the mind, but it is the mind's ability to paint them with epic qualities that attributes them their awesome power.
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