The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION AND CONCLUSION

FOR nearly two centuries it was a fashion among poets to sing the praises of abstract nature in terms that to our own critical spirit seem extravagant and often well-nigh ridiculous. And yet these romantic poets were in general men of strong and cultivated intelligence and unusual subtlety of mind. What they wrote, it is reasonable to suppose, cannot have been sheer nonsense. Indeed, we continue to read their nature-poetry with deep sympathy and an emotional response which we cannot altogether repudiate, however apologetic we may feel about it in our more rationalistic moods. This romantic nature-poetry marks, I believe, a significant chapter in human thought. It had its roots deep in the religious and scientific movements of the modern world. It did not run its course entirely without effect. And the nostalgic delight with which we return to it today gives evidence of emotional attitudes which we have shared and have not even yet entirely outgrown.

This book is the outcome of a long-standing desire to gain a clearer comprehension of the philosophical concept of nature as it appears in certain English poets of the nineteenth century. I have wished to see whether I could express, a little more precisely than I ever had done, what-besides brooks and birds-was meant by some favorite poet-Wordsworth or Meredith-when he talked of "nature." And I wished to see what connection could be found between this way of speaking in the poets and the general movement of thought in the period covered. I realize more and more acutely how broad and difficult is the field I have undertaken to explore, how far my study is from being exhaustive or comprehensive. But the general lines do seem to me tolerably clear; in my own mind I have arrived at certain conclusions that appear reasonably obvious

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