The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
WORDSWORTH'S NATURALISM

THE most comprehensive document in Wordsworth's nature- theory at the period of Lyrical Ballads ( 1798) is "Tintern Abbey." There is one remarkable feature of this poem when compared with the philosophic nature-poetry of the eighteenth century referred to in the preceding chapter. Throughout the whole of the poem Wordsworth does not once name God or make a single unmistakable reference to the supreme being. He does indicate that his commerce with the beauties of nature leads him to mystic intuitions which we feel to be in the broad sense religious. He has felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts . . .

The word "presence" is often associated with the deity or other spiritual beings. Thus in the ninth book of "The Prelude," written in 1804, Wordsworth refers to his lifelong subservience--

To presences of God's mysterious power
Made manifest in Nature's sovereignty.1

But here in "Tintern Abbey," the reference is left, as it were, deliberately vague; and whatever elevating and consoling effect his mystical experience may have had upon him is referred to nothing more specifically religious than "nature and the language of the sense."

In the eighteenth-century poets of a philosophic turn, the concept of universal nature occurs most frequently in close association with the concept of the first cause, the supreme being, clearly identified with God. And if this is true of Thomson, Akenside,

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