The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
NATURE IN WORDSWORTH: SUMMARY

IN THE poetry of Wordsworth, the pleasure taken in the forms of the natural world, especially in rural scenes, is almost invariably associated, more or less consciously, with the thought of universal nature conceived as an orderly system. The esthetic synthesis of Shaftesbury and of many eighteenth-century poets is in him continued and given greater volume, depth and variety of content. The mere imaginative pleasure taken in natural objects is reinforced by the conviction, shared by scientists and theologians alike, that nature, in the whole and in every detail, is the result of providential design. The order of nature may be taken by men as a norm of conduct. The well-being of men is provided for within the frame of nature. With men, as with the lower animals and vegetable organisms, natural impulses tend towards the well-being of the individual, and we are guided by the admonitions of pain and pleasure, especially the latter. Virtue is more natural to us than vice, providing us with greater and more lasting gratifications. Whatever defects are found in life in a narrow view are seen to be, or may be assumed to be, contributory to the general scheme of things and therefore good in the large view. Communion with nature in the country, where her forms have not been obscured by man's artificial inventions, is therefore beneficial to man, leading him as it does to reflection on her benevolent dispositions and harmonies. Wordsworth's preference of country to town, like that of many eighteenth-century poets, is probably somewhat colored by the romantic legend of a Golden Age, in which man's heart and manners were still natural, uncorrupted by institutions and ideas which had swerved from the simplicity of nature. Wordsworth's view of the child and the peasant as beings particularly

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