The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
SHELLEY'S NATURALISM

THE word nature is much less frequent in Shelley than in Wordsworth. This is partly owing to the fact that he does not attempt, like Wordsworth, to trace the influence of natural objects in the development of his imagination. It is partly owing to the poetic quality which led him, in his mature work, to employ symbolism in places where Wordsworth used an abstract term. The entire scenery of "Alastor" ( 1815) symbolizes that nature which, to the over-sensitive soul of the poet, furnishes a refuge from the cruelty and misunderstanding of the world, but which in the long run proves his undoing. For Shelley brings to poetry a subtler spirit, a more complicated feeling; he sounds, in this poem, a strong note of romantic irony, and suggests that nature, whom he loves so fanatically as "mother of this unfathomable world," may be a fatal companion for a poet. In later poems--as well as in the earlier "Queen Mab"--nature is shown in a less dubious light. In "Mont Blanc" ( 1816) the sublime mountain symbolizes--

. . . the secret strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of Heaven is as a law . . .

The west wind, in the famous "Ode" ( 1819), symbolizes the variegated power of natural phenomena and nature's promise of a world reborn to a spirit desolated by the wintry bleakness of the present. In "The Cloud" ( 1820) is symbolized the essential oneness of nature amid her manifold changes of form. In the ode "To a Skylark" ( 1820) is symbolized the gladness of natural creatures who are free from the "hate, and pride, and fear" which sadden and

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