The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
VICTORIAN AFTERGLOW

DURING the last fifty years there has been little distinguished poetry in the English language, outside of Hardy's, in which the concept of nature had held an important place. There have, however, been a considerable number of poets in whom the theory of evolution has stirred speculations on the place of man in nature, and others in whom, with no explicit reference to evolution, there are more or less vague echoes of certain notes of the great Victorians and Romantics. For the most part these poets lack the robustness of Wordsworth, Shelley, Tennyson and Meredith, either in thought or imagination. They tend, in their want of clear faith, to take refuge in a kind of soft platonism. A more or less vaguely conceived Beauty comes more and more to take the place of the full- bodied nature that formerly held sway. It is clear that the sun has done down and that only a pinkish afterglow lingers in the sky.


"The Ascent of Man"

Research will doubtless bring to light many references to evolution in poets of second- and third-rate standing within the period in question. One such is Mathilde Blind, whose Ascent of Man was published in 1889, and again, with a introduction by the great evolutionist, Alfred Russell Wallace, in 1899. This poet gives a conscientious account of the emergence, during geologic ages, of vegetable and animal life, first as a pulse stirring in "the plastic slime" and then as a force building itself up in myriad forms. She describes the colossal and amorphous creatures of the primeval ocean, and the ruthless struggle for existence throughout the animal world, with a "pessimistic view of the pain and misery thus arising"

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