Significance of Nature in Tintern Abbey and Lycidas
The Romantic era of literature can be defined in a variety of ways, sometimes cited as a time where individualism and human importance were at their peak, other times a period where science was condemned and the arts were promoted. However, the most everlasting theme is the promotion of nature and its importance in the wellbeing of humans; notable Romantic poets William Wordsworth and John Milton even use the interplay between nature and their own minds to distinguish a dual role of nature in the very formation of thought and emotion. In their respective writings, both garner a creative muse and a worldly wisdom through their exposure to nature. To those who take the time to observe and reflect, experiences in nature offer a more pure conception of reality and reflection of humanity. In their respective poems “Tintern Abbey” and “Lycidas,” Wordsworth and Milton expand upon these themes in two divergent ways, depicting nature as the spirit of imagination, allowing for interpretation of their own human experiences through a lens not influenced by cultural bias, but only the limits of the human mind.
William Wordsworth is notable for creating narratives which demonstrate that insightful thought is a result of the perception of nature, rather than one’s inner consciousness. In his “Tintern Abbey”, Wordsworth returns to the Banks of the Wye after a long absence, where he detached himself from nature. He comments on the wonderful memories of his youth spent in the natural environment, fondly admiring his surroundings, but also reprimanding his childish innocence. In his youth, he was “more like a man/ Flying from something that he dreads, than one/Who sought the thing he loved”. As a young man growing up in nature, Wordsworth’s surroundings directly guided his actions; there was no analytical filter between him and his environment, as he acted how nature compelled him to. After returning to the source of his happiness, Wordsworth realizes he has lost the purity in his life, instead trying to convince himself that he has developed a more sophisticated view of nature, “For I have learned/ To look on nature, not as in the hour/ Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes/ That still, sad music of humanity”. Here, nature acts as a creative muse through Wordsworth’s reintroduction with it. By viewing his surroundings through his sister Dorothy’s eyes, Wordsworth’s view of nature through a Christian perspective returns, as he worships nature with a religious fervor once again. Wordsworth then shares his deepest desire, that in the future after his death, the power of nature and the memories of himself imbedded in the surroundings of his childhood will stay with Dorothy, “If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief/ Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts/ Of tender joy wilt thou remember me”. Even as Wordsworth thinks about dying, his unlimited imagination gives him a new sense of vitality knowing he will rise to the heavens.
John Milton’s “Lycidas” is dedicated to lamenting the death of his closest friend, Lycidas, who devoted his terse life to pastoral poetry. Similarly to Tintern Abbey, the poetry follows the conventions of the classic romantic elegy, and envisions a scene where the two friends live a sheperds. Like Wordsworth, Milton’s very character was formed by the impact of nature on his childhood, “Or we were nurs’d upon the self-same hill/ Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill;/ Together both, ere the high lawns appear’d”. These pastoral themes render the close relationship between the two characters. Now, after Lycidas passed away, the poet reflects on the meaning of life and death and questions the divinity and omnipotence of nature. His friend was seemingly devoted to the point where he worshipped pagan gods and muses, and this prompts Milton to wonder whether nature has any significance at all. In Wordsworth’s case, his absence from nature has desensitized him from its wonder and is the cause of his internal turmoil. Eventually, the inspirational muse in the form of his sister is the catalyst for the reunion of two long lost lovers. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the muses, Greek gods, and natural elements are the sole reason for Milton’s suffering. He has confided in nature for all of his life, and when such an entity is no longer viable, Milton feels nothing but emptiness. Despite the differences between the two stories, the power of imagination unites them both; once a Greek god in the form of Phoebus appears to Milton to inform him that Lycidas’s death was not in vain, it is then that the poet begins to celebrate the life and fame of his lost friend and he feels a sense of resolve, informing the shepherds to “weep no more”. After spending his life believing in a miraculous force, Milton is finally visited by that divine figure, so that Lycidas can “day-star sinks in the ocean bed”, and rises again into Olympus.
It is quite evident that both poems end on an optimistic vote supporting immortality and remembrance beyond death. In both poems, the Romantic authors express their opinions through many voices. Opening with the debate about the significance and validity of nature in society, both stories draw upon divine themes to reaffirm the prominence of nature as a reliable deity. Throughout the struggles of the poems, it was expected that the deadlocked conflict would have a clear declaration of victory in favor of either forms of natural muses (being Christian themes or Pagan gods). However, Wordsworth and Milton seem to come together with a rather simplistic, yet powerful synthesis of the two. Because the authors ultimately prove that childhood memories of communion surrounded with natural beauty are part of the same entity, they strive for a transcendent harmony. The true meaning of nature draws its strength from the power of imagination and ultimately the belief in immortality, and the romantic authors unite the positives and negatives of nature to form what is known as beauty.
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