The Faces of Nature by Byron and Wordsworth
Nature was a parent to mankind in Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality, but a rival in Byron’s Darkness. Through Wordsworth’s word choice, structure, and metaphors, Ode paralleled the human lifespan with one day, which portrayed nature as a phase for the human soul. Nature would outlast humans in a world that could be a dream, while humans would transcend to heaven: their true home and reality.
Moreover, Wordsworth focused more on the journey, whereas Byron explored the final destination. The setting in Ode was in May and described a youth heading towards death, whereas Darkness had strong imagery such as the “icy earth” (Byron, line 4) associated with winter—the season often linked with death. Darkness merged human and natural destruction after death, but with heavy natural personification, instilled the major distinguishing factor of humans, the soul, into nature. This effect paralleled the immortality of the soul with nature’s longevity. Both poets advocated human superiority to nature; Wordsworth implied that nature reflected heaven—where humans belonged, and Byron praised human passions and endeavors which distinguished humans from nature.
To begin, a major similarity of Byron and Wordsworth was the portrayal of the human body and the natural surroundings as portals for the soul to act. Byron illustrated nature as shaped and driven by human activities; in every description of a natural setting, nature was teemed with human establishments such as palaces and boats. Nature and humans were inevitably interlocked and—towards the end—Darkness’s heavy natural personification depicted human influence ingrained into their surroundings. The destruction of one would lose a part of the other. Nature would lose one of its identities without humans and would exist without recognition. Despite that the dilemma of being forgotten was mostly relevant to humans, Byron posed the same consequences of death to nature; darkness was described to have enclosed Earth into a coffin as the word “pall” (Byron, line 29) suggested and both the clouds and winds ceased to exist.
On the other hand, Wordsworth paralleled nature with humans, but ultimately depicted the latter as a higher being—one that was originally part of heaven. Death was also drastically different in Ode and cleansed humans from their experiences. Furthermore, the scale of Nature’s existence compared to mans’ was established in the metaphor in stanza five, when the lifetime of a boy was compared to a single day: “The Youth, who daily farther from the east.” (Wordsworth, line 71). Expanding more on nature in relation to heaven, the first stanza established that nature was not a part of heaven, but a simulation. The natural surroundings were described to be “appareled” in the light from the heavens; perhaps this detail implied that nature reflected the image of the heavens, but was not one with the realm above.
Furthermore, Wordsworth could be issuing a play of words by the similarity of “appareled” to “paralleled” and how nature was touched by and mirrored the celestial world. The structure of the poem also placed humans and nature in parallel as humans journeyed towards their ultimate destination. Life on earth was therefore a dream if the true reality for humans resided in heaven.
Secondly, the structures of both poems revealed the intimacy between man and nature. The illusionary relationship was a similarity in Ode and Darkness. Byron’s poem began with “I” and ended with Darkness, addressed as “She. This set-up created a direct correspondence between man and nature; the setting of this poem occurred in the narrator’s mind, and aspects of nature—such as darkness—manifested its work directly in response to the narrator’s vision. This elevated the surreal, illusionary state of mans’ natural surroundings due to their fleeting appearance before the end of a human lifespan. While Ode spoke to nature personally, in capitalized names towards the end and the second-person address “ye” (Wordsworth, line 187), nature did not respond directly; the hills and meadows continued existing without changing their routine. This detail established that in this current phase, man and nature were peers—both containing aspects of heaven and coexisting briefly before humans progressed to the next stage: death and ultimately heaven. Nature’s personification was also drastically different in Ode and Darkness. In Ode, nature adopted a maternal form that overlooked the journey of humans back to heaven.
However, Darkness portrayed a ruthless competitor, which was spited by human endeavors towards eternity such as their palaces and religious establishments. Furthermore, death in relation to nature also manifested differently in both poems. While Darkness categorized the human body as a part of nature, all subject to an end, the narrator never mentioned the decay of the soul. This could be seen in the imagery of the stars in the beginning, which did not perish, rather wandered aimlessly. The surreal and temporary surroundings and materials, even the human body, were only portals for the soul to act. “[Men] Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh.” (line 45, Byron). The soul was absent in that description and was perhaps immune to natural decay. However, the soul was confined to a body that was no different from a beast’s, or any part of nature; this was Byron’s contradiction which bound mankind to nature. When deprived of basic necessities, humans were indistinguishable to animals. In times of starvation, Darkness predicted a horrifying image of men indistinguishably fighting to consume a corpse alongside “The birds and beasts” (Byron, line 49). Once again, this hindrance defined humankind as a part of nature instead of heaven, grounded by animalistic needs of the body.
In contrary, with human passions and ideologies derived from the soul, Darkness distinguished humans from animals by their capabilities to express and create. The establishment of palaces and religious ideologies that strived to prevail one lifetime was spited by nature, as seen in the indifference of the sky when human civilization burned in flames. The sky was described as “dull” as men gazed upon it with despair. “[the men] look’d up With mad disquietude on the dull sky.” (Wordsworth lines 27-28). The imagery of the flames also invoked association with Hell, as though humans would be punished for their efforts of eternity on Earth. In Darkness, human endeavors to persevere were indispensable, portraying a meaningless world without the beauty in art and human passions. Hence, due to the heavy personification of nature, Byron’s poem could imply that all physical forms of nature were portals for souls to manifest. In contrast, Ode expressed the frivolity and ephemeral value of societal goals or complications such as “love, business, and strife” (Wordsworth, line 98). The ultimate goal was to return to nature and innocence by forgetting experience—that which was only possible through death.
In stanza four, the narrator divided sensory feelings from knowledge. He experienced nature with diction such as “feel” and “hear”, but in stanza two, at the introduction of the word “know” (Wordsworth, line 17), his happiness vanished and the narrator’s focus shifted away from his surroundings, and perhaps away from innocence. Stanza four also alluded to the tree of knowledge that catalyzed the fall of man. The capitalization of “Tree” along with, “Doth the same tale repeat.” (Wordsworth, line 55), could allude to the tale of Adam and Eve.
In conclusion, Ode perceived human passions on Earth as corrupted and nature as pure, whereas Darkness depicted human passions as derived from the soul: differentiating humans from animals and physical natural objects. Hence, as seen from the degrees of incorporation of humans with nature in Ode and Darkness, Wordsworth treated nature as an aid to the human journey towards heaven, whereas Byron illustrated the competitive struggle of nature and man against the same inevitable end.
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