Comparing the Representation of Nature in Wordsworth’s Ruined Cottage, and Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner
For most poets of the Romantic Age, nature played an invaluable role in their works. Man’s existence could be affected and explained by the presence and portrayal of the external nature surrounding it. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are no different from the other Romantic poets, and their works abound with references to nature and its correlation to humanity. Specifically, Wordsworth’s “The Ruined Cottage” and Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” share the theme of nature affecting man, although essential differences exist in their ideas regarding how it affects man. These two works are also similar in that they use a storyteller frame to both deliver and reinforce these ideas.
In order for the reader to fully appreciate the representation of nature in these two particular poems, it is necessary to supply a little background on each poet. Wordsworth reigns supreme in the nature tradition. His poetry makes tribute to nature in conjunction with examining the human state, while maintaining that the relationship between the two is unbreakable. In his book English Poetry of the Romantic Period, critic J.R. Watson claims “the finest of Wordsworth’s nature poetry explores the relationship between [man and the world seen in the spirit of love], in the attempt to demonstrate the power of nature in the rescuing of the individual mind from degradation, materialism, selfishness, and despair” (114). Crediting nature with the answer to life, Wordsworth’s philosophy reveals that there can be no greater truth than that found in the simplicity of nature. He pulls from this belief his topic of choice, with nature as his background and his subjects being those closest to it. Wordsworth explains his choice in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, one of his most significant projects co-created with Coleridge: “the principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life…because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature” (Wordsworth 241). This explanation of his work is applicable to the majority of Wordsworth’s creations. In the case of “The Ruined Cottage,” he uses nature to shadow the progression of decline in the woman of the peddler’s story, and also to provide the comforting concepts of hope and continuation of life.
Whereas Wordsworth treats nature as a means of understanding and mirroring the condition of man, Coleridge takes a slightly different approach in his ballads. Instead of revealing the natural in its purest form, without alteration, Coleridge adds his own special ‘coloring.’ This can be seen in his supernatural works, such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the story of a seaman haunted after needlessly killing an albatross. ...