Meaning Of 'nature' In Wordsworth And Coleridge's 'lyrical Ballads'

1792 words - 7 pages

"Low and rustic life was generally chosen...because in that situation thepassions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanentforms of nature." (Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads 1800).What meaning does the word 'nature' have in Lyrical Ballads?In the Lyrical Ballads both Wordsworth and Coleridge explore the effects of nature on man. It was therefore appropriate to choose mainly low and rustic life as the setting for the poems, as in this environment man is closest to the natural world. This allows comparison between man in this natural state, and man exposed to 'civilisation'. The Lyrical Ballads show how man can become corrupted by social convention. Through contact with nature, the rural poor are shown to be more spiritually free; "in that situation the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint." Wordsworth believed that new social forces, at play in the Industrial Revolution, were to blame for blunting these passions:...a multitude of causes unknown to former times are now actingwith a combined force...unfitting [the mind] for all voluntary exertion,to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor.Nature is therefore shown to possess the power to greatly affect the human mind and spirit. The poems of the Lyrical Ballads explore what exactly this force is, and how it is manifested.In the Lyrical Ballads, nature is shown to offer an education, more valuable than that which can be gained through books and schooling in the traditional sense. In his poems 'Expostulation and Reply' and 'The Tables Turned', Wordsworth expounds the educational value of mere contact with the natural world. In 'Expostulation and Reply' Wordsworth is challenged as to why he wastes his time observing the natural world rather than studying. Wordsworth answers that through contemplation of nature, we nourish our mind "in a wise passiveness." (p.104). He claims the educational power of nature is something unavoidable; it stimulates our senses and diffuses into us whenever we are in contact with it:The eye it cannot chuse but see,We cannot bid the ear be still;Our bodies feel where'er they be,Against, or with our will. (p.103)In 'The Tables Turned', Wordsworth argues that this education gained from experiencing nature is more valuable than the mere rational gains occurring from book learning, which he describes as an "endless strife" (p.104). He issues the reader with a dramatic order: "Up! up! My friend and quit your books...Let Nature be your teacher." (p.104-105). According to Wordsworth, the beauty of nature is corrupted by the logical analysis acquired through traditional 'education': "Our meddling intellect/ Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things." (p.105). This belief in the educational value of nature is shared by Coleridge. In his poem, 'The Foster-Mother's Tale', a child is discovered in his natural state, untouched by 'civilisation'. He is moved from this natural setting...

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