In late 18th century Europe an artistic movement, which would later be identified as Romanticism, was taking root. Europe was experiencing several changes in terms of revolution, war, economics, and threats to their social structure (Norton 2). These changes sparked many writers to shift their literary focus towards a style that emphasized the glorification of the ordinary, spontaneity, the personal “I” of individuality, Nature as a living being, and an interest in the supernatural and exotic. One such writer was William Wordsworth. Born in 1770, his writing career began to take hold in the peak of this literary period. He would later become one of the most quintessential examples of a Romantic author. Writing poetry that focused on the spontaneous overflow of emotions and accentuated his love of the natural world, Wordsworth created a style that would become a basis for both criticism and comparison for years to come. Two poems that seem to emphasize the ideal qualities of Wordsworth’s work are Expostulation and Reply and The Tables Turned, both published in 1798 as components of Lyrical Ballads. According to Wordsworth, the two pieces originated in a conversation with a friend that resulted in a bit of a debate over differences in learning styles (Norton 250).
The first poem in the pair is Expostulation and Reply, in which the opening stanza sets up the ensuing disagreement:
Why, William, on that old grey stone,
Thus for the length of half a day,
Why, William, sit you thus alone,
And dream your time away? (lines 1-4).
Wordsworth’s friend is enquiring as to why he is wasting away his day sitting on a rock and dreaming his time away when he could be learning and gaining an enlightened mind. The friend follows by asking “where are your books?-that light bequeathed/To Beings else forlorn and blind!” (lines 5-6). The speaker of the poem believes it would be far better for Wordsworth to study the words of scholars, even if many of them are old and dead, rather than look to nature for the answers.
Wordsworth listens to what his friend has to say, and then replies in a way that demonstrates how much he values nature over traditional schooling:
The eye-it cannot chose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, wher’er they be,
Against or with our will (lines 17-20).
No matter how hard he tries, he will always experience through feeling and the manner in which nature speaks to his opened mind. Wordsworth is a student that learns in different ways. He learns better by observing and being one with his surroundings than by being book taught information. The things he is learning in nature feel more important to his life, teaching him things that he could never get from books alone.
Wordsworth asserts that you can’t help but learn when observing the world around you. You learn about yourself and how to be a passive thinker. Learning is not always an aggressive behavior that comes from an active education. Learning through...