Ecocritical Reading of William Wordsworth’s Poetic Philosophy

    This paper is an attempt to present English poet William Wordsworth as an eco-friendly writer that he garnered in the latter phase of his writing career. Ecocritical writings are those which make the readers aware of the importance of nature and remind us of our responsibilities toward nature. This genre of writing emerged in the romantic period of English literature, which is also known as the second most creative period of English literature.

    Since Wordsworth is considered the forerunner of the English romantic writing it is no wonder that he is the key icon of ecocritical study. Likewise, the romanticism itself will be focused as much in this paper. Moreover, this paper aims to inspire the 21st century readers to follow the poetic philosophy of Wordsworth. In doing so, this paper consults several resources ranging from university course-book through some major poems of Wordsworth through online resources to other external books written on Wordsworth and his writing.

    The first half of the nineteenth century saw the triumph of Romanticism in literature and of democracy in government in several nations. William Wordsworth was the major contributor in emergence of the romanticism. He viewed nature superior to humans and any other living beings, for nature is the whole whereas human being is only a part of it. In addition, he showed the pathos of nature that had never before been realized, with the aim of proving the reciprocal relation between nature and humans. We need to take into account that nature heals humans and humans are supposed to do the same in return. The romantic poets created an ecological perspective in search of holistic perception of nature and to restore the close communication between nature and human beings.

    According to Michael Lowy and Robert Sayr, romantic literature manifests a nascent ecological consciousness “through its questioning of economic and technological progress and through its utopian aspiration to restore the lost harmony between humans and nature.” The romanticists are much worried about the effects of economic and scientific developments on nature. Due to the emergence of materialistic thought, humans are ready to do anything for their own goodness, without considering the nature. Hence, romanticists question the industrial, scientific, economic developments etc. for they are the most obvious factors that harm the environment. Wordsworth comes at the forefront of this movement. William J. Long, in his book ENGLISH LITERATURE: Its History and its Significance of the Life of the English Speaking World, has introduced Wordsworth as “the world’s greatest interpreter of nature’s message.” Likewise, some critics have argued that ‘Wordsworth’ is made up of ‘Words’ and ‘worth’. That is why his name itself is symbolic of his career.

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    Since he regards highly of nature, Wordsworth intends to say that humans are too much dependent upon nature for their mere survival. In “The Ruined Cottage”, Wordsworth says:

    At length [towards] the [Cottage I returned]

    Fondly, and traced with milder interest

    That secret spirit of humanity

    Which, ’mid the calm oblivious tendencies  

    Of nature, ’mid her plants, her weeds, and flowers,

    And silent overgrowings, still survived.

    When he goes back to his cottage, he feels the secret spirit of humanity, for the place is thinly dwelt or there is no one else except the poet himself. He has befriended the plants, weeds and flowers and they keep on secretly energizing him both spiritually and physically. He lived for 80 years and that must be because of his distance from the indsutrialised cities whereas many other romantic poets like Keats, Shelley, who lived in cities, died young. English Literature in Context, contains Peter J. Kitson’s writing on “The Romantic Period” in which he says:

    By 1830, something like modern class-consciousness had emerged with moreclearly identifiable upper, middle and working classes…. the increasing size of the population expanded the labour force, as well as the demand for goods and services…. the bad living conditions in the towns can be traced to lack of good brick, the absence of building of building codes, and the lack of machinery for public sanitation; but they were also due to the factory owners’ tendency to regard workers as commodities, or ‘hands’, and not as a group of human beings. (P. 311)

    Such were the reasons for Wordsworth to develop an inclination to nature because there is no problem at all of this kind. Most importantly, he regards nature the greatest teacher of all. As he says in “The Tables Turned”,

    “Come forth into the light of things

    Let nature be your teacher

    She has a wealth of ready wealth.”

    He saw the remedy of all the human sufferings in nature and the main cause of human sufferings was their inability to decipher the abundance nature has given. By leaving the nature back in nature itself, humans started shifting to the urban areas where they saw huge possibilities of materialistic enhancement, but they forgot that nature was the best place to be in. Wordsworth is an exception. He grieves on the fact that modernization, industrialization, economic mode of life, etc. are disastrous not only to the human beings, but the nature itself is in a huge threat.

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    According to Wordsworth, society and the crowded unnatural life of cities tend to weaken and corrupt humanity; and a return to natural and simple living is the only remedy for human wretchedness. So, we are not supposed to interrupt the cycle of nature, otherwise it is going to be not only harmful but destructive and it may even lead to the extinction of the entire living beings. Wordsworth believes God is everywhere in all natural objects. He asserts:

    “we shall never understand the emotions roused by a flower or a sunset until we learn that nature appeals through the eye of man to his inner spirit. In a word, nature must be spiritually discerned.”

    We need to have an intellectual capacity to grasp the ideas nature teaches. Wordsworth defines good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.” This means he is not only poetically but also theoretically and practically in defense of nature since he prioritizes a tranquil environment. Though they sound some sound hyperbolic, most of his poems are the philosophical doctrines which he learned from nature. In “Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower”, the fifth stanza goes:

    The stars of midnight shall be dear

    To her; and she shall lean her ear

    In many a secret place

    Where rivulets dance their wayward round,

    And beauty born of murmuring sound

    Shall pass into her face.

    Nature is the single most caring presence for anyone who is in pain. Wherever you go, nature is always ready to refresh you and it magically inserts peace in the dull minds. We need to have the art of reading and listening to nature’s message so that we can achieve the utmost joy that humans can ever experience. Every bit of nature is beautiful, except calamities caused by haphazard human settlement. In another poem, he requests the entire human being to have humanity upon the Earth: “From earth to man, from man to earth:/ – It is the hour of feeling.” We might not have understood the woes of nature so far, but now we are inevitably required to feel share our feelings with the earth. The more respect and love we give to the earth, the better it protects us from any danger. In “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, whenever he thinks of nature once he had been to, Wordsworth’s “heart with pleasure fills, / And dances with daffodils” which is “the bliss of solitude.” Likewise, in his fourteenth sonnet, he says “Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” The truth is, everything we have comes from nature but due to the centuries of habituation, we give unnoticeable importance to nature. It is a shame for the entire human community on earth, for in the name of fulfilling their current desires, they are digging their own graves bigger and deeper.

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    To sum up, this paper has attempted to see Wordsworth through ecocritical glasses. Nature is everywhere and everything we have is given by nature. So, this paper claims that it is our own responsibility, not anything else’s, to preserve the nature and let it grow in a natural manner. Wordsworth might not have been the greatest poet. However, no one else is comparable to him, for his philosophy is fully practical whereas those of other great poets are verbose and hyperbolic. By means of poetry, Wordsworth has proved himself the trailblazing protector of the earth.

    Works Cited

    Long, William J. ENGLISH LITERATURE: Its History and its Significance of the Life of the English Speaking World. Delhi: Maxford Books, 2003

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