Literature and Environment Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


Returning to Nature

They looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

-Exodus 16-10

The great Romantic bard William Wordsworth loved nature. To him, nature was a place to return to, not just in a physical sense, as in a sojourn or expedition, but in an emotional and spiritual sense. Returning to nature meant to revitalize an essential part of one's humanity through the cathartic and transformative powers of nature. To help unpack this concept, this essay will analyze two of Wordsworth's poems: "Nutting" and "The World is Too Much With Us."

"Nutting" is a Conversation poem, in the Coleridge tradition, between the Narrator and his Maiden (Rumens). Over the course of the poem, he's tells his Maiden about a day he spent gathering nuts in the forest and how, after gathering the nuts, he felt a sense of guilt for needlessly taking mother nature's bounty. He ends the poem with a warning, telling his Maiden (and by extension the reader) to be careful on how she treats nature because there's a "spirit in the woods," meaning that there's something sacred and special about the woods.

If "Nutting is a warning to readers to treat nature with respect, then Wordsworth's Petrarchan sonnet - "The World is Too Much with Us" - is a complaint about the lack of appreciation for Nature's beauty and vitality. The speaker laments industrial progress and wishes that people would reconnect with nature.

While it's important to understand the plot and action of these stories, where the strong bond created from returning back to nature most clearly manifests is in the language Wordsworth uses in the poems. The speaker in "Nutting" begins the poem by reflecting on his affinity for nature, "It seems a day / (I speak of one from many singled out) / One of those heavenly days which cannot die." The use of the adjective "heavenly" is critical to understanding the larger importance of what nature means to him. The word underscores both the speaker's reverence toward nature and the eternal quality he imagines it has. To drive that latter point home, the speaker adds the words "which cannot die." Of course, the reader knows that, in reality, each day passes (or dies). But the speaker clearly believes that nature has some transcendent quality to it, hence the high praise he gives it.

If deifying nature wasn't enough to convey the speaker's connection to nature, the displeasure he experiences after "de-nutting" the forest should serve as a window into the special relationship. The speaker claims he "dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crash / And merciless ravage; / and the shady nook / Of hazels, and the green mossy bower / Deform'd and sullied." One would think that by this description, the speaker didn't haphazardly harvest some nuts, but raped the whole forest. He describes the incident in such dramatic terms because he feels as though he's really harmed the earth.

His guilt only confirms that those acts (pulling on the branches, grabbing the nuts, etc.) were depredations in his mind. He says to the Maiden, "Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings / I felt a sense of pain when I beheld / The silent trees and the intruding sky." The pain he feels is guilt. And the silent trees and the intruding sky are like a tell-tale heart, beating below the floorboards. And, so, he concludes his conversation by warning his Maiden not to harm nature, because there's something special about nature. For him it's a spiritual bond that is strong and vibrant, it would be interesting to know if his Maiden shares it too (or if she thinks he's, forgive the pun, nuts!).

The language in "The World is Too Much With…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Cronon, William. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W.W. Norton &, 1996. Print.

Rumens, Carol. "The Romantic Poets: Nutting by William Wordsworth." The Guardian.

Guardian News and Media, 28 June 0026. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.


Cite This Essay:

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