What Has Man Made of Nature? – Reflections on Humans/Nature in “Lines Written in Early Spring”

William Wordsworth’s poem “Lines Written in Early Spring” possesses an inconspicuous title—readers expect descriptions of spring’s beauty, perhaps neutral or lighthearted. However, the poem is a reflective one alongside these romantic-style descriptions, and what the speaker’s reflections are about quickly become tragic: they are “In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts / Bring sad thoughts to the mind” (3-4), as described by the end of the first stanza. 

“Early Spring” scenery surrounds the speaker, implied to cause these pleasant thoughts. The speaker sprinkles brief descriptions of this scenery throughout the rest of the poem, including the birds hopping about and “playing,” “primrose-tufts,” “budding twigs,” “breezy air.” Wordsworth hardly describes large landscapes in the poem, choosing instead to narrow in on these small features of the landscape the speaker is in. Maybe this fact is related to the speaker’s reflective mood; since the speaker is in deep thought, they are more likely to focus on small details of what they are noticing and analyzing. Additionally, each of these brief descriptions contain word choice that paints a romantic view of these parts of nature. Though the speaker is reflecting about nature, the reflection stems from their “pleasant” thoughts about it. Therefore, they frame it as restorative, fun, and gentle (through the use of those descriptors like “playing,” “budding,” and more). These establish that through the speaker’s eyes, nature is peaceful/happy. In fact, the poem states that it is their “faith” that flowers enjoy the air they take in, and that every creature in the wild finds pleasure in their lives (11-16). Each of these choices emphasize the pleasantness in the natural world, magnifying it no matter how small the detail—this focus on the natural world invokes a lot of the ideas of the Romantic period. 

While nature causes pleasant thoughts for the speaker, and the resulting reflection brings about sad ones, the speaker still describes this process or mood as “sweet” (3-4). The “sweet” mood could refer to the speaker’s enjoyment of the natural world before they think too deeply. It could also be meant to be read closer to “bittersweet,” a necessary mood to be in sometimes that reveals truths of the world. It may also mean that the mood is simply “sweet” because of the fruitful analysis that comes with it. 

Finally, what stood out to me during my readings of this poem was the sad thought that resulted from the speaker’s situation: “To her fair works did Nature link / The human soul that through me ran; / And much it grieved my heart to think / What man has made of Man” (5-8). This romantic view of nature is contrasted with the grief the speaker experiences when speaking of “man,” humans. The speaker draws a clear connection between Man and Nature: “Nature” itself gives the speaker a human soul, making humans part of nature. Additionally, both Nature and the second “Man” are capitalized, linking them together as concepts within the poem. As for why the first “man” is not capitalized, it could be because of losing this connection—or otherwise trying to ignore or deny it, since man made this situation themselves according to the speaker. Humans (lowercase “man”) exist as if they did not come from the natural world and as if they are separate, causing the speaker to use very contrasting language referring to them and Nature. But in reality, the speaker implies, they began as humans (uppercase “Man”) that came directly from Nature like everything else in the world. This seems to be the central concern of the speaker’s reflection, and the cause of their grief.

3 thoughts on “What Has Man Made of Nature? – Reflections on Humans/Nature in “Lines Written in Early Spring””

  1. I like how you analyze the contrast between Man and Nature in this poem. I’ve noticed that many of Wordsworth’s poems focus on the minute details of nature, whether that be a bird, a dew drop, or a butterfly. In his poems “To the Cuckoo” and “To a Butterfly,” he simply describes lying in nature and observing each poem’s subject for an extended period of time. He seems to be suggesting that people should slow down and take pleasure in the minute details of life, just as nature does. This seems to be what separates Man from the joys of Nature.

    1. To join my fellow commenter, I also enjoy your contrasting of Man and Nature! The analysis of the spring sections and the pleasantness it brings does a great job of setting up the nature side of the equation and I agree with your conclusion that it is man’s seperation from nature that brings the melancholy. What I want to see more of is an analysis of why that is and what this poem or others, may say about how being seperate from nature, and a very specific romantic version of nature, is so sad. Also, how do they accomplish that effect?

  2. I really like what you said about the poem having a sweet and lighthearted feel. I think that this feeling is reinforced nicely by the tetrameter and abab rhyme scheme. This form is very familiar and makes the poem feel unified because closure comes so quickly. I also think it helps to emphasize the questions you raised about the refrain “What man has made of man?” because it is such a serious and multivalent question posed within the jaunty rhyme scheme, and interestingly, asks a weighty question right when the line is supposed to be closed by the rhyme.

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