What Have We Done to Ourselves?

What has humankind done to the natural world? What crimes have been committed in the name of man against the flora and fauna of our natural home? The speaker in William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written in Early Spring” ponders questions similar to these as they observe the simple pleasures of nature whilst relaxing in a grove of trees. It is here that the speaker ponders the natural landscape, noting budding flowers and birds hopping about. Wordsworth writes about the flowers and flora of the natural scene in front of him as if they have conscious minds, lending a level of personability to the inanimate objects and indicating that every part of nature takes pleasure in its home.

After observing this scene, the speaker then questions on two occasions, “What man has made of man.” (8, 24). The first time, the speaker is enjoying thoughts so pleasant in response to the beautiful grove he is sitting in, that worse thoughts begin to come to mind. These thoughts, in conjunction with the intense connection to nature the speaker experiences whilst sitting in the grove, are those of humankind, particularly how it has destroyed itself and parts of the natural world. The speaker then quickly moves on and begins taking note of the illustrious natural portrait painted before them, and realizes that each living piece of nature they can see is taking pleasure in the simplicity that is their natural environment.

The speaker then begins to wonder again, why couldn’t mankind take pleasure in that simplicity? Why has humanity come to, and how have we put ourselves there? If there is such pleasure found in the natural world, why has mankind destroyed so much of it? The speaker quickly realizes how sad it is that they must ask these questions and begs the reader to understand – “Have I not reason to lament / What man has made of man?” (23-24). This is the second time the speaker is pondering this idea, this question of what mankind has done to itself and the natural world, emphasizing the concept. This time around, however, the idea is shrouded in sadness, whereas the first time it was more of an observation. After all, the speaker has by then spent quite some time surrounded by the natural world that mankind is hell bent on destroying, and has developed a sense of empathy toward each aspect of the natural scene before them.

3 thoughts on “What Have We Done to Ourselves?”

  1. I really liked the way you started your response with rhetorical questions! I wonder if Wordsworth thought that the flowers had consciousness as I know some people that believe that or whether it was just for a poetic element. One thing that stood out to me in the poem was the first line where it talks about “blended notes.” Why do poets often put music and nature together? Perhaps there is some sort of audible beauty that Wordsworth wishes to bring forth, one that readers can imagine hearing.

  2. I like this rendition of analysis, and you explain the horror associated with the line quite well. I wonder if because he is commenting on how humans–men in particular–haven’t taken the time to appreciate the simplicity of nature, if then this is why he is hiding in the grove. I say hiding because he clearly feels like man has left him down on a personal level, and I wonder if that calls for the repetition of the line. I also wonder if he made any connections between the natural/divine world to the people he knew, as they are pretty particular images that may relate to man on some level. Just a thought to consider!

  3. Dear bordens,
    Your focus on the speaker’s questions of mankind and humanity in the spirit of nature is one I thoroughly enjoyed. Yes, as the speaker sits in the grove of trees, he is provoked by the beauty of nature to begin contemplating questions that are in stark contrast to the tranquility surrounding him. You write of the transition from “pleasant thoughts” to “worst thoughts” that is brought on by his observation of “the natural world that mankind is hell bent on destroying”. It couldn’t be more perfectly explained. Often, when something as naturally beautiful as, well, nature comes within our sight, we either admire it or lament the possibility that this sublime beauty will soon be undone by the hands of our own kind because that’s the truth of man; We exist because we destroy and we destroy because we exist.

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