Class Blog

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.

The Fancied “Peele Castle”

“I could have fancied that the mighty Deep                                                                        Was even the gentlest of all gentle things. 

Ah! then , if mine had been the Painter’s hand,
To express what then I saw; and add the gleam,
The light that never was, on sea or land,
The consecration, and the Poet’s dream” (Wordsworth 11-16). 

Elegiac Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont, is something of a typical “romantic” poem by Wordsworth as well typical of the Romantic Era. Wordsworth’s focus on what is the spiritual connection between the mind and nature works to ultimately dictate the meaning of this elegy, using metaphorical language to elucidate a sort of reciprocal relationship between nature and emotions that we find in ourselves only through this connection. In this bit from the elegy, something I found substantial and certainly meaningful is the use of the word “fancied”. As one of the “Big Six” of the romantic poets, Wordsworth is known for utilize common factors in which distinguish the Romantic Era from others. As the concept of “imagination” part of the typical terminology of this Era, and as “fancied” is fairly synonymous with “imagined”, it is intriguing to think of how he differentiates the two terms; why he did not choose to simply write “imagined.” 

Though, in considering this conundrum respective to the rest of the elegy, and as Wordsworth continues to write, “Ah! then , if mine had been the Painter’s hand”, the significance of “fancied” reveals itself not only in Wordsworth’s interpretation of the painting, but also in him visualizing himself as Beaumont himself. As this is obviously not the case, it is possible that to Wordsworth, fancying something is a form of visualization with maybe less credence than that of imagination. This concept is reiterated later in saying “To express what then I saw; and add the gleam, The light that never was, on sea or land.” Here, he is seemingly coming to grips with what is real, and what is not. “To express what then I saw”, while later realizing that there was a “light that never was, on sea or land”, Wordsworth is conceptualizing a difference in what he has seen, or even imagined, versus what he has defined as “fancied”. “The light that never was, on sea or land” represents a struggle in his realization that in his connection to nature, or “sea” and “land”, he has worked to create mental fallacies that dictate how he interprets the world around him, and ultimately, how he interprets this painting. 

Consciousness in “Old Man Traveling”

After our conversation in class on Thursday, I wanted to look at the theme of  consciousness in Wordsworth’s “Old Man Traveling.” We see phrases related to consciousness throughout the poem: The birds “regard” the old man not, The old man “does not move with pain, but moves / With thought. He is insensibly subdued,” and “the young behold…the old man hardly feels.” Additionally, the section on patience, treats it as a conscious exertion “of which he has no need.” There is an effect here that the perfect state of being is one which does not have any contradictions with the natural world, and thus has no need of conscious exertions. We see this in the contrast between pain, which signifies resistance of the body and the nervous system, and thought, which is almost effortless. The fact that the young “behold” the thoughtless quality of the man, suggest that his effortless thoughtless being is desirable. It may also be true that the poem is intending to only romanticize his calm and peaceful manner, but that manner is achieved effortlessly and thus that is romanticized too.

If we consider that an unconscious state of being is the status quo in much of the natural world, the poems effect can be taken a step further, into advocacy for humanities return to a more natural state of being. That would also suggest that the old man is closer to nature than the young, and that therefore the process of aging brings us closer to nature, which in death it most literally does. Nature only briefly enters the poem in the form of the “Little hedgerow Birds” which regard the old man not, suggesting again that the old man is one with nature, so much so that he does not disturb small, notoriously skittish, birds. Much of the Romantic treatment of nature seems to be very sublime and awful, or otherwise very separate from ourselves and only achievable to the enlightened poets, so it is nice to see an old man, thoughtlessly doing what they try so hard to achieve.

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.

that time is past

William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” is a reflective monologue written in blank verse and iambic pentameter. Although this pattern is sometimes broken so as to adhere to a more natural way of speaking, which matches the theme of self-reflection and the inner thoughts that the speaker is having as he gazes on Tintern Abbey and the surrounding nature. I chose part of the third stanza to focus on, because of the way that the speaker refers to his younger self seeing the same sights his “mature” self is seeing now. 

This stanza describes the noticeable change in the speaker’s demeanor and the way he relates to nature from adolescence to adulthood while revisiting old places that are steeped in memory. While reminiscing about his youth, the speaker does not look back sadly like nostalgia sometimes can be. Instead, he is content to remember rather than try to replicate his bond to the natural world, acknowledging that he now looks at nature in a different way. He does not “mourn nor murmur” for “other gifts have followed” (87-88) his loss of his childhood fervor for nature. Now, he looks upon the views of nature described in the poem “not as in the hour of thoughtless youth” but now “hearing oftentimes the still sad music of humanity/nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power/to chasten and subdue” (91-94). He appreciates nature more calmly now, seeing humanity in it as opposed to believing himself as one with nature, inseparable and wild. He describes this by likening himself to a deer, nature for him then, he says, was “all in all” (76). The speaker references the “coarser pleasures of my boyish days/And their glad animal movements,” (74-75) again attributing his younger self as something uncontrollable and intense like a wild animal. He describes nature as it was then passionately, “aching joys” and “dizzy raptures,” (85-86) but clarifies that those times are now past. 

The sublime soul

William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” is such a romantic poem. Literally and periodically. “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” is composed of five stanzas in iambic pentameter which adds a natural cadence mimicking regularly paced human speech. Writing from the point of view of a returning admirer, Wordsworth deeply immerses his soul in the calming beauty of this specific setting of nature that in fact, never mentions this “Tintern Abbey”.

Right away in the first two opening lines of the poem, our attention is drawn to the repetition of “five” that occurs three times: “Five year”, “Five summers”, and “Five long winters” (l. 1-2).  This repetition immediately emphasizes just how long these five years felt to him that time has passed in nature’s equivalent to five summers and five winters. Further on, seclusion is also repeated which invokes an image of nature as separate from the world of man in its own wild “secluded” world where everything is untouched. Thus, when the narrator is in “towns and cities”(l. 27) where he experiences “hours of weariness”(l. 28), all he has to do is remember the undisturbed tranquility of the landscape to feel “sensations sweet”(l. 28). In other words, it is like a man being revived by the memory of sensations his lover has ingrained into his heart and brain. 

It’s not just his own mood that changes though. His entire being comes into focus when he is induced into the sublime peace: 

“Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul:” (l. 44-47)

As described in these lines, Wordsworth looks within and sees in his mind’s eye that he has transformed into “a living soul” as he has been guided to being free of his “corporeal frame” that bears human burdens previously described as “hours of weariness” (l. 28)  and “the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world” (l. 40-41)

The Art of Hopping

       Romantic poetry often focuses on the beauty of nature, the value of individual thoughts, and the power found in complexities. In a time where writing is largely a product of revolution, new thoughts and ideas are essential to the foundation of this new era of writing. Wordsworth explores all of these things in his poem, Lines Written in Early Spring, but goes beyond just recognizing beauty, or being excited about new ideas. Instead, this poem reflects the interconnected nature of all living things in the universe, as the speaker in the poem grapples with their own state of being, leading them to consider things around them that would otherwise be seen as something unimportant, like the thoughts of birds.

       The first stanza introduces the speaker’s environment, and slightly confused mental state; but it also breaks the otherwise consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB found throughout the rest of the poem. The speaker notes the thousands of “blended notes” they hear coming from the birds around them as they appreciate the harmony found in the nature around them (L. 1). Then follows this thought by their slight distress at the fact that “pleasant thoughts/ Bring sad thoughts to mind” (L.3-4). When considering the poem as a whole, the inconsistent rhyming between “notes” and “thoughts” actually allows the contradiction found in the speaker’s emotional state to seep into the form of the writing itself. The entire rhyme scheme pairs the final words of alternating lines, and despite the fact that the words in lines 1 and 3 are not direct rhymes, the pairing of “blended notes” and “thoughts” interested me. Maybe, the inconsistent form is meant to draw attention to the fact that the speaker’s thoughts break the “blend” and harmony found in his tranquil surroundings, where birds “hop and play” (L. 13). Much like how the literal presence and sound of the word “thoughts” breaks the rhyme scheme. This highlights one of the major themes within the poem, which is the speaker’s realization of complexity, both in himself, and in nature. The speaker recognizes the presence of emotional multiplicities first in themself, but then later in the birds.

         The hopping of the birds mentioned in line 13 is mirrored by the speaker’s words through the form of the poem itself. The rhyme scheme is significant to the connection between man and nature once again in that the rhyming of words “hops” between lines. The alternation of rhyming words as a result of the ABAB system is much like a bird that hops from one place to the next. Starting at one place, taking off, skipping over a short stretch of land, and then landing firmly at a spot not far in front of where the “hop” was started. The speaker feels that their soul becomes linked to nature (L. 5-6), this link is also forged in the form of the retelling itself. The speaker “cannot measure” (L.13) the bird’s thoughts, much like he cannot measure their own. Even the birds, as they play and hop only seem to display the “thrill of pleasure” (L. 16) 

       In forming a connection between the pleasant view of hopping birds, and the sadness the speaker finds in normal pleasant things, Wordsworth leaves audiences with a poem that shows that admiring nature is only scratching the surface of what the living things on earth actually have to offer. Even suggesting that the most pleasant things can be often correlated with corruption, sadness or other complete opposite feelings. To stop at something’s surface beauty or outward display of emotion deprives the onlooker of a certain “truth” that is apparent when one looks beyond initial appearances. 

A Red Red Rose

Robert Burns’ “A Red Red Rose” is an effusively romantic poem, both in structure and content. It is written with alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, which make it a type of ballad. The poem’s balladic structure enhances its romantic message by connecting it to the well-known romanticism and sentimentality of the genre.  

The narrator begins the poem by comparing their “luve” to both a “red, red rose” that is “newly sprung” and a “melodie” that is “sweetly played in tune” (Burns lines 1-4). These are common romantic similes which, alongside the ballad structure, set up the passionate tone of the poem.  

While the “luve” mentioned in the first stanza could refer to either the narrator’s love or their lover, the following stanzas are explicitly addressed to “my bonnie lass” and “my dear” (Burns lines 5, 8). In these stanzas, the narrator draws upon natural imagery to represent the passing of time and ensure their lover of the longevity of their affection. They state “I will love thee still, my dear / Till a’ the seas gang dry… And the rocks melt wi’ the sun… While the sands o’ life shall run!” (Burns lines 7-8, 10, 12). These exaggerated claims illustrate the strength of their love through impossible to imagine natural phenomena. Just as one can’t imagine the seas without water, the narrator can’t imagine their life without their love. The repetition that occurs among these phrases further reinforces the narrator’s vehement claims of devotion while simultaneously enhancing the poem’s balladic lyricism. 

Interestingly, these claims of eternal love contradict the first stanza’s similes, which compare the narrator’s “luve” to ephemeral objects (Burns line 1). “Newly sprung” roses die, melodies end, and instruments fall out of tune (Burns line 2-4). These comparisons (especially the one to “newly sprung” roses) suggest the beauty of a new relationship, as well as its inevitable impermanence (Burns line 2). The relationship between fleeting beauty and love is directly contrasted in the lines “As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, / So deep in luve am I” (Burns lines 5-6). The use of the phrases “as fair” and “so” suggest a connection between the lover’s beauty and the narrator’s adoration of them; while their lover is beautiful, they love her deeply, but will this dim alongside her appearance? (Burns lines 5-6). Perhaps the narrator is saying their love will remain as intense as if it is new, for as long as they can envision.  

Finally, in using both the Scots spelling “luve” and the English spelling “love,” the narrator gives a sense of universality to their affection. This enhances their final claim that their love would endure anywhere, even “ten thousand mile” away from their lover (Burns line 16). Overall, these romantic declarations encompass popular romantic themes by representing the impermanence of beauty and nature.  

Man vs Man: An Analysis of “Lines Written in Early Spring”

William Wordsworth’s 1798 poem entitled Lines Written in Early Spring is a short, 24-line, and six-stanza poem that tells the melancholy associated with the dissatisfaction with and disassociation between human nature and Nature [the personified object]. Indicative of the Romantic period, the dichotomy between the two forces lives in the quatrains that Wordsworth has writ, going back and forth between the narrator’s conflicting realizations within each individual quatrain. For instance, the fifth quatrain complicates the dream that the narrator wants to feel by expressing that he must “do all [they] can” to imagine that there was a pleasure in the simplicity of the “budding twigs” catching the “breezy air” (l. 17-20). The other stanzas and the form of ABAB rhyme conduct a similar feel of the dichotomy of man and nature. The rhyme scheme alternating between each quatrain establishes the bouncing of the narrator’s thoughts between man and nature, yet, it’s clear that the pressure lies within the individual; therefore, Wordsworth presents a covert existential crisis within the narrator regarding what man really, truly, is and wonders if they are turning into one of these men that terrorizes nature [the object] with the exasperation of the Industrial Revolution taking place.

The poem thrives upon the speaker’s inner thoughts and monologue, which both end up creating the dissonance between the unnatural beauty of Nature and the horror that is man within the structure of the poem’s lines. In the second stanza, the speaker explains that they feel this “link” to Nature in their “human soul that through [them] ran” and how it “grieved [their] heart to think/What man has made of man” (l. 5-8). I think it might be an interesting interpretation of this final line—which is repeated as the final phrase of the poem—that its impersonal nature is, potentially, a reflection of himself within the current world. The first “man” in the line refers to those partaking in the Industrial Revolution and those that have come before him literarily. He fears that these men, have taken advantage of the beauty and place Nature has, hence why the “thousand blended notes” heard as the speaker hides within the grove in the first stanza is quite powerful (l. 1-2). It resembles both natural sounds and industrial sounds, which spark his dissent into crisis as he recognizes, as seen in the latter half of the stanza, that it mixes both “pleasant” and “sad” thoughts together of what once was and what is now (l. 3-4). “Man” emulates the fault that man has committed against man, not Nature.

The second “man” might be read commonly as the basic noun, having no concrete connection to the speaker; however, I would propose that the second “man” is indeed personal, it’s just hidden within the rest of the poem until the final reiteration. Like the nature imagery, the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my,” repeat extensively within each stanza, but instead of the positive imagery that the natural elements represent, the personal pronouns are shown in a negative light such as “I cannot measure” and “I must think—do all I can” demonstrate the4 speaker’s internal worry that they are losing their unique bond with Nature (l. 14 and 19). The choice of phrasing the narrator in this manner indicates some level of existential worry that they are slowly becoming more aligned with the industrial/capitalistic side of man, rather than an appreciator. The personal conundrums the speaker presents matches the conundrum they feel when thinking of what had happened to man, to themselves, and lament what could have been had man not devolved unto himself.

An Emotional Bond

In the poem “The Thorn,” William Wordsworth continues the romantic emphasis on nature while connecting it to humanity and emotions. Wordsworth fills this poem with descriptive imagery of the thorn itself and the nature surrounding it. The second stanza states, “Like rock or stone, it is o’ergrown / With lichens to the very top / And hung with heavy tufts of moss, / A melancholy crop,” (l. 12-15). The image of the plant-covered stone paired with the word “melancholy,” make me think of old headstones left to the elements, unattended. In the third stanza the speaker solidifies this imagery by comparing the area where the thorn and moss are growing to a baby’s grave (l. 52). One thing that I noticed in this section was how the moss was described. Wordsworth devotes the fourth and fifth stanzas to this “lovely sight” (l. 35) and the  “beauteous dyes” of the moss (l. 51). When comparing this bed of moss to a baby’s grave Wordsworth writes, “But never, never, anywhere / An infant’s grave was half so fair!” (l. 54-55). Graves and headstones are meant to serve as a memorial to the dead. By comparing the bed of moss to a grave, Wordsworth implies a deep bond between Nature and humanity. This is because Nature is acting as the memorial of a human life, which now buried in the earth, provides for Nature.

There also seems to be a sense of comfort in nature within this poem. When Martha Ray was left by her lover, she went to the mountains. After she lost her baby, she continued to go to the mountains. After each of these heartbreaking and most likely traumatic experiences, Martha Ray has gone to the same place making it seem that the nature serves as an escape or at least a place where she can voice her pain more freely without others around. Wordsworth writes, “At all times of the day and night / This wretched woman thither goes, / And she is known to every star, / And every wind that blows,” (l. 67-70). By using the word “known,” Wordsworth makes it seem that the nature around Martha Ray is there to support her in a sense. A few lines latter Wordsworth writes that no matter the weather, Martha Ray always goes into the mountains to the spot where the thorn and moss grow (l. 71-77). The elements don’t seem to affect Martha Ray in this passage and makes me think that instead she finds some comfort in the nature around her since she is able to persevere so easily.