Poets as Facilitators of Worship to a New Deity?

The Romantic poets are often lauded for their literary battles with long-held doctrines of the Christian church, battles spurred on by such well-known writers as Percy Shelley. Shelley envisioned poets as “prophets,” in that they brings ideas to light that are “the flower and the fruit of latest time” (from Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry). In fact, upon a closer reading of Wordworth’s The Prelude, one cannot help but start drawing connections between religious offices and the Romantic poet. As prophets and priests bring worshippers to God in the Church, so do Romantic poets bring worshippers to another deity: nature.

Orthodox Christianity still clings to the famous story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, two progenitors of the human race cast from their garden after eating forbidden fruit (already, contrasts can be drawn between this doctrine and the “fruit” of Shelley’s comment above). The result of their disgrace, according to Christianity, is humanity’s flaws, sin, and shame. Humankind was forevermore at odds with nature. Michelangelo captured this doctrine well in his famous Sistine Chapel:

“Expulsion” from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel

Christians today continue to hold to this doctrine. Romantic poets like Wordsworth, however, refuse to see humankind at odds with nature. It is to be feared, yes (as in Wordsworth’s childhood encounter with towering mountains in book one of The Prelude), but not ashamed of. For example, in book two of The Prelude, Wordsworth describes his growing spiritual immersion into the natural world from childhood. Such entities as the sky sank down “into my heart and held me like a dream” (line 174). He also praises the “filial bond/Of Nature that connect him with the world” (lines 243-44). Humankind is not to be ashamed or cast away from nature – rather, it is free to bond with nature. Wordsworth’s laudatory words toward nature can often sound an awful lot like hymnody. Perhaps he and Shelley can co-lead a worship service to a new deity?


~ by lostinthekeys on August 30, 2012.

3 Responses to “Poets as Facilitators of Worship to a New Deity?”

  1. There’s at least one theory or idea of Romanticism that says nature essentially replaces God.

    • Absolutely! I find theories like that especially interesting, as they demonstrate Romanticism’s direct relationship to the Enlightenment, which threw out God as a necessary participant in the affairs of the universe. Without a CREATOR to worship, the Romantics shift their attention to the CREATION, if you continue with that analogy.

  2. This is a very interesting and creative post, and your follow-up comment is especially revealing. As we discussed in class, John Milton’s Garden of Eden is very important for Wordsworth (and other Romantic poets) because this poem attempts to reverse the effects of the fall in the imagination. But your reference to Michelangelo is equally significant because it too tries to capture in art an idea of nature without shame (i.e, original sin). great job!

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