Wordsworth’s Religious Love of Nature in The Prelude

Wordsworth’s The Prelude is arguably his most autobiographical work in which he intimates his childhood as well as various experiences throughout his life, including his time in Cambridge and France. Books 1 and 2 in particular concern the retrospective episode of Wordsworth’s departure from London back to his beloved home in the Lake District and his reaffirmed admiring relationship with the natural world. Though the focus of the first two books is the poet’s childhood, Wordsworth is 17 by the end of the second book, suggesting that time has in a certain sense tainted his perception of memory, perhaps glorifying his remembrance of swimming nude with his companion, playing games in nature and his erotic experience with a stolen boat. Regardless of his potentially misremembered adolescence, the initial two books serve as a reinforcement of Wordsworth’s interdependence of experience with nature.

 

Throughout Book 1, Wordsworth expresses the interconnectedness of his love of nature with his aim of writing The Prelude, particularly in his execution of creating “some philosophic song / of truth that cherishes our daily life, / with meditations passionate from deep / recesses in man’s heart” (1.229-232). As the aim of the book in its totality is to convey verities of ‘daily life,’ the poet repeatedly rejects society for the quiet life lived in solitude with nature as his primary companion. Perhaps the most indicative excerpt of this notion is expressed in Wordsworth’s invocation of nature as an all-powerful entity:

Ye presence of Nature, in the sky

Or in the earth, ye visions of the hills

And the souls of lonely places, can I think

A vulgar hope was yours when ye employed

Such ministry – when ye through many a year

Haunting me thus among my boyish sports,

On caves and trees, upon the woods and hills.

Impressed upon all forms the characters

Of danger or desire, and thus did make

The surface of the universal earth

With triumph, and delight, and hope, and fear,

Work like a sea? (1.464-475)

The idea that nature is at once both awe-inspiring and also terrorizing gives way to Wordsworth’s homage he pays to his primary teacher, “ye mountains and ye lakes…ye mists and winds / that dwell among the hills where I was born” (2.424-426).

 

Book 2 presents the connectedness of religion with nature in the following lines: “I am content / with my own modest pleasure, and have lived / with God and Nature communing, removed / from little enmities and low desires” (2.428-431). Here, he introduces the relationship between God and nature and his religious surrender to God’s creation of nature as His primary accomplishment. By giving equal importance to both entities via their capitalization, Wordsworth further emphasizes his belief in the omnipotence of nature, as well as God. Prior to this excerpt, Wordsworth introduces the notion of nature as an educator by identifying a child’s morality with the instructions and teaching of the natural world: “many are the  joys / of youth, but, oh, what happiness to live / when every hour brings palpable access / of knowledge, when all knowledge is delight, / and sorrow is not there” (2.284-488). His repeated conveyance of the joy of nature and his exultance of it gives way to his expectation that nature teaches the child more adequately than formalized education can. In essence, Wordsworth’s relationship with nature is as complex as it is simple – while he attributes religious and educational capabilities to nature, he also recognizes coveted solitude and removal from civilization that he so desperately wants.

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~ by apocalypse122112 on August 30, 2012.

One Response to “Wordsworth’s Religious Love of Nature in The Prelude”

  1. This blog spends too much time summarizing book I and II of the Prelude, but concludes on a very interesting point about nature as a teacher. The relationship among nature, education, and discipline is worth exploring in more detail; taking the time to analyze some of the long quotes you introduced would have been especially helpful in analyzing this relationship.

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