There have been greater poets than Wordsworth, but none more original,” says A. C. Bradley. Wordsworth’s chief originality is, of course to be sought in his poetry of Nature which is expressive of the formative, restorative, reassuring, moral and spiritual influence of Nature on the mind and personality of man.
The other Romantic poets have also been the lovers of Nature but whereas Shelley intellectualises nature and Keats is interested only in the colour and fragrance of Nature rather than seeking a meaning in it, it is only Wordsworth who spiritualises Nature. Intense spirituality is the distinctive quality in Wordsworth’s Nature poetry. But it is constantly to be kept in mind that before reaching this stage of intense spirituality, Wordsworth’s attitude to Nature underwent a progressive evolution—from ‘the coarser pleasures’ of the boyish days to an unreflecting passion untouched by intellectual interests or association to the transitory stage of human heartedness accompanied by a lasting and more significant stage of spiritual and mystical interpretation of Nature. This last stage has been termed as Pantheism and Warwick James says, “At this stage the foundation of Wordsworth’s entire existence was his mode of seeing God in Nature and Nature in God.”
Wordsworth’s passion for Nature is well-known. The ordinary sights and sounds of Nature usually ignored by us bring to the poet’s imagination a wealth of beauty and bliss. For instance, his heart is captivated by the sights of the waves and flowers dancing in sympathetic unison in their glee and remembers the scene with rapturous delight:
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Nature, according to Wordsworth, is a living entity. This belief distinguishes Wordsworth from other poets of Nature. Unlike other poets of Nature, he believes that Nature is endowed with life and consciousness and has the capacity of thinking, feeling and willing. The all-pervading soul of Nature imparts its own consciousness to all the different objects of Nature —
Fruits and flowers, stones and streams, rocks and rivers
To every natural form, rock, fruit and flower,
Even the loose stones that cover the highway
I gave a moral life: I saw then feel
What are their feelings? According to Wordsworth, entire nature is permeated by the feelings of joy and happiness, harmony and peace. The flowers enjoy the air they breathe, the waves and the daffodils dance together in glee and the sea bares her bosom to the moon in the ecstasy of her love. And there are no strifes, no cares and worries, no jealousy and hatred to disturb the peace and harmony, reigning in the heart of Nature. On the other hand, it is the feeling “I love and kinship that animates every object of Nature:
Love, now a universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing
From heart to heart is stealing
From earth to man, to earth—
It is the hour of feeling
Thus we find that Wordsworth regards Nature as a living entity radiating joy and happiness all around.
Wordsworth’s approach to Nature is that of a mystic. His mysticism is based on his conviction that God pervades the entire universe and all the varied phenomena are the outward manifestations of the same Eternal Reality. Every flower, bud and insect, every tree, hill and stream is imbued with Divine presence. In Tintern Abbey he describes his experience when he felt Immanent through the universe,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought
All rolls through all things
He experiences these mystic moments when:
The gross and visible frame of things
Relinquishes its hold upon the sense,
Yea, almost on the mind itself, and seems
The spiritual reality that lies beyond the world of senses is revealed in many of his poems. It is there in To the Cuckoo, in the Ode on Immortality, in Tintern Abbey and in several passages in The Prelude. The cuckoo appears to the poet to be ‘a wandering Voice’ which bring him ‘a tale of visionary hours’. It is not a bird, ‘but, an invisible thing, a voice, a mystery’. In the Ode on Immortality the poet speaks of a time when meadow, grove, and stream and every common sight seemed apparelled in a celestial light. In Tintern Abbey, the poet realises the ‘presence of the Eternal spirit
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky and in the mind of man.
Wordsworth believes that there is a pre-existing harmony between the mind of Man and Nature. According to Herbert Read, “Man and Nature, mind and the external world, are geared together and in unison complete the motive principle of the universe. They act and react upon each other, ‘so as to produce an infinite complexity of pain and pleasure’.” But when man becomes indifferent to Nature and her elevating influences then, according to Wordsworth, the miseries and misfortunes of mankind arise. He laments the loss of man’s contact with Nature when he writes:
The World is too much with us; late and soon
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours:
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.
Nature is constantly communicating its elevating thoughts to man. When the soul of man is in tune with the spirit of Nature, it receives impressions of virtue and wisdom that exercise an ennobling influence on human nature. Nature is “the best and truest of all teachers”.
Nature not only develops the mental and moral qualities of man but also helps him establish communion with the spirit that pervades the universe. Nature is thus not only a moral teacher but also a spiritual guide to man.
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
Wordsworth’s attitude towards nature has been called unrealistic. It has been said that if Wordsworth had known the tropical jungle, his philosophy of Nature would have been different. But the truth is that Wordsworth is not blind to the stern and cruel aspects of Nature. He can also depict the graver aspects of Nature. Wordsworth receives inspiration from his faith that there is an eternal spirit of peace and happiness at the heart of Nature and that this spirit can be communicated to the soul of man: Central peace subsisting at the heart of endless agitation.
Henry Duffin has rightly said, “His (Wordsworth) creed did not necessitate a nature uniformly benign. His claims were that all nature, animate and inanimate, shared in that ‘principle of joy’ which man himself overmuch neglected, that the spirit of nature, imaginatively known, could be an inspiring companion to the human spirit; that nature was a manifestation of the “Being of God.”