The personifications of nature found in William Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey" and Alfred Tennyson's In Memoriam use the identical technique of picturing the nature of the natural world, but to extraordinarily different ends.
and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts. — William Wordsworth, "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey," 122-128.
Wordsworth, writing in 1798, at the forefront of the Romantic Era, crafts a woman who will not "betray/ The heart that loved her," who will "lead/ From joy to joy." He crafts nature not just as a woman, but as a kind-hearted, benevolent woman who serves the good of mankind and the world. She is his source for kindness, beauty, and "lofty thoughts;" she is the muse and nurturer of the Romantic poet and his mind.
Similarly, Tennyson also crafts a woman to represent nature but on different terms: She cries from cliff-top. His woman is not a nurturer who will not betray but one who cares for nothing. In the Neoclassical balance of "I bring to life, I bring to death," Nature is portrayed as extremely powerful and arbitrary. And where Wordsworth's female character of Nature feeds the mind with lofty thoughts, Tennyson's "know[s] no more."
"So careful of the type?" but no.
From scarp&egrace;d cliff and quarried stone
She cries, "A thousand types are gone;
I care for nothing, all shall go.
"Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death;
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more." — Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam 56, 1-8.
These divergent understandings of the same idea, expressed through identical technique, delineate the different theological views of nature and the world that each work expresses. Wordsworth's nature holds such benevolent powers because in her he finds sublime majesty and transcendence into the realm of God and the religious world. She fills his head with lofty thoughts while he pauses to reflect, confronted by the natural splendor of a particular scene; this careful introspection teaches him about himself and the world around him — in the case of "Tintern Abbey," more about his relationship with his sister. With this nearly divine power of nature and from his faith, partly religiously based, in its benevolence, he paints this gentle portrait. But Tennyson is under the sway of no such gentle feelings. Tennyson, confused by the death of his close friend Arthur Hallam, can find no gentleness in a world which caused such pain and crushed and bewildered his faith. Tennyson's nature is also so unkind because in In Memoriam she has far fewer of the religious overtones that pervade "Tintern Abbey:" the assault of evolutionary theory upon the religious doctrines of the time contributes to this harsh picture.
- Nature, Shelley, and Wordsworth
- Nature in Shelley and Wordsworth
- Wordsworth and Coleridge on Nature
- Wordsworth and Coleridge as Romantic Nature Poets
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