Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee
I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
To muse on my own separate phantasy,
My own, my human mind, which passively< — "Mont Blanc," Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1816.
Both Wordsworth and Shelley wrote in an age that felt a new appreciation for the sublime in the natural world. People had become fascinated by nature's power and wonder. Yet the natural world depicted in Shelley's poetry is wilder and crueller than in Wordsworth's. In "Tintern Abbey" (text) Wordsworth writes about a "green pastoral landscape" (l.158) and he claims that "Nature never did betray/ The heart that loved her." (ll.122-123) He shows nature to be a gentle, nurturing force who teaches and soothes humanity. Shelley, however, focuses on a "dizzy ravine" whose grandeur puts him in a trance.
Each poet's attitude about nature stems, at least in part, from his actual location at the time when he composed his poem. As he wrote "Tintern Abbey" Wordsworth sat in the English countryside on a summer day. Shelley wrote his poem in the Alps, where he faced an icy mountain beyond the control of humanity. He saw glaciers capahble of destroying entire cities and "Frost and Sun in scorn of mortal power" (l.103); it should not surprise the reader that Shelley shows that nature's power and splendor is beyond man's capability or comprehension. "Plots of cottage ground" (l.11), on the other hand, seem a natural setting for Wordsworth "to recognize/ In nature and the language of the sense,/ The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,/ The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul/ Of all my moral being."
To show the natural world's significance independent from man Shelley addresses his poem directly to Mont Blanc. Wordsworth, however, loves but does not fear nature. He emphasizes people by speaking to his sister rather than the landscape. Wordsworth rarely writes for more than two or three lines about the scenery without mentioning himself. Shelley, however, focuses in long passages on the nature alone, apart from humanity, such as in:
Thus thou, Ravine of Arve — dark, deep Ravine —
Thou many — coulored, many voiced vale,
Over whose pines, and crags, and caverns sail
Fast cloud shadows and sunbeams: awful scene. (ll.12-15)
- Nature in Radcliffe and Wordsworth
- Nature in Shelley and Wordsworth
- Nature in Wordsworth and Tennyson
- Wordsworth and Coleridge on Nature
- Wordsworth and Coleridge as Romantic Nature Poets
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000