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On Wordsworth and Emerson's Conceptions of Nature

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Abstract: By comparing and analyzing their two poems, I will try to define Wordsworth and EmersonЎЇs respective conception of nature. The reason why they formed such conceptions of nature is, to the former, lies in his passiveness; and to the latter, in German philosophy and bold individualism.

Key Words: conception of natureЈ»NATUREЈ»philosophical conception of natureЈ»common conception of natureЈ»passivenessЈ»individualism


I. Introduction

II. WordsworthЎЇs conception of nature

III. EmersonЎЇs double conceptions of nature

IV. Conclusion

ўс. Introduction

In the 19th century, romanticism prevailed as the literary mainstream throughout the European continent. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was one of the pioneers in the romanticist movement. As a great poet of nature, he wrote many famous poems to express his love for nature, one of which is ÐŽoI Wandered Lonely as a CloudÐŽ±. In the narrative poem, the poet successfully compared his loneliness with the happy and vital daffodils. The daffodils, the symbol of the nature, bring great joy and relief to the speaker. So WordsworthЎЇs conception of nature is that nature has a lot to do with man, it can not only refresh oneЎЇs soul and fill one with happiness, but it can also be reduced into a beautiful memory which will comfort oneЎЇs heart when in solitude. In 1832 Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), an American Unitarian minister, left the ministry for Europe to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. There he acquainted Wordsworth and got influenced by him. When he returned to New England, he accomplished his masterpiece Nature, in which he speaks loud his love for nature and explicates his philosophical ideas that earned him the reputation as TranscendentalismЎЇs most seminal force. However, Emerson did not just imitate Wordsworth or any other European romanticistЎЇs minds, rather, his conception of nature is a different and more complex one, which we can see from his poem Rhodora. Emerson holds that man and nature all come from the same power. So philosophically, this poem shows EmersonЎЇs transcendentalism is a kind of idealist monism. And his NATURE not only includes the common nature, but also includes manЎЇs body. So EmersonЎЇs conception of nature has double meaning, one is philosophical, the other common. After further exploration, we can find that WordsworthЎЇs conception of nature originates from his passive attitude toward life, while EmersonЎЇs owes to German philosophy and his strong individualism.

ўт.WordsworthЎЇs conception of nature

On July 14,1789, the Parisian people stormed the Bastille, which marked the outbreak of the French Revolution. Before long its great influence swept the whole European continent. In England all social contradictions sharpened in the meantime. Workers, peasants, and indeed all people of the lower classes as well as the progressive intellectuals hailed the French Revolution and its principle ÐŽo liberty, equality and fraternityÐŽ±. In company with the political movement in progress, a new trend also arose in the literary world, namely, romanticism. It prevailed in England during the period 1798-1832. In 1798, ÐŽoLyrical BalladsÐŽ±, with only about ten thousand words, came out as the manifesto to the English Romanticism, marking a new era in English literature. And its authors, William Wordsworth and his confidant Samuel T. Coleridge (1772-1834) became widely known as the ÐŽoLake PoetsÐŽ±. In the Preface to the ÐŽoLyrical BalladsÐŽ±, Wordsworth set forth his principles of poetry, which reads ÐŽo all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.ÐŽ± This forms a contrast to the classicism that made reason, order and the old, classical traditions the criteria in its poetical creations. Wordsworth holds that firstly the contents of a poem should focus on common country life and the beauty of nature, while the diction of a poem should be plain and vivid with the application of lower-class personsЎЇ daily language. The two main principles posed a strong challenge to the ÐŽoupper-class onlyÐŽ± Neo-classicism and quickly went popular.

In the eighteenth century poems were supposed to serve the upper class, and the theme usually had something to do with the upper-class life. In contrast, romanticism gave much attention to the nature. As a great poet of nature, he was the first to find words for the most elementary sensations of man face to face with natural phenomena. These sensations are universal and old, but once expressed in his poetry, become charmingly beautiful and new. His deep love for nature runs through such short lyrics as ÐŽoI Wandered Lonely as a CloudÐŽ±:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high oЎЇer vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the thess,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

In the first two stanzas the narrator, one version of the poet, tells us that one day when wandering through a landscape, he was struck by the sight of a field of daffodils. The first line ÐŽoI wondered lonely as a cloudÐŽ± immediately establishes the speakerЎЇs loneliness. And in sharp contrast with the poetЎЇs loneliness, the daffodils are happy and bristling with life: they are ÐŽodancingÐŽ±, and ÐŽotossingÐŽ± their heads. In addition, the daffodils are in large numbers. Their vast number is emphasized in the second stanza when the poet describes them



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