Romanticism and nature

In one of my literature classes we are studying the Romantic period of British literature. Lots of poetry. Ugh. I’m very much a literalist. If the poem says that he’s lying in bed looking out the window at the sun, that’s what I picture, not the eternal struggle between the paralyzed proletariat and the monarchy. So, needless to say, interpretation of poetry is not easy for me. One thing that I’m finding fascinating though is that the Romantics (like Byron and Shelley and Wordsworth) were a direct reaction against the Enlightenment.

Stay with me here… during the Enlightenment, reason took over from religion as the dominant social force. The Romantics felt that it had gone too far. That the emphasis on reason had stripped any sense of wonder from the world. They believed that through nature, man could touch the divine. Or at least beauty, which was enough to renew a sense of wonder and ultimately enoble him. Poetry is the means through which man can experience those uplifting feelings when he’s not in nature. Wordsworth said that poetry was for reexperiencing emotion. He wrote a poem about taking his sister to see a certain vista that had been a source of comfort and peace to him for several years. He wrote that, by showing it to her, he got to experience that sense of wonder all over again and, basically wanted to communicate that same sense to his readers.

Shelley said that through nature we can experience true beauty and one cannot help but love that which is beautiful. He said that knowledge of a thing makes it more beautiful. Now, that’s a bit idealistic, but it’s just that idealism that appeals to me. He said that nature is the conduit through which we can glimpse beauty and, for some of the other Romantics who were believers,  the divine (Shelley did not believe in God therefore his concentration on beauty rather than God).

I must admit to having taken nature very much for granted for most of my life. I have lived on both coasts and in the middle of the United States and the only time I truly noticed nature was when it was missing. I missed being close to the water and the mountains when I was in the middle. I grew up on the west coast so I was used to having both around. Now that it’s snowed here, I realize that I miss being in upstate New York where it really did look like a picture postcard when it snowed. When we move from here, I’ll miss the huge white birds that nest in a tree on my way to school in Spring.

My point is, I am learning every day, in many different ways, and from many different teachers, to appreciate the world around me. Nature has been seen as beautiful and perfect in its simplicity and necessity throughout time. Who am I to argue?

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