The Romantic Movement as Return to Nature

The Romantic Movement in English poetry is generally described as a "Return to Nature." But Nature for the Romantics were completely different from the notion held by Augustan or neo-classical authors. When Alexander Pope instructs… “First follow Nature, and your judgment frame/By her just standard which is still the same:”- Nature for Pope stood for normal reality or something like the universal laws of reason. Dr. Johnson characteristically asserted: "Nothing can please many, and-please long, but just representations of general nature” –he was talking about the same rationality; for the  Augustans were against indulgence in personal whims, eccentricities, and abnormalities because' they were "unnatural". But when the romantics shouted "Return to Nature", they meant that the people should return to the external world of sights and sounds, as also to primitive simplicity untainted by the fingers of refinement, or even "civilization." Thus we may say that the slogan "Return to Nature" in relation to and as an important aspect of the Romantic Movement in English poetry has mainly two facets. It implies:

(i)         Something like a political and philosophical idealism, a general love of simplicity and corresponding distrust of sophistication.

(ii)        Return to the sights and sounds of external Nature-the world of the sun, stars, trees, plants, flowers, birds, meadows, forests, etc.

Wordsworth is the "high priest of Nature". Nature to Wordsworth was everything. After his disillusionment with the French Revolution, he sought the "healing power" of Nature. Wordsworth's attitude to Nature continued changing throughout his life. It started with animal and sensuous pleasures and ended on a mystic note. God and Nature became one for him. Nature became the Universal Spirit ready for guiding anyone who would care to be guided by Her. Most of the rural characters he paints in his poetry are shown to be simple and uncorrupted mainly because of their close communion with Nature. Wordsworth "was concerned far less with the sensuous manifestations that delight most of our Nature poets than with the spiritual that he finds underlying these manifestations."

Coleridge's attitude to Nature, in the early phase of his poetic career, was similar to Wordsworth's. Very like Wordsworth he felt disillusioned at the consequences of the French Revolution and sought solace in Nature. At what Basil Willey calls "his most Wordsworthian stage," Coleridge felt Nature to be a guiding spirit and teacher. In Frost at Midnight he expresses his desire to entrust the instruction of his infant son to Nature. But in his later and more mature phase Coleridge became intensely concerned about the mystical and exotic aspects of Nature. His poems “Kubla Khan” and “The Rime of Ancient Mariner” are rich in unblemished supernaturalism.

Nature occupies a place of distinction in Shelley's poetry, too. .But as a poet of Nature-he is a class by himself. Shelley, like Wordsworth, believed that Nature was a living being. He, however, did not think of Nature as the Supreme Spirit meant to delight and teach human beings, but as a spirit full of the principle of love to which he did not assign any particular function. Again, sometimes, like Wordsworth, Shelley stressed the presence of a mystic bond of union between Nature and man. An important feature of Shelley's Nature poetry is the persistent mythopoetic element. He often suggests that the various aspects and objects of Nature are not just different parts of the One Being (as Wordsworth believed), but are separate entities each one independent of the rest. The West Wind becomes with Shelley a mighty destroyer and preserver; the cloud becomes the daughter of earth and water; the Mediterranean, a king; Night becomes the sister of Death and the mother of the "filmy-eyed" Sleep; and so forth. Shelley's myth-making power is at its luxuriant best in Hyperion. Shelley, like Wordsworth, found "healing power" in Nature, even when she is turbulent and wild.

Keats was also a great lover of Nature. He loved Nature not for her spiritual significance or deep messages conveyed by her, but for the sensuous pleasures which she offered. Compton-Rickett observes: "Whereas Wordsworth spiritualises and Shelley intellectualises Nature, Keats is content to express her through the senses: the colour, the scent, the touch, the pulsating music; these are the things that stir him to his depths; there is not a mood of Earth he does not love, not a season that will not cheer and inspire him." Another critic observes: "Keats seeks to know Nature perfectly and to enjoy her fully, with no ulterior thought than to give her complete expression. With him no considerations of theology, humanity or metaphysics mingle with Nature"

Keats's odes about Autumn and the Nightingale are very rich in sensuous appeal. They show Keats as a delicate and thorough observer of Nature. Like Wordsworth (who complained that "we murder to dissect") he protests against the interference of scientific studies in the sensuous wealth of Nature.

Byron was different in most respects from the rest of the romantic poets. He shared their love of Nature, though his love is of its own kind. "In this love", says a critic, "he has his own particular way, there is no meditative musing, little sense of mystery, but a very lively sense of wonder and delight in the energizing glories of Nature." Byron's love of Nature was partly a by-product of his contempt of man. He took a particular delight in envisioning and describing wild and terrifying objects and aspects of Nature which seem to be mocking, as it were, the insignificance of man. He did not deny, however, the healing power of Nature.

Nature plays a central role in the Romantic poet’s journey towards self-realization. 

Last modified: Saturday, 3 March 2018, 12:58 PM