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William Wordsworth: A Poet of Nature

Updated on June 2, 2014
William Wordsworth (c. 1770-1850)
William Wordsworth (c. 1770-1850) | Source

What is a Poet?

William Wordsworth reveals his answer to the question 'what is a poet?' in his "Preface to 'Lyrical Ballads'". This definition finds its basis in the relationship between man and nature and man and other men. It is the poet's duty, according to Wordsworth, to act for the benefit of mankind by revealing nature to them. The poet is the interpreter between the words and wisdom of nature and the ears of man, the link between the natural world and humanity. Wordsworth's poet is a finite extension of and infinite presence, Nature, who is at once both student and teacher, forever learning and constantly teaching.

The Definition

Concerning the definition of a poet, that he " speaking to men" is foremost in Wordsworth's mind; he is conveying to mankind what Nature is saying to them. What results from the spoken words between the two beings is what Wordsworth defines as poetry, "...the image of man and nature". A poet is merely a mirror to the qualities of Nature, reflecting the ideas and teachings of Nature towards mankind; it is up to the "other men" to absorb what is being taught.

Through Nature, the poet is a man "...endued with a more lively sensibility". Endowed with the senses of both man of the natural, perception is dramatically increased to a new level of experience. The keenly developed sense of Nature creates a better ability to communicate. The senses are the only form of communication and survival in Nature, so, combined with man's complexity of communicative modes, the natural senses build a strength in man which enables him to experience things with the intensity of natural feeling.

This increased depth of feeling makes the poet more perceptive of life than 'other men'. The poet is a man "...who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life" because he has developed a greater appreciation for and understanding of it through the experiences of both his natural and human faculties. Because the poet has the ability to experience life on multiple levels, he has developed a more profound and varying joy in it.

Endowed with the senses of both man of the natural, perception is dramatically increased to a new level of experience.
Endowed with the senses of both man of the natural, perception is dramatically increased to a new level of experience.

The strength of these natural qualities joins and enhances the already keenly developed characteristics of a man. A man has the distinctly human ability of imagination; however, the poet has " ability of conjuring up in himself passions...[stronger]...that anything which...other men are accustomed to feel in themselves". The poet's imagination is a tool of immense power and ability that is greater than any other man's limited human imagination. The poet's imagination is also "...chiefly distinguished form other men by a greater promptness to think and feel without immediate external excitement". The poet has the capability to imagine things naturally, with no outside instigator; however, man's limitations prevent his imagination from conjuring any images without some external stimulation.

Through Nature's enhancement, the poet has a uniquely powerful ability of expression. Through greater sensibility, the poet "...has acquired a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and feels"; his strength in emotion gives him strength in his expression. The expanse of his mind has become more worldly with Nature's additions; therefore, he has more knowledge with which to convey Nature to mankind.

According to Wordsworth, the poet has two distinct duties to be performed with his unique characteristics: one of the slavish student and the other of the educating teacher. Because of his critical duty as teacher to mankind, "...his situation [as a student] is all together slavish...compared with the freedom and power of real substantial action and suffering". His endless charge as Nature's pupil keeps him bound to his 'classroom' and leaves him essentially unable to experience the reality that he is, indeed, a human being at his core. The most distinctive aspect of Wordsworth's poet is his role as a teacher of Nature, and " is proper that he should consider himself as in the situation of translator", too. The poet teaches mankind through translation; he interprets what Nature is communicating to 'other men' so that they might understand and benefit from it as well.

Deep inside, mankind knows that, without Nature, they are "forlorn and blind".
Deep inside, mankind knows that, without Nature, they are "forlorn and blind".

Wordsworth's poems "Expostulation and Reply" and "The Tables Turned" are superb examples of his living, working philosophy of the poet. "Expostulation and Reply" is essentially Wordsworth the man, conveying mankind's cry of hopelessness, speaking to Wordsworth the poet. The poet's duty is to translate "...that light bequeathed/ To Beings else forlorn and blind" (5-6). Nature is that light and it is up to Wordsworth the poet to bestow it upon mankind who is hopeless without Nature and its teachings.

"'You look round on...Mother Earth/ As if she for no purpose bore you'" (9-10), cries the heart of man to the poet. Deep inside, mankind knows that, without Nature, they are "forlorn and blind". This plea is towards Wordsworth the poet to remember his duty to impart Nature to them. The poet responds by asking, "'Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum/ Of things for ever speaking/ That nothing of itself will come/ But we must still be seeking?'" (25-28). The world and Nature are constantly teaching; therefore, the poet is constantly learning. Wordsworth reassures mankind that he will neither forget nor neglect his duties as the poet, but reminds the men that they must be receptive to what he teaches or else his efforts become meaningless and invalid.

"The Tables Turned" evokes an identical point of view towards the goodness and necessity of Nature as in "Expostulation and Reply"; however, in "The Tables Turned", the poet is calling mankind towards Nature through him. "Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books" (1), exclaims the poet directly to his "friend", mankind. He is encouraging them to do away with their books of human teachings and listen to what Nature has to say for she is the rightful teacher. Wordsworth invites the men to:

"[come] forth into the light of things/ Let Nature be [their] Teacher" for "She has a world of ready wealth/ Our minds and hearts to bless- / Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health/ Truth breathed by happiness" (15-20).

The light of Nature will lead mankind out of his hopeless state and bring them to a healthy life and the truth of happiness through her teachings.

The Conclusion

As long as there is Nature, there will be the poet to accompany it. Wordsworth "...considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other". In order for mankind to be knowledgeable of Nature, the poet must exist to convey her message and existence to 'other men'. Though the poet is physically finite, he lives on through his poetry for "Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge - it is immortal as the hearts of man". Even when the poet has longs since been gone, his heart and soul will endure and continue to teach of the infinite presence of Nature.

© 2014 SLGraham


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