Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Healing Power of Landscapes as Shown in Wordsworth’s Nature Poems

William Wordsworth, the pioneer of the English Romantic movement, carefully studied the landscapes and showed their healing power on humans. As a poet of nature he always found a close relation between men and nature. Throughout his nature poems like Tintern Abbey, Michael and the Immortality Ode his study of nature fould full expression.

Like the many topographical or landscape poems “Tintern Abbey” describes the scene in detail, appealing to our eyes and ears — the sound of “rolling” waters, the sublime impressiveness of “steep and lofty cliffs,” and so forth.

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.

The poet is very much exalted to enjoy the natural surroundings of the place. The reference to “mountain-springs” comes with a suggestion of refreshment and because they have “a soft inland murmur’s of harmony and of seclusion. Wordsworth is here creating not merely a world- picture of a remembered sense but an image of an Eden of Peace, an Eden that is no less a mythic paradise for being a place in real country. For Wordsworth Paradise is a word that can be completely united and harmonized by mind and in the opening passage we see Wordsworth’s imagination imposing that order and harmony on the scene as he observe it.

The “steel and lofty cliffs” which impress on the mind “thoughts of more deep seclusion” at the same time “connect the landscape with the quiet of the sky.” The vertical lines of the cliffs at once enclose in their protective circle the scene in which the poet find himself and link the peace of the landscape with the profounder quiet of the heavens.

In this Eden there is of course a tree the “dark sycamore” under which the poet reposes and from which he views the human scene:-

“The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,”

The poet asserts that the “houseless woods” add a further sense of the paradise quality of life in the valley reminding us of the loneliness and shapelessness which surround it at a distance. The hermit sitting his fire, alone in his cave, is not a figure to be envied and the “vagrant dwellers” are shadow figures outside the ordered seclusion of the valley.

In the second stages of the poem, Wordsworth considers what he has gained from the memory of his first visit to the Wye Valley five years before. His recollections of the landscape have had a therapeutic effect, bringing him “tranquil restoration’ in “hours of weariness.” He also attributes to his remembrances of the Wye Valley a positive, albeit, unconscious influence upon his moral growth, an influence which has encouraged “acts/ of kindness and of love.” The memory of landscape he says has been a source of great joy to him and has acted on him as a stimulus to kind and sympathetic deeds.
He says:-

These beauteous forms,

Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:

The “beauteous forms” have preserved him in the loneliness of the city- a loneliness which is an echo of the very different loneliness of the Hermit. The forms as they have been remembered are those of nature humanized. This memory even in the noise of the city and in his loneliness, reminds him of man’s capacity for a harmonious relationship with other men and with the world around him.
Wordsworth continues that the recollection of the “forms” of valley creates in him a mood and a physical condition that are propitious to profound thought. What is described here is the state of physical harmony and mental quiet which may for example be induced by certain kind of music and in which it is possible for the mind to become usually contemplative and active. It seems that the remembered order and harmony of the Wye valley serve as a reassurance to the mind in its search for a similar order and harmony in the Universe as a whole. The mood described is apparent:-

…….the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:

Nature provides solace for man. It lightens his burden of humanity. The beauties of nature lull the human passion in a state of repose so that the poet may “become a living soul” a pure soul which can penetrate the corporeal forms of things and see into the life of things”. It is through a power in nature then that the poet transcends nature’s material forms and contemplates a higher more divine state of being. He develops an extraordinary insight as a result of the tranquilizing influence of the nature. By means of this insight he is in a position to understand the meaning, purpose and significance of the Universe.

In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

Through the exercise of memory pleasurable experiences of the past are still available to him. Moreover these experiences often have their most profound effect after they have been absorbed and contemplated. Thus remembering the harmonious form of the Wye Valle induces a mood in which the essential harmony of all things can be perceived.

The same effect of landscape on poet’s mind is expressed in the poem”Immortality Ode”. The speaker starts the poem saying wistfully that there was a time when all of nature seemed dreamlike to him, “apparelled in celestial light,” and that that time is past;

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

Then, he says that he still sees the rainbow, and that the rose is still lovely; the moon looks around the sky with delight, and starlight and sunshine are each beautiful. He can still appreciate the loveliness of the rainbow, the moon light, he sun shine etc, but the divine glory which the possessed has now departed.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.

While listening to the birds sings in springtime and watching the young lambs leap and play, he was stricken with a thought of grief. The sense of loss naturally makes Wordsworth sad.

while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
And while the young lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief:

But the sound of nearby waterfalls, the echoes of the mountains, and the gusting of the winds restored him to strength. He exhorts a shepherd boy to shout and play around him. He consoles himself with the thought that now nature has a deep meaning and significance for him which I did not have when he was a child. He may loss his childhood innocence, but he is thankful to his childhood which helped him understand his close affinity to immortality.

We find the touch of landscape from beginning to end in ‘Michael’.
“Michael” begins with Wordsworth taking us to the mystical place near Greenhead Ghyll, where Michael and his family live.

Wordsworth vividly describes the land on which Michael lives, making it seem like paradise. Michael lives in a solitary place in the valley among the high mountains. There is a small river and by the side of that small river there lie some uncut stones.

“Upon the Forest-side in Grasmere Vale
There dwelt a Shepherd, Michael was his name.”

The story in the poem is very simple and it is connected with these pieces of stones. Michael is then described as a shepherd who has worked the land all his life. Michael faces many storms in the company of the flock of sheep. He can understand the meanings of the winds. He can easily understand when a storm is coming. Michael has a deep love for his fields, rocks, stones and nature.
Hence he had learn'd the meaning of all winds,
Of blasts of every tone, and often-times
When others heeded not

Michael, his wife and his son are found to be busy in domestic affairs along with the sheepdogs. They work from sunrise to till sunset. The son remains busy repairing the plough of the sickle.

Wordsworth describes the cottage and the household with picturesque language. The cottage is on a high ground and during the evening the housewife lights the lamp. The house is named “The Evening Star.”

Down from the cicling by the chimney's edge,
Which in our ancient uncouth country style
Of day grew dim, the House-wife hung a lamp;
An aged utensil, which had perform'd
Service beyond all others of its kind.

As the poem continues we watch Luke grow up. At the age of five he is given a shepherds staff from his father. In the following lines Michael is forced to pay back a debt which he owes, and the only way he could do this is to either sell his land or have Luke work off the debt in the city. Before he goes his Father takes him to the brook with the many stones and asks him to lay the cornerstone for the Sheepfold. He wants him to come back one day and finish what he has started, and to leave a permanent mark on the land. He hopes that he will get back his property and built the sheepfold with collected stones.

The son is ruined. Soon Michael dies and his wife follows him. After some time the cottage is pulled down and the unfinished sheepfold is no longer seen. The Evening Star vanished and there emerged only the oak tree.

The Cottage which was nam'd The Evening Star
Is gone, the ploughshare has been through the ground
On which it stood; great changes have been wrought
In all the neighbourhood, yet the Oak is left
That grew beside their Door; and the remains
Of the unfinished Sheep-fold may be seen
Beside the boisterous brook of Green-head Gill.

From the above discussion we can say that Wordsworth is a landscape architect. He is a rounded and eminent practitioner of the art of landscape.