Nature and Spirituality in William Wordsworth’s Poetry

Jonathan Wordsworth (a descendant of William Wordsworth), in his introduction to the Penguin edition of the four texts of the Prelude by William Wordsworth, makes interesting notes on the evolution of the poet’s view of nature and spirituality. He traces these thoughts from Tintern Abbey, where Wordsworth talks of a pantheistic divine presence – ‘the life of things’ – which is ‘interfused’ through every aspect of the natural world.

By the first version of the Prelude, the shorter poem ‘Was It For This’ (1798), he implies a more Platonic vision of a ‘soul of our first sympathies’. The ‘eternal spirit’ enlivens the infant being through love entering ‘like a breeze.’

By the end of 1799, and the completion of the two-part prelude, this is replaced by a humanist myth, which hints at psychological (ie Freudian) implications. Here is the infant babe at his mother’s breast, who ‘gather[s] passion from his mother’s eye’.

Such feelings pass into his torpid life
Like an awakening breeze, and hence his mind,
Even in the first trial of its powers,
Is prompt and watchful…
William Wordsworth, Two-Part Prelude (1799, II 274-7)

As JW points out, it is now the mother who represents nature, and who fits ‘Our new existence to existing things.’


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