Article 1

 

Mysticism in Wordsworth's Poetry

By

    Dr. Syed Shahzad Hussain Zaidi

         MA &Ph.D. in English Literature

                      English Language Department

                         Faculty of Education, Al-Zulfi

                             Al- Majma’ah University

              

                

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in the The Literary Journal, at Maghad University

Mysticism, broadly defined, is a state of sublime imaginative and spiritual experience in which one has direct, immediate and intuitive perception of an all-embracing infinite and eternal reality –The Absolute Being. Mystic imagination sees a living relationship between the soul of man and the soul of the universe – a vision of cosmic unity, fraternity and fellowship. It is a temper rather than a doctrine, an atmosphere rather than a system of philosophy. The mystics believe that there is an essential unity in all objects of nature and human nature created by the Almighty God. The mystic keeps away the intellect from his faith that at the bottom of things there is a divine life linking all objects of creation into a harmonious bond of love and sympathy.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) changed the course of English Poetry. He made its subject the internal world of man, the strivings of the mind and the sublime experience of the soul. His predecessors James Thomson and Thomas Gray wrote nature poetry like Wordsworth, but in a rather different manner. They described the external world in a conventional way, as painted scenes, in a set stage.  William Wordsworth was the supreme pioneer and founder of the English Romantic Movement that broke the cult of dry rationalism in English poetry and ushered in a new era by establishing the sovereignty of intuition and imaginative vision in literature as well as in life.

 

Romantic imagination, as conceived and cultivated by the Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake and Shelley, etc., is something unique and unparalleled in its kind. It is that sublime faculty of human spirit through which we can penetrate the ultimate mysteries of human life, of the soul of man as well as of the universe. Imagination based on flashes of immediate awareness is a faculty that does not reject the reason and intellect of man. Emphasizing the supreme importance of the power of imagination. Wordsworth very perceptibly says:

 

            

          “…..Imagination, which, in truth,

Is but another name for absolute power

And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,

And reason in her most exalted mood.”

–Prelude, Book IV

 

                 Wordsworth produced a style of poetry which was based on direct autobiographical experience. In his view poetry was a philosophical vehicle and meditative activity formed from 'emotion recollected in tranquility.' For him it was a mean of apprehending a natural landscape charged with divine significance. Apart from few things that are trivial and commonplace in Wordsworth's poetry, there are gems of thought, which reflect the whole-truth. These thoughts are guide-posts in a philosophy which is not limited to country, race, or religion.

The mysticism of Wordsworth is something unique in its kind, though it shares some characteristics common to all modes of mysticism. It is a type of Nature-mysticism. Wordsworth’s mysticism differs from the Christian mysticism; it has something of the sublime beatific vision of Blake or the vision of Dante. Like all true mystics Wordsworth believes that human life has a divine origin and divine destiny. Like all true mystics Wordsworth believes that human life has a divine origin and divine destiny.

 

 

 

 

 

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;

The soul that rises with us, our life’s star

Hath had elsewhere its setting

And cometh from afar;

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From Gold, who is our home.”                                                                              

                           Ode on Intimations of Immortality                                       

 

 

              In his poetry, Wordsworth has developed his literary vision of nature through various stages. In the first stage, Wordsworth's first love of nature is a healthy boy's delight in outdoor life. In the second stage, Wordsworth develops a passion for a sensuous beauty of nature. Stage three refers to human-heartedness. The French Revolution opened his eyes and made him realize the dignity of the common man. This stage is followed by a final stage of the spiritual interpretation of nature. Since the poet believes that the Eternal Spirit pervades all objects of nature, it is important to go through his poetry in order to grasp how he expresses the impacts of nature on the health and well-being of the everyday life of humans. If the individual, in his quest for well-being, turns to nature, it is necessary to investigate on the relation between man and nature.

 

              Wordsworth was a mystic at heart, and mysticism was his great claim to be recognized as a poet of eminence and fame. He is not just the graphic portrayer of beautiful sights and scenes of nature; he left a record of his mystical experiences with nature and human life in his poetry. His poetry is not simply a joyous record of objects of nature viewed by him in moments of ecstasy and joy, but also a full experience of his mystical experience. When going through William Wordsworth's poetry, we can note how far his passion for Nature is evident and multiple. Unlike his contemporaries such as Coleridge, Byron, and Keats, Wordsworth has intellectualized Nature. Hence, the nickname “Prophet of Nature” is attributed to him and makes him not merely a poet of nature who is concerned less to marvel at its beauty than to exult at its inner significance.

 

Wordsworth saw life in all the objects of Nature-

           The world according to Wordsworth is a world of loving and active friendship. Every flower and cloud, every stream and hill, the stars and the birds have their own life and rejoice in communicating love to one another. His belief found expression in these lines:

It is my faith that every flower

Enjoys the air it breathes

………………………………..

The budding twigs spread out their fans

To catch the breezy air,

I must think, do all I can,

That there was pleasure there.

 

   Wordsworth not only loved Nature but glorified and divinized it. Wordsworth’s vision of Nature was constantly and consistently spiritual. To him the vision of Nature always vouchsafed the vision of the Divine spirit, the vision of that Cosmic Being.

                                                            
My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

     

              Wordsworth’s worship and adoration of Nature was never inspired by passion for aesthetic beauty, elegance and splendor. All forms and objects, aspects and appearances of Nature ­whether graceful, lovely and magnificent or awe inspiring and forbidding – alike stirred and stimulated his visionary imagination, for they all of them were to him equally the living emblems and images of the Divine spirit. How even the dreary and awesome spectacles of Nature could bring intimations of the Divine Reality and profoundly impress on his mind its sublimity, majesty and grandeur as vividly revealed in one of the celebrated passages of “Prelude”:

 

Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside

As if a voice were in them, the sick sight

And giddy prospect of the raving stream,

The unfettered clouds and region of the Heavens,

Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light–

Were all like workings of one mind, the features

Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree;

Characters of the great Apocalypse,

The types and symbols of Eternity,

Of first, and last, and midst, and without end.”

– Prelude, Book VI

 

Even an ordinary and apparently trivial thing of Nature could kindle his vision and fill him with lofty and elevated thoughts–leading him to the sublime and profound mystic contemplation of the Divine immanent in all creation.

 

“To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

                                                                         

All objects, high or low, sentient or insentient are to him suffused with the living presence of the Divine and with consciousness and will of their own. This is movingly expressed in the following me­morable lines of his– 

 

         “To every natural form, rock, fruit or flower,

Even the loose stones that cover the highway,

I gave a moral life: I saw them feel,

          Or linked them to some feeling: the great mass

Lay bedded in a quickening soul, and all

That I beheld respired with inward meaning.”

                                                                 –Prelude, Book III

 

              Wordsworth is commonly described as a poet of Nature. It does not mean he is a poet of Nature’s appearances or her landscapes only; in his most inspired moments he saw them as symbols of the Divine consciousness. “The meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

                             

For oft, when on my couch I lie,

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye;

Which is the bliss of solitude,

And then my heart with pleasure fill

And dances with the daffodils.

 

Since Nature aroused in Wordsworth’s mind a profound vision of the Wisdom and Spirit of the universe, as he calls it in the “Prelude”, he regarded it as the living fountain of his poetic inspiration and of moral and spiritual enlightenment and vision. He acknowledged that he was-

 

“Well pleased to recognize

In nature and the language of the sense

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,

The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul

Of all my moral being.

 –Tintern Abbey Re-visited

 

Glorification of the ordinary objects of Nature and human life

                Wordsworth as a mystic honored even the simplest and the most ordinary objects of nature and human life. The daisy and the cuckoo, the flower and the grass we tread underfoot, the humblest worm, the shepherd and the reaper, they all have a place in the scheme of the universe:

 

O blithe New-comer! I have heard,

I hear thee and rejoice.

O Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird,

Or but a wandering Voice?

…………………..

And I can listen to thee yet;

Can lie upon the plain

And listen, till I do beget

That golden time again.

 

 

O blessèd Bird! the earth we pace

Again appears to be

An unsubstantial, faery place;

That is fit home for Thee!

                                                            To The Cuckoo

Thee Winter in the garland wears
  That thinly decks his few grey hairs;
        Spring parts the clouds with softest airs,

That she may sun thee;
       Whole Summer-fields are thine by right;
And Autumn, melancholy wight!   
Doth in thy crimson head delight
When rains are on thee.

                                                      To the Daisy

                 If we explore the inner life of nature as Wordsworth conceives it, we find that one of its characteristics is its communicative joy. In fact, for Wordsworth, the nature is not only lively, but it is also blissful. For example, several poems communicated joy by the natural environment. In “To the Daisy” Wordsworth speaks of the „cheerful flower‟ as alert and gay. “The Daffodils” depicts the jocund daffodils that outdo the sparkling waves in glee.

                  All objects, high or low, sentient or insentient are to him suffused with the living presence of the Divine instinct with life and feeling, and even with consciousness and will of their own. He did not mimic Nature by trying to reveal her likeness to his own moods. He uses poetic expression to eliminate self, and reveal a higher plane of life than human life.

 

Consciousness of Perfect Being

                    Wordsworth makes us feel that we are parts of the whole universe, and that we have our own individual identities. He speaks of Nature and man, but he means that Nature is in man and man is in Nature, inseparable. He believed that God and His Divine spirit pervaded the entire universe- both animate and inanimate. The one divine spirit that permeated through nature and man, binds them together in the spirit of harmony and joy. Life in every flower, insect, bird, cloud, rainbow and shepherd is a part of the divine life. As he expresses himself in these lines:

 

No Nightingale did ever chaunt

        More welcome notes to weary bands

     Of travellers in some shady haunt,

                                   Among Arabian sands:

        A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard

           In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,

Breaking the silence of the seas

Among the farthest Hebrides.

                                                            The Solitary Reaper

            

   He takes us from the physical world into the realm of the invisible. He impresses us with consciousness of the oneness of things. The mountains lift up their peaks to the clouds, the stars twinkle, the sun sets to rise again, the flowers look up in silence, and though there are storms that darken the sky, yet there exists a supreme universal being connecting all.

              Sometimes he portrays Nature so vividly that the physical world is so diminished that we feel ourselves a part of pure spirit. Wordsworth skillfully depicted Nature's influence upon the physical world. In Lucy poems he expresses himself:                   

 

Three years she grew in sun and showers,

Then Nature said "A lovelier flower
On earth was never sown:
This Child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine, and I will make
A Lady of my own.

                      In Wordsworth's philosophy every part of the whole universe is linked with every other part. Every living being gives and receives honor and does honor, each other. The tree, the cloud, the cricket, the flower, through their own life and character, make us feel the spirit of friendliness and helpfulness.

To every Form of being is assigned

An active Principle:—howe’er removed

From sense and observation, it subsists

In all things, in all natures; in the stars

Of azure heaven, the unenduring clouds,

In flower and tree, in every pebbly stone

That paves the brooks, the stationary rocks,

The moving waters, and the invisible air.

 

A careful reading of “The Prelude” clearly shows that Wordsworth received the best part of his education from nature. In the first two books of this autobiographical poem we find that nature has been acting as a sort of glorified parent or schoolmistress. The poet appreciates the means employed by nature:

 

I heard among the solitary hills

                    Low breathings coming after me, and sounds

   Of undistinguishable motion, steps

     Almost as silent as the turf they trod.

 

It is noticeable that Wordsworth's ideal is to transcend the beauty of nature and view in it a mystic and living substance that heals the mind as well as the body. He is sure that everyone can share with him the same vision. This leads to the logical conclusion that the mystic forces of nature mean everything to Wordsworth, as nature is enriched with uninhibited capacities.

            Mysticism is the quintessence of Wordsworth’s poetry, the ultimate and unfailing source of its inspiration. While reason divides, disrupts and dissociates things, imagination links, unifies and binds them together. As he wrote:

 

Well pleased to recognize

In nature and the language of the sense

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,

The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul

Of all my moral being.

 

 –Tintern Abbey Re-visited

 

 

                                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORKS CITED

 

 

 

Beach, Joseph Warren. The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1966.

 

Compton-Rickett, Arthur. A History of English Literature. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd, 1963.

 

Drabble, Margaret. Wordsworth. London: Evan Brothers Limited, 1968.

Hough, Graham. The Romantic Poets. London: Arrow Books Ltd, 1961. Print.

 

Mukherjee, Sunil Kumar. William Wordsworth: An Evaluation of His Poetry. 9th Edition, New Delhi: Ramer Brothers, 2001.

 

Willey, Basil. The Eighteenth Century Background. London: Chatto & Windus, 1950.

 

Wordsworth, William. Poems. London: Harvard U P, 1995.

 

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