Sublime Nature in Wordsworth: Romantic Ecology

Sublime Nature in Wordsworth: Romantic Ecology

“Wordsworth’s association of nature with deep individual feeling and an amorphously transcendental spirituality, in opposition to modern social and economic life in the city, remains his greatest environmental legacy today” (Bennet, 207). William Wordsworth or the “poet laureate” of the romantic era was criticized more often than not due to this opposition of urbanized lifestyle. Nature, to Wordsworth was the mirrored presence of God. This spirituality that Wordsworth’s possesses in regards to nature suggests that “Nature could be a vital restorative power to all who had suffered a breakdown of their faith” (Lacey, 58). This ventures into the domain of Romantic ecology, which can be understood as a searching/yearning for metaphorical symbols in nature that replace those of religion in terms of major associations like identity. In a nutshell, romantic ecology is useful for the association of one’s identity and holistic meaning in relation to traditional religion, one which was subjective to the person experiencing it. Romanticism in this regard presents itself as a response to sublimity in nature, where sights and images are so awe-inducing that it instates a sense of fear and identity crisis. On this note, focused upon will be three of Wordsworth’s poems involving the sublime in nature; The world is too much with us, My heart leaps up and I wandered lonely as a cloud in relation to their place in romantic ecology, in tandem with the poem’s usage of sublime nature.


The World is Too Much with Us is an Italian sonnet that Wordsworth used as a critique in response to the Industrial Revolution and traditional social values/norms that were upheld by the people of the romantic era. This is due to the fact that people of the romantic period possessed a serious infatuation with things materialistic and distanced themselves from nature through means of urbanization, industrialization and even colonialism. Essentially this is Wordsworth’s way of stressing the importance of integrating affiliations to the immediate surroundings of nature to his reader. These sprouting branches of capitalism to Wordsworth incited a “Getting and spending” (2) culture, which “infected British society with greed and unrealizable desire, creating a society of individuals now ‘out of tune’ with nature (2, 8)” (Mason, 27) which Wordsworth insinuates lays waste to “our powers” (2). We take what is natural for granted, only to find happiness in what is monetary and materialistic and all the while lose our connectedness with nature. Romantic Ecology is distinguishable here, due to the nature in which it presents itself since it is done as a way to coerce a doomed society bent on exploiting natural resources for compensation. This is exactly what Wordsworth aimed to do with the work, to change the notion of “improvement” in nature, where improvement is the tending of land to bring about selfishly a profit (Mason, 27). Wordsworth is also attempting to communicate/level with the members of romantic society to come to terms with the fact that nature is in our immediate surroundings, and it would be ideal to revert back to simpler times where nature was held in high regard and was identified as the physical manifestation of god’s creations. Since sublime nature is the combination of both fear-inducing and bring about feelings of vulnerability and weakness, “nature guides the mind to a “sense sublime/Of something more deeply interfused” (Kelley, 130). This is evident when vulnerability and fear are interfused together when Wordsworth describes the sea and the wind, “This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon/The winds that will be howling at all hours” (5-6). The wind “howling” can be equated to the howling of some angry or lonesome creature in an effort to induce this feeling of fear and vulnerability. It is argued that “Wordsworth was drawn into the concept of the sublime because it described the emotional and imaginative impressions that nature effected on the individual” (Mason, 28), and this imaginative, emotional impact that nature has provided Wordsworth is evident in his lyrical poetry, along such works as My heart leaps up.


My heart leaps up is an example of this emotional impact felt by Wordsworth, which pervades evidently within his lyrical poetry. This is because lyrical poetry is done to associate personal emotions and feelings which a significant stimulus (nature in Wordsworth’s case) had provided the observer. His affiliation with his private divine (nature) is evident here, as he states that he has and always will be one with nature. Consider the title of the work “My heart leaps up”, does this entail a feeling of happiness and warming? What conclusions would you make in regards to a person’s heart “leaping up” if nature was the premise? Physiologically you may want to consult a doctor, but metaphorically Wordsworth is in bliss when faced with nature in its true form. Wordsworth is emphasizing once again his devotion to nature, stating that the sight of “A Rainbow in the sky” (2) is something that has evoked a heart-warming sensation since his “life began” (3) and will continue when until he “grows old” (5). He wishes for this sensation to continue, for if not he wishes death (6). In the final three lines, Wordsworth states “The Child is Father of the Man” (7), which alludes to the wise and youthful spirit of Wordsworth being essential for life-lessons in relation to nature to older adults or perhaps even in a grander-scheme of things, the progression of industrialization in society. Finally, when he wishes all his days to be “Bound each to each by natural piety” (9) he is stating his desire to identify with his affiliation to his own religion, “the signature of the Creator” (Lacey, 73) on nature. Romantic ecology is apparent here, especially in the seventh line, “Child is the Father of the Man” (7) where he suggests that it is crucial to demonstrate to folks from older generation cohorts why nature is so important, including the sublime in nature illustrated by the awe-inspiring “Rainbow” (1) that Wordsworth notes here. Overall, My heart leaps up is an exemplary representation of the sublime in nature however it is extremely underrated and overlooked by critics. A more famous rendition of the value of affiliation to nature is presented to us with I wandered lonely as a cloud.


Arguably one of the greatest works of Wordsworth’s contribution to romantic ecology and the sublime in nature comes in a simple four stanza articulation that contains a rhyming couplet at the end of each. I wandered lonely as a cloud in a nutshell is a positive mood shift in one of Wordsworth’s lonesome moods which switches to infatuation in response to a sight which he had the opportunity to on-look which left a residual feeling of happiness as he reflected on the sight later on in the day as he relaxed. This is an example of Romantic ecology on its own, as Wordsworth recognized that the daffodils “fluttering and dancing in the wind” (6) were meaningful to him, and presented itself as a symbol of freedom and beauty in nature which also significantly freed him from his mood. The narrator of this poem experiences sublime nature from a first-person point of view in the form of a cloud, but switches back to Wordsworth’s account towards the final stanza. Initially, the cloud is “wandering” (1) through the “vales and Hills” (2) solitarily. The word “lonely” can be equated to feelings of sadness and despair, and interestingly enough it has been said that clouds are not only representative of cosmology, but also “of inner states” (Jacobus, 11). This implies that since Wordsworth’s cloud represents his somber mind-state, than the cloud is presumably darker, where dark clouds “indicate tempestuous events or passions” (Jacobus, 11). What are these inner conflicts which Wordsworth faces preceding glimpses of the daffodils? It is said that clouds to the people of the romantic period were “a metaphor for mobility and transformation” (Jacobus, 10) which aids in this conflict resolution and it suggests that although Wordsworth’s mood state was initially somber, through the notion of mobility and transport he is eagerly moved to a better state of mind, well-being and higher thinking. Upon witnessing these daffodils, Wordsworth is able to drag himself out of the somber mindset he has been casted in, and articulates something much bigger than ourselves with the daffodils being “Continuous as the stars shine” (7) and “Twinkling/Stretching in never-ending line” (8-9), an allusion to space, time and the universe where “The physical universe is the pure signature of the Creator and forms of nature are “symbols of eternity”. (Lacey, 73). This is way out of Wordsworth’s time, he has literally transcended generations to philosophically consider nature’s role in the universe and how it surrounds all that we know. The poem than fizzles out with a reflection that Wordsworth has much later (chronologically) about what he saw.  “I gazed-and gazed-but little thought/What wealth the show to me had brought” (17-18) are staple features of Wordsworth’s ideology in regards to this work. This instance of the sublime in nature had been a significant impact on Wordsworth, to which he finds himself recollecting later on when he is back at home. He determines that through any mood, “vacant or in pensive” (20) these beautiful moments in nature “flash upon that inward eye” (21) and fills his heart with joy, leaving his emotions to “dance with the daffodils” (24). Romantic ecology is evident here again, as Wordsworth has these conceptions about nature being a higher power before anyone in his time really could understand what a higher-power was, “because we recognize in his cloud landscapes of how there is always more than the mind can grasp in nature” (Jacobus, 11).

To conclude, there is a need for emphasis when it comes to the importance of the sublime and the role of romantic ecology in Wordsworth’s work. He is both a pioneer environmentalism and conservationism, and provided a connectedness between people whom had a falling out with traditional religious views and god, since being in the presence of nature to Wordsworth was the same as being in the presence of god. I wander lonely as a cloud possesses sublime imagery of nature, but also a psychological element counter-part. Sublime Nature in this sense is able to alleviate stress, loneliness and despair for not just the time being but for a residual amount of time. My heart leaps up presents Wordsworth as a lover of nature in the past and a disciple of nature in the future, and desires that his days be “Bound each-to-each in natural piety” (8) which means to ensure his days are affiliated with those of a higher-power/force within nature. The world is too much with us may seem like a simple rebuttal to the industrial revolution on the surface, however is also a suggestion of a coerced path in humanity where we need to establish nature as a high-virtue and a privilege, not an exploitable resource. If you combine those three take-away messages, you will end up with Wordsworth suggesting that nature is responsible for positive mood changes, an association to a higher power and a same page understanding of grounding in relation to nature’s place in society. This seems like a parallel to organized religion, where there is a worshiped higher-power, a sense of good feeling after worship and debates on the place of religion contemporarily. This is in fact the form of romantic ecology, where traditional religious fall-outs may be integrated into a different form of religion, nature.


Annotated Bibliography

Bennet, Andrew, ed. William Wordsworth in Context. Comp. Scott Hess. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015. Print.

An essay produced by Scott Hess in William Wordsworth in Context on the premise of nature and the land’s impact on Wordsworth’s poetry concluded that ““Wordsworth’s association of nature with deep individual feeling and an amorphously transcendental spirituality, in opposition to modern social and economic life in the city, remains his greatest environmental legacy today” (Bennet, 207). This notion of rustic lifestyle enacted by Wordsworth (in Lake District) was very influential on his poetry involving sublime nature, and is a great greeting summation of the focus essay.

Jacobus, Mary. Romantic Things: A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud. London: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Print

Jacobus provides an exemplary analysis of cloud landscapes within Wordsworth’s literature. She argues that clouds reflect “inner states” (Jacobus, 11) and how a somber mood could indicate that the cloud is darker, where dark clouds indicate “tempestuous events or passions” (Jacobus, 11). She also argues that clouds for the people of the romantic era could be equated to a motive for mobility or transportation, which can be linked to Wordsworth’s inner mood being transported into a happier place upon witnessing the sublime in nature.

Kelley, Theresa M. “Wordsworth, Kant, and the Romantic Sublime.” Philological Quarterly 63.1 (1984): 130. ProQuest. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Kelley argues that the Kantian and Wordsworthian concerns of the sublime are quite similar, being that nature has an “illimitable magnitude” (Kelley, 130) in the mind. However, one quote that reared a significance on the way which is Wordsworth transports the mind into a “sense sublime of something more deeply interfused” (Kelley, 131) is the link between the fear and vulnerability which is felt while encountering sublime nature. In this way, fear and vulnerability are fused together as one and induce a notion of sublimity in nature due to an awe-inducing sight.

Lacey, Norman. Wordsworth’s View of Nature. Hamden: Archon, 1965. Print.

In his book Wordsworth’s View of Nature, Lacey provides many different aspects of how Wordsworth perceived nature in different works including Lyrical Ballads and The Prelude, however what was most interesting were Wordsworth’s views of nature on basis of some of his shorter works, like the ones covered in the focus essay. It is argued that Wordsworth “was in touch with the Creator of man and of nature/from which came all his delight, and his knowledge of nature” (Lacey, 65) and that nature was “the signature of the Creator” (Lacey, 73). This adds to the effects of romantic ecology within Wordsworth’s poetry, lyrics and sonnets because nature seems to take the form of organized religion, which he is a disciple to, which is also illustrated when Lacey states “Nature could be a vital restorative power to all who had suffered a breakdown of their faith” (Lacey, 58).

Mason, Emma. The Cambridge Introduction to William Wordsworth. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Mason provides an analysis of the “getting and spending” culture which pervaded British society in The world is too much with us and how Wordsworth used it as fuel to rebuttal the industrial revolution. “Improvement” is what the romantics referred to in relation to “the tending of land to bring in profit” (Mason, 27) and it is indicated that Wordsworth was of high opposition (even appauled) on basis of destroying natural resources as a means of providing monetary prowess. This is what Wordsworth “aimed to do with the work, to change the notion of “improvement” in nature, where improvement is the tending of land to bring about selfishly a profit (Mason, 27).