Perpetual nature: continuities between romantic and rodernist nature poetry
The premise of this dissertation is that there are Romantic continuities present in the Modernist nature poetry and -imagery of T.S. Eliot and E.E. Cummings, which is especially apparent when compared to the nature poetry of William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley. Throughout this dissertation I sought to highlight the intriguing, albeit neglected, continuities that exist between Romantic and Modernist poetry in terms of the poetry’s approach to, and relationship with, the natural world. This was done with a view to contradicting modern criticism’s idea that Modernist nature poetry always seems to illustrate the disconnection between humans and the natural world, and that any meaning found in nature is simply a delusion. The goals of this dissertation involved: 1) analysing the ways in which the selected Romantic and Modernist poets portray nature, and the relationship between human beings and nature, in their poetry; 2) examining continuities that exist between the portrayal of nature in the selected Romantic and Modernist poets’ poetry; 3) considering an historical explanation as to why such unexpected continuities exist between the selected Romantic and Modernist portrayals of nature. Firstly, the research illustrated the possibility that similarities in historic circumstances of the Romantic and Modernist periods led to and perpetuated certain ideas regarding nature and the natural world which is expressed in the poetry of the selected poets. These repeating historical factors (present in both the Romantic and Modernist paradigms) includes the following: 1) mass-industrialization and urbanization, 2) the subversion of authoritative/political systems, 3) disillusionment caused by violence and warfare, 4) scientific findings that changed people’s understanding of the universe, 5) a general decline in spirituality/religious belief, and finally 6) the sense of a loss of meaning in society due to the aforementioned circumstances. In short, the collapse of culture and society led the respective Romantic and Modernist poets included in this study back to nature, in search of meaningful experiences. Next, an analysis of the nature poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley, Eliot and Cummings demonstrated that there are indeed prominent continuities in their use of natural imagery. These continuities include: 1) a sense of disconnection with nature due to urban sprawl, as well as a desire or longing to be reconnected with it. 2) The idea that, in a world of cities and machines, humans have lost the ability to appreciate the splendour if natural surroundings, which has led to disenchantment with the world. 3) Natural phenomena, especially images of the river, are reminders of a universal connectedness, which flows through both nature and the human mind and, with an invisible tie, binds all things. 4) Nature is the dwelling of supernatural or more-than-human elements, making it a sacred place, permeated by some “Power” – whether it is many gods, God, or an entirely different, unnamed deity. 5) It is mostly in, or through, nature where the speakers of the different poems become aware of the existence of the spiritual realm or the presence of a higher power. It seems that nature influences the mind in such a way (what Wordsworth calls a “blessed mood”) that one can gain an awareness of a world of meaning beyond everyday perception. 6) Nature itself has a power – it is a teacher of virtues, such as love and kindness, but most of all nature teaches us humility, and the wisdom of humility is endless (as Eliot states). It is by means of teaching humans humility that nature allows one to transcend oneself and one’s usual boundaries, and find a universal meaning or connectedness by seeing into the secret life of things. 7) In the nature poetry of the poets included in this study, nature is a sort of final refuge, where meaning and even spiritual connectedness remain possible, after such things had become lost in a chaotic society. This research challenges the statements of Robert Langbaum (The Modern Spirit, 1970) who put forward the idea that Modernist nature poetry necessarily depicts nature as a meaningless space, totally detached from the life of humans. It also supports the findings of more recent critics, such as Jonathan Bate who argues for the ecocritical value of Romantic poetry, as well as Modernist critics such as Etienne Terblanche and Elizabeth Black who put forward the psychological and even religious importance of nature in Modernist poetry.
- Humanities