The Fathers of Romanticism: Nature as an Escape

William Wordsworth once said: "Come forth into the light of things; let nature be your teacher" (Wordsworth, 1798). Nature is the ultimate guide, parent, and mentor, for it teaches numerous lessons one can always benefit from. Rebelliousness was the armor of the Romantics, and individuality was their shield. The Romantic era is characterized by individualism and rebelliousness against established conventions such as materialism, and industrialism. Romantics advocated for an escape to nature as a means of getting away from their difficult circumstances. They highly regarded nature as their convent, they sought oneness with nature. To the Romantic rebel, emotion trumped reason and logic, and feelings triumphed over intellect. Romanticism's most famous pioneers and fathers are William Wordsworth, William Blake, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 


Romantic Poet: William Blake
Romantic Poet: William Blake

"The Echoing Green", a poem crafted by William Blake in 1789 through his volume Songs of Innocence and Experience, is a work of art that uses simplistic and lyrical language but conveys powerful undertones. Blake is known to be a mystical and visionary poet because he chose to write about the two contrasting sides of the human soul. “The Echoing Green” sets an innocent tone as it describes how children, uncorrupted by society’s woes and misfortunes, play in a green field on a sunny spring day. The idea of innocence, especially lost innocence, is present throughout the entire poem. Children are contrasted with adults who remember their own childhood and lament it. Moreover, the poem represents closeness with nature and how it can bring peace and serenity in one’s soul and mind. There is harmony between the child and the adult, and eventually the children retreat to their mother’s laps as birds return to their nests, where it’s safe and sound (Blake, 2015). The poem ends with a sunset, the verse “On the darkening green” symbolically associates the end of the day with the realization that childhood itself eventually comes to an end (Blake, 2015). As the sun sets in the end of the poem, reality starts to kick in. Thus, the reader realizes that childhood, innocence, and freedom do not last forever. The children play in a green field that is void of authority and doesn’t belong to anyone. This further symbolizes how nature is untamed and free. Additionally, spring symbolizes fertility and growth, as well as liberation from the gloominess of winter. 


Romantic Poet: William Wordsworth
Romantic Poet: William Wordsworth

"My Heart Leaps Up" a lyrical poem written by William Wordsworth in 1802, is a poem that also conveys innocence and oneness with nature. The speaker in this poem undergoes extreme awe and joy when he sees a rainbow in the sky. There is a personification in the very first line of the poem "My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky" that signifies the speaker's enthusiasm (Wordsworth, 1807). This poem is very powerful in meaning, regardless of its simplistic tone, for it symbolizes the significance of innocence. Innocence is essential and man should never outgrow that phase because it is the only factor that keeps man sane. The speaker in this poem doesn’t lament the past, but rather takes solace in his memories, for the child inside is eternal. The speaker states "The Child is the father of Man"(Wordsworth, 1807). What is meant here is extremely powerful, the speaker is commenting on how children teach endless lessons to adults and how the child in each person should always thrive and never die. Society tends to destroy the innocence of man, but this is what keeps man stable. In this poem, the rainbow is a symbol of hope, because a rainbow appears after a storm. This can indicate that the rainbow can be the end of turmoil since the Romantics tried to evade their harsh conditions marked by industrialism and materialism. Nature was the complete opposite of that. To the father of Romanticism, Wordsworth, nature was portrayed as a "natural piety" (Wordsworth,1807). Nature is depicted as religious and needs worshipping. Childhood is not corrupted by society and experience. Hence, childhood and innocence go hand in hand with uncontaminated nature. Pantheism is represented in this poem throughout the words of the speaker, who insists on how one should never let go of the child in them. This poem is meant to encourage people not to let experience corrupt them. Nature is regarded as a place for religious devotion. Furthermore, the sublime is also present in nature, where it is both a source of wonder and fear. 


Romantic Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Romantic Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"To Nature" is a sonnet written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge during the Romantic period. Here, the speaker calls on man to have faith in nature, for it is the only bearer of true peace. This poem reflects Pantheism the most, for Coleridge further portrays nature as a place of worship. The speaker addresses nature directly and displays religious imagery directly. Nature, as previously stated, is not corrupted by society and its industrialism. The poem is extremely devout, and the speaker insists on representing nature as a place of devotion. God is seen in nature, for he is one with it. The aim of this work is to help man see nature as a religious and worshipping place. It symbolizes serenity and peace, far away from the woes of humanity. To the poet, nature is their greatest mentor: "Lessons of love and earnest piety" (Coleridge, 2011). Nature serves as the altar, and the speaker serves as the priest who worships the God.


Famous Romantic Painting: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, 1818
Famous Romantic Painting: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, 1818

As humans living in the modern world, returning to nature can often be difficult. However, in the midst of all chaos, nature can be a source of growth, knowledge, and inspiration. Chaos itself can bring us closer to nature. Human emotions and relationships can find solace and peace when relating to the wide words and thoughts of poets, such as Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. These Romantic icons and their masterpieces emphasize the importance and necessity of returning to nature, for it is an endless source of life.


Postmodern Pastiche: Wanderer Above a City of Fog: A self portrait reenactment of Caspar David Friedrich's work "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog", by Miranda Koetsch
Postmodern Pastiche: Wanderer Above a City of Fog: A self portrait reenactment of Caspar David Friedrich's work "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog", by Miranda Koetsch

  References: Blake, W. (2015). Poems of William Blake. Read Books Ltd.


Coleridge, S. T. (2011). Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Faber & Faber.


Hidayati, N. (2007). An Analysis of Figurative Language Used in the Poem of “The Echoing Green” by William Blake (Doctoral thesis, University of Muhammadiyah Malang, Indonesia).


Magnuson, P. (2014). Coleridge and Wordsworth. Princeton University Press.


Modiano, R. (1985). Coleridge and the Concept of Nature. Springer.


Wordsworth, William (1798). The Tables Turned. The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved on 8th Jan 2022 from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45557/the-tables-turned

Wordsworth, William (1807). My Heart Leaps Up. Poets.org. Retrieved on 8th Jan 2022 from https://poets.org/poem/my-heart-leaps


Image References:


Philips, T. (1807). Portrait of William Blake [oil on canvas] National Portrait Gallery, London, United Kingdom. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/william-blake


Portrait of William Wordsworth

https://www.englishliterature.info/2021/04/william-wordsworth-contribution.html


Vandyke, P. (1795). Portrait of Samuel Taylor Coleridge [oil on canvas] National Portrait Gallery, London, United Kingdom. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Taylor_Coleridge Friedrich, C. D. (c.1818). Wanderer above the Sea of Fog [oil on canvas]. Kunsthalle Art Museum, Hamburg, Germany. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-unraveling-mysteries-caspar-david-friedrichs-wanderer/amp Koetsch, M. (2018). Wanderer Above a City of Fog https://www.behance.net/gallery/66098555/Wanderer-Above-a-City-of-Fog

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Gaelle Abou Nasr

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