Writing Nature: Romantic and Post-Romantic Ecopoetics

In loco-descriptive poetry, as described in Alexander Pope’s Windsor Forest and William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, there is a constant duality that flows and oscillates between nature as an entity existing independently of humans and nature existing due to the conscious humanity provides it. Each poem invites these opposing views to intertwine and vary depending on the evocation of emotion the authors enact or record through their reactions to nature. The way in which these poets relate to nature wholly influences their identity and sense of belonging on a worldly scale. The loco-descriptive lens through which they lyrically gaze at the world provides them with the wherewithal to ponder their identity and the impact it has on the world. As artist Paul Cezanne claims, “The landscape thinks itself in me, and I am its consciousness.” Though Pope’s and Wordsworth’s poems they are able to express their contradictory thoughts both as authoritative figures with a certain domineering power over the natural world, but also express their immobilized lack of control over the vastness of nature.

As Windsor Forest is a poem that commutates a certain parallelism with the grand scheme of nature to the rhythm of society, it leans towards a more distant relationship between humanity and nature. While there are similarities and even mirroring effects between the two, it seems to depict a parallel but not interweaving relationship. Pope relates nature to the monarchy by emphasizing the roles played by people in a monarch system as nature embodies a hierarchy in itself. As early as the first two stanzas, Pope describes the rhythm and flow of nature to be something continuous yet not entirely smooth. He describes nature “as the world, harmoniously confused;/Where order in variety we see,/And where, though all things differ, all agree” (Lines 14-16). So to begin, there is a natural thread of consistency through the differing confusion associated with this harmony of nature. In this, it is understood that while nature works and continues it is not perfect.

He continues to describe this disjunction in nature as it parallels in society. He does this by explaining how a Stuart could be a more efficient ruler, yet the rules stand just the same. In this way, Pope describes an imperfection of a monarchy without dismantling its grand scale of progress or importance. Similarly, he then goes on to expand on nature as a matching counterpoint by depicting “Not thus the land appeared in ages past,/A dreary desert, and a gloomy waste,/And kings more furious and severe than they;/Who claim the skies, dispeopled air and floods,/The lonely lords of empty wilds and woods;/Cities laid waste, they stormed the dens and caves,/(For wiser brutes were backward to be slaves.)/What could be free, when lawless beasts obeyed,/And ev’n the elements a tyrant swayed?” (Lines 43-52). This shows a scene in which order is a clear part of the world in both nature and society. In this way, Pope both equalizes and yet distances nature from society by unexpectedly comparing the two.

Just as Pope loco-descriptively looks at nature as a whole, Wordsworth has a way of looking through he same lens and seeing a smaller scaled depiction of nature in which it weaves directly through humanity. Even Wordsworth’s language is more centralized and self-serving. He “beholds these steep and lofty cliffs,” and he “see(s)/These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines/Of sportive wood run wild” (Lines 5&14-16). This signifies his assimilation into viewing himself as a part of nature and as directly effected and changed by and through nature. In Tintern Abbey Wordsworth sets up a scene in which he is returning to a significant place he once traveled as a boy. He remembers the experience so vividly and fondly that he loses himself in memories and the impact they’ve had on him despite his long absence from the place.

Of course, Wordsworth doesn’t ignorantly leave out a recognition of society as a whole and its effects on nature, but unlike Pope, he crosses the barrier of mere comparisons and is able to hold them alongside one another and use nature to his advantage whilst in a city or human made development. He says “Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,/In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,/Felt the blood, and felt along the heart;/And passing even into my purer mind,/With tranquil restoration – feelings too/Of unremembered pleasure” (Lines 26-31). Through this he explains that even when he is away from nature, it has such an altering effect on him that he is able to call up personal memories of his interactions with nature to regain his perspective and understand his place in the world. In this small, but significant difference between the two authors lies a very profound dissimilation between the poets and their places in the world. While Pope can understand and explain nature and societies parallels, Wordsworth truly embodies nature in a way that actively affects his daily perception of self.

So though artist Paul Cezanne says, “The landscape thinks itself in me, and I am its consciousness,” it is possible that this conscious alters drastically based on the interpreter. Though Pope’s and Wordsworth’s poems they are able to express their contradictory thoughts and come to differing conclusions all while furthering their understanding of nature. In doing this they provide a roadmap of sorts to help decode and tease out their ecological differences in accepting nature. While Pope is somewhat more reserved and idealistically global or national in his understanding of the world through loco-descriptive poetry, Wordsworth is able to delve deeply into the independent and individualized conscious of nature to glean his perspective of his place in the world. Both poets describe a valid interpretation and provide examples of loco-descriptive poetry, but their understanding and assessments are singular and unique.