William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman, two important poets of the Romantic Era, focused on nature in many of their works. Wordsworth’s “Lines” and Whitman’s “Song of Myself” are profound instances of poems where nature plays an important role. Both of these poems show the poets’ connections with nature, and portray nature as a means for humanity to reach enlightenment. The poets’ linguistic styles and uses of imagery are also very prevalent in both works, and further emphasize this portrayal of man and his ability to develop via nature.
Wordsworth and Whitman take different approaches to explain nature in their poems. Wordsworth describes one setting, Tintern Abbey, while Whitman illustrates many smaller scenes for his work. Nevertheless, both poems explain the relationship that their poets have with nature. Wordsworth explains his communion with nature by recalling, “[t]hese beauteous forms, through a long absence, have not been to [him] as is a landscape to a blind man’s eye.” He shared a special type of bond with the Tintern Abbey because he explored it in more depth than most men can claim to have done. Wordsworth uses very common language, making it easier for all of his readers to understand the point he is trying to express. The few words that Wordsworth’s readers might not understand in “Lines” are those describing nature, which would only make them want to ponder it deeper. By using simple words, Wordsworth was able to tell concrete stories of human life. During Wordsworth’s time, works considered “poetic” used haughty, intricate language. By going against the norm in this case, Wordsworth gives his readers direct access to his ideal of emotions enclosed in past memories.
Whitman explains that there is a connection with every living being, including the natural world. He says, “My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, born here of parents born here from parents the same.” Whitman’s explanation of this connection is less personal throughout his poem than that of Wordsworth’s; however, an individual relationship still exists between the poet and his environment. Whitman also uses vernacular at a time where wordiness and elaboration were prevalent. This use of common language helps to bridge the gap between two people, the poet and his reader.
Nature is a catalyst for human enlightenment in “Lines” and “Song of Myself.” In “Lines,” Wordsworth describes many of his childhood memories by illustrating the natural scenery around him. He says, “Once again do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, that on a wild secluded scene impress thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect the landscape with the quiet of the sky.” As Wordsworth and his memories mature, he can “see into the life of things.” He claims to “have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes the still, sad music of humanity, nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power to chasten and subdue.” Whitman speaks of his enlightenment, saying, “While here I stand, not only with the sense of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts that in this moment there is life and food for future years.”
Enlightenment is also a major focus in “Song of Myself.” Whitman asserts, “Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from.” By using many different scenes from nature, Whitman explores many different aspects of his surroundings, using his journey as a way to become enlightened.
Children view life as pure and beautiful, but as they grow into adults, this view of purity tends to weaken. Despite this, memories can still offer refuge. The adult-mind is more capable of looking at nature metaphorically, relating it to the life of man. Wordsworth uses images to mix the surrounding scenery with pieces of his childhood to illustrate places where humanity and nature can interact peacefully and calmly with one another. He recalls “when like a roe, [he] bounded o’er the mountains.” He also says that “the tall rock, the mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood, their colors and their forms, were then to [him] an appetite; a feeling and a love, that had no need of a remoter charm.” These images show the intertwining between the poet and nature.
Whitman’s entire exploration of nature is both literal and metaphorical. In the twenty-fourth part of “Song of Myself,” Whitman describes the human body in terms of the natural world. He says, “Broad muscular fields, branches of live oak, loving lounger in my winding paths, it shall be you.” In the sixth section of the poem, the narrator uses the grass as a symbol for the reviving cycle of nature.
Through imagery and writing styles, Wordsworth and Whitman are able to portray man as something capable of a higher understanding in the world. Their personal, yet universal connections with nature assist their readers with relating to the point both poets are trying to make.