7 April 2020 is the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth. Since most of the world entered into lockdown, short walks have become our only distraction, and we have been taking more notice of the natural world. David Attenborough, who has done more than anyone to promote nature recently wrote “We are dependent on the natural world for every breath of air we take and every mouthful of food we eat. But …we are also dependent on it for our sanity and sense of proportion…“In times of crisis, the natural world is a source of both joy and solace…[it] produces the comfort that can come from nothing else”
These sentiments echo those expressed by William Wordsworth. In the poem usually known by the shortened title Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth examines the effects nature has had on him. These are extracts from the longer poem: if you don’t know it, please read the whole thing.
After describing beautiful scenes of the natural world Wordsworth writes about how their memory affects him:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
For I 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.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being. …
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us.
The natural world is ingrained in almost everything Shakespeare wrote, and in Sonnet 98 he writes about the pleasures of Spring, to be enjoyed even in isolation.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
I’m lucky enough to take my once-a-day walks on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon, along the river and through scrubby areas where trees, bushes and wild flowers grow. I’m always aware that Shakespeare probably walked through these meadows, seeing the same plants and wildlife. It must look pretty well to us how it looked to him. So I’m posting some photos taken recently by my husband Richard Morris for anyone feeling starved of Shakespeare’s natural world.
An utterly delightful post and a beautiful ray of sunshine in the COVID-19 gloom. Thank you Sylvia!
Thank you Rob. We are blessed with a beautiful spring here in Stratford.