Featured Anthology: Earth Shattering – Wordsworth

Earth Shattering begins with sections entitled ‘Rooted in Nature’ and ‘Changing the Landscape’, which present us with the wilderness poetry of ancient China and a collection of work by the Romantics. These poems express the writers’ intense sense of connection with nature: the poetry of ancient China, which communicates the experience of “living as an organic part of the natural world and its processes”; the Romantic poets, who recognised the wildness and beauty of nature in times of rapid industrial change, are perhaps most analogolous to our position on the planet now. Urbanisation and industrialisation have eroded people’s previously strong connectivity with nature and the cyclical pattern of the seasons.

Realising that the natural world around us is in peril, it is time once more that we paid attention to the decline of our natural surroundings. The problem is, of course, for most of us (and this is both a feeble excuse and indicative of modern living) that it takes a fair amount of time to get to vast expanses of rural landscape but if we look close enough around us, there are beautiful elements of nature that man has not yet been able to destroy. Henry Thoreau explains:

The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a small scale. Every morning, generally speaking, the shallow water is being warmed more rapidly than the deep, though it may not be made so warm after all, and every evening it is being cooled more rapidly until the morning. The day is an epitome of the year. (from Walden)

Nature, in all its multiple forms, was of paramount importance to Wordsworth but he would rarely use simple descriptions in his poetry. Instead, his poems are concerned with his position within the natural world, his response and reaction to it, using poetry both “to look at the relationship between nature and human life and to explore the belief that nature can have an impact on our emotional and spiritual lives.

from Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
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 unintelligble world,
Is lightened: – that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affectations gently lead us on, –
Until the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
If this
Be but vain belief, yet, oh! how oft –
In darkness amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart –
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The pictureof the mind revives again:
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.

William Wordsworth

July 13, 1798

(featured in Earth Shattering (2007, Bloodaxe Books), edited by Neil Astley.)