The Theosophical Forum – March 1937

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH — POET AND PHILOSOPHER — W. E. Moore

William Wordsworth was born in Cumberland in 1770 and died in 1850. He is usually associated with Coleridge and Southey in the "Lake School" of poets. Few men have so completely devoted their lives to serene contemplation of the sublime in Nature. He was not primarily a poet of Nature but rather an intermediary between Nature and man. He lived a long simple life, kept his sympathies with Nature and man, and gave the world richness in poetry devoid of picturesque and romantic details.

There is much that is trivial and commonplace in Wordsworth's poetry, but there are gems of thought in it which reflect whole-truth. These thoughts are guide-posts in a philosophy which is not limited to country, race, or religion.

Wordsworth's Use of the Word Nature

Wordsworth used the word Nature to symbolize the inexplainable, unknowable oversoul which human hearts yearn to know. The word Nature was seldom used by him to mean the natural, physical world about us. Sometimes he spoke of the nature of those inherent, indestructible qualities which are discerned in what is commonly known as Human Nature. Occasionally, he referred to human nature as the Mind of Man, but, no doubt, this is a flower of symbolism and poetical expression. His conception of Nature was in the sense that Nature is alive; that Nature is in man as much as man is in Nature. In the range of his philosophy he gave us abstract ideas of the whole which we can ponder upon as our own. The eye and ear are tuned to universal truth. He makes us conscious of it through our senses, and feeling as we do, we ask "What is it?"

In all things, in all Nature, in the stars
Of azure heaven, the unenduring clouds,
In flower and tree, in every pebbly stone
That paves the brooks; the stationary rocks,
The moving waters and the invisible air.
. . . . . . . . . . . from link to link
It circulates, the Soul of all the worlds.
Activity is Manifest in All Life

Wordsworth's philosophy of life is not disturbed by Nature's multifarious activities. Action is in the core of creation. No living entity can shun action because the very law of its nature compels it to act. Perfectness, in the spiritual sense, is not attained through supine inaction and self-defensive renouncements. Most of life, as we know it, is physical sense-life, susceptible to physical reactions in a material world. Activity has a glamorous influence upon mortal mind. But the inner self of the mortal, which is the core of Being, is not seared by flames, overwhelmed by waters nor withered by dry wind. That part of mortal which is the essence of life is impenetrable, unassailable, invisible, immortal. It is not touched by mortal tribulations. If there is unrest within the soul, then to have power to compel rest is a noble accomplishment. To know and feel the strength of passion and subdue it is a step in mastery of self.

The imagination is enthralled by sensible impressions, but loftier human minds seize the sensible impressions and through them feel the vivid, spiritual life in universal Nature. They break through the bonds of physical encasements, reach the utmost boundary of mortal mind, and vision the higher plane on a spiritual level. Wordsworth did this very thing, for he writes:

Such minds are truly from the Deity
For they are Powers; and hence the highest bliss
That flesh can know is theirs — the consciousness
Of Whom they are, habitually infused
Through every image and through every thought,
And all affections by communion raised
From earth to heaven, from human to divine.

Eliminating the Personal Element

As a poet, Wordsworth submerged his personal relationships. He did not mimic Nature by trying to reveal her likeness to his own moods. The daffodils, the waves, the clouds and the stars are never tinged by self of the poet. He uses poetic expression to eliminate self, and reveal a higher plane of life than human life.

He strengthened his faith in universality of life through better understanding of spiritual manifestations in Nature. Intuitions, inspirations and emotions were more than knocks at the gates of an invisible world — they were the eyes and ears of his inner self. Through them the higher part of self gave to mortal self beauty, grandeur and purpose in creation. How else may we glimpse the sublime? In the lines on the Herdsman, Wordsworth was aware of these powers:

A Herdsman on the lonely mountain top,
Such intercourse was his, and in this sort
Was his existence, oftentimes possessed
O then how beautiful, how bright, appeared
The written promise. Early had he learned
To reverence the volume that displays
The mystery, the life which cannot die;
But in the mountains did he feel his faith.
All things, responsive to the writing, there
Breathed immortality, revolving life,
And greatness still revolving; infinite.
There littleness was not; the least of things
Seemed infinite, and there his spirit shaped
Her prospects, nor did he believe, he saw.

Universal Brotherhood

The doctrine of universal brotherhood has an important place in Wordsworth's philosophy. It is breathed into the very life of his poems, which express the all-pervading love that permeates every spark of divinity. A ceaseless intercommunication of unutterable love flows through all things. In Wordsworth's philosophy every part of the whole universe is linked with every other part. Every living entity gives and receives honor and does honor, each to the other. The tree, the cloud, the cricket, the flower, through their own life and character, make us feel the spirit of friendliness and helpfulness. The theme of brotherhood, like a silver stream, runs through the woodland of Wordsworth's poetry. It is found in intercommunication of all things and is the interchange of life and joy.

In the poem entitled "The Excursion," Wordsworth describes Nature's play upon the earth's surface just after a storm.

More keenly than elsewhere in night's blue vault
Sparkle the stars, as of their station proud
Thoughts are not busier in the mind of man
Than the mute agents stirring there — alone
Here do I sit and watch.

In the multiplicity of life-forms in which each entity has individuality there is oneness of universal brotherhood. There is no self in Wordsworth's sense of God — none except consciousness of perfect Being.

Doctrine of Attract Ideas

Wordsworth's philosophy embodies the doctrine of the truth of abstract ideas. He believed that abstract ideas of truth are of eternal existence; that justice, temperance, knowledge, love, truth, are real existences. The divine spark in the soul of man is spiritual Being; it touches the divine landscape of abstract ideas which are in Eternal Being. Wordsworth held that the soul of man is threefold, that is, rational, sensual, spiritual. Then follows the doctrine of reminiscence which in itself means recovery of lost abstract ideas. The whole of earthly existence is virtually a struggle to regain wisdom which has been lost. At least, there is an innate humanistic yearning to do so. Among lost abstract ideas, the only one which has visible form on earth is Beauty. The world of physical senses, and the inner sensual desires keep the soul from grasping consciously the abstract ideas of truth in the struggle to attain spiritual conceptions. The soul can live only in a realm of ideas. The theory of pre-existence and reminiscence in abstract ideas of truth is a doctrine of Immortality. Our successive existences constitute a progression toward more perfect union in universality of Being. The immutable laws of Nature flash upon the mind of the child; they are seen by the inner eye of the blind, and the deaf and silent read them in the universality of Being. Wordsworth's poem "We Are Seven" expresses beautifully nearness to Nature felt by the child who is unconscious of limits of thoughts of time and space. The child makes no distinction between earth and heaven; the dead brother and sister are still part of the family; death has no severance or separation for her, for in truth "We Are Seven." Death is birth and in it is the spirit of oneness. In childhood, unconsciously expressed, it is an intimation of Immortality.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home!
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Consciousness of Perfect Being

Wordsworth brings us into consciousness of perfect Being. A poet cannot change Nature one way or another, but by tuning his thoughts to Nature he makes of himself a poet. In ordinary living, we are apt to feel that we are something apart from the whole of universality. Wordsworth makes us feel that we are parts of the whole and that we have our own individual identities. In using words as symbols of ideas that we may comprehend, he speaks of Nature and man, but he means that Nature is in man and man is in Nature, inseparable. The nearer we approach the spiritual plane the more nearly the two symbolical terms blend into one.

In our better moments we are inclined to attain finer attitudes and more spiritually refined conceptions than we are able to glimpse in ordinary daily conduct. In such moments we are more of our inner Being. We touch the better part of consciousness, which, after all, is in the essence of life. We do not receive from Nature what we give of ourselves, but in reality, we receive quite a different reflexion of ourselves, which has a close relationship of another than our mortal self.

Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe,
Thou Soul that art the Eternity of thought,
That givest to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion.

The Universality of Life

The principle of activity in a creative, never-ending, boundless universe is portrayed by Wordsworth's poetry. He believed that whatever acts must live; that the universe lives in its spirit, as we live in ours. To the one all-pervading oversoul and to this universal life he gave the name of Nature. To him Nature is active, and the spiritual manifestations of innumerable entities of the physical world which we recognise all about us are parts of the whole.

Yet whate'er enjoyments dwell
In the impenetrable cell
Of the silent heart, that Nature
Furnished to every creature;
A spirit and a pulse of good,
A life and soul to every mode of being
Inseparably linked.

Life Manifested in Physical Forms

In Wordsworth's poetry we find expression of manifestation of life in the tree, the rock, the cloud, the daffodil, but ever present is the underlying theme which makes one universal life condition itself in all. Sometimes he portrays Nature so vividly that the physical world is so diminished that we feel ourselves a part of pure spirit. Beyond the bounds of imagination and intuition we have no compass to guide our thoughts upon the uncharted sea. There is no substantive beyond the grasp of the mortal mind, so the poet must symbolize in his play of imagination. Frequently, Wordsworth skilfully depicted Nature's influence upon the physical world. This is delightfully done in the poem "Lucy," where Nature makes a little child beautiful.

Three years she grew in sun and showers,
Then Nature said "A lovelier flower
On earth was never sown:
This Child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine, and I will make
A Lady of my own,

And with me
The Girl, in rock and plain,
In earth and heaven, in glade and bower
Shall feel an overseeing power
To kindle and restrain."

Universality of Being

Wordsworth's poetry gives us the feeling of quietude in Nature. He takes us from the physical world into the realm of the invisible. He impresses us with consciousness of the oneness of things. The mountains lift up their peaks to the clouds, the stars twinkle peacefully, the sun sets to rise again, the flowers look up in silence, and though there are storms that darken the sky, and floods that mar the land, in the higher region of thought in which these things are seen in relation to universal Being there is

Central peace, subsisting heart
Of endless agitation.

Wordsworth's Philosophy of Life

Wordsworth never definitely stated his philosophy. His life and works are criteria of it. Numerous poetical expressions reveal his philosophical insight. His poems are convictions of his philosophy rather than explanations of them. There is mysticism in his poetry, but the mysticism in which he delved is the inevitable. When he searched for the deeper meaning of life, or undertook to discover the cause of invisible force or action that plays upon sensibilities, he found that mystery transcends intelligence, for mysticism begins where intellect fails to grasp what lies beyond. In this we have the starting point of Wordsworth's philosophy, which, in brief, is the acceptance of an all-pervading intelligence in Nature, the universality of brotherhood, the pre-existence of the soul, and the Platonic theory of reminiscence.

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.

An all-pervading spirit mingles with the human soul. Through emotions and intuitions, we beget mystical meanings, which give the convictions that lie at the foundation of our moral natures. These intimations of immortality that come from within cannot be clothed in speech. They are mixture of thought and feeling which do not come into clear consciousness. At such exalted moments, poetry, religion and philosophy blend into one sublime conception, producing a deeply seated faith in universality of life. Wordsworth's philosophy is not confined to a narrow channel, nor can it be circumscribed in a small field. It is embodied in the whole of Nature's realm. He did not wander off in devious ways to seek truth; he found it within himself, and it became his own when his soul mastered itself, possessed knowledge, and cleaved to truth.


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