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Wordsworth – Nature, Man, God

May 20, 2011

Wordsworth is a giant of literature, yet a timid naturalist at heart, “a man speaking to men” in their own language.

What speaks to mankind? Nature, man and God. These are the three tenants of Romantic poetry through which “Nature doth embrace Her lawful offspring in Man’s art”[1].

So where can we find evidence of these three (universal) Romantic notions in Wordsworth’s poetry?

Wordsworth is all about capturing a moment of elation so that we can return to the memory, as documented in poetry, when we are “in vacant or in pensive mood”[2]. Pensively, we sink “each into commerce with his private thoughts”[3], no longer in the temporary state of mingled calm and chaotic joy. We remember “one of those heavenly days that cannot die”[4], when we contemplated a rainbow[5] or come across a cluster of daffodils[6], and we reflect in contentment on those brief moments of completeness.

But is it possible to have this calm all the time?

When we look from nature to its Creator, from a Romantic perspective, we can find restoration and permanent fulfilment. In other words (or, more precisely, in those of Wordsworth himself), when our “communion” with nature is “raised/ From earth to heaven, from human to divine,” we have “endless occupation for the Soul”[7].

From this contemplation, we gain permanent joy, as opposed to temporary happiness. In this way, we can receive “chearfulness for acts of daily life”[8] and find “repose [i.e. calm]/ In moral judgements which from this pure source/ Must come, or will by Man be sought in vain.”[9] (This idea of seeking in vain is dealt with in the music review of the band Mona).

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1v20)

One of the ways, then, that we can know God, is through his creation. Another way is through our own conscience, which reveals to us our sinful nature. We may feel that according to those around us we have a clear conscience, but Paul’s words are telling: “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4v4)

This consciousness of guilt was revealed in the Jewish law, the Torah, which can be found in the first five books of the Old Testament of the Bible. But what about those who did not have access to the law in order to point out their immorality before the holy God[10]?

The first way we can know God – through creation – is described in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The second way – through our conscience, regardless of whether we have access to the law or not – can be found in the second chapter:

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles [non-Jews], who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2vs12-16)

I know that’s tough to hear, and if we didn’t have the third way to know God, we would be without hope. Even the temporary moments when we feel elated would deflate, as every moment would be overshadowed by condemnation and death as a result of our rebellion against God.

So let’s look at the third way before we all despair.

The third way to know God is through Jesus. It’s a case of save the best until last. In fact, Jesus defines himself as “the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22v13). What does that mean? Jesus was there at the beginning, as part of the Trinity, which created the world:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1v1)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; and without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1v1)

The third way that we can know God is through his Word, the Bible, which reveals the One through whom he chose to speak: his own Son, Jesus. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1v1), “for God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1v19-22)

Before Jesus came, the Jewish law prescribed animal sacrifices in order to atone for sins committed against the Most High God. Jesus fulfilled that order in his once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins on the cross. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it like this:

“The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9vs13-14)

So how can we know God? The Romantic pattern – of nature, man, God – applies.

We know God by first acknowledging his majesty and authority in the beauty of creation (including his creation of us as fearfully and wonderfully made created beings), then by realising that we don’t match up to his holiness (as revealed to us by our conscience and human nature). Finally, and ultimately, we can know God through his Son Jesus, who died on the cross to take our unrighteousness upon himself, to reconcile us to God.

In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth defines the poet as someone “carrying everywhere with him relationship and love”.

“Love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1v5) is at the heart of the Bible’s message. We are all poets if we live our lives to the full in love for and relationship with God, in response to the redemption he has given us in Jesus. After all, it was Jesus himself who said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10v10)

Contemplating on this, how can we not daily find ourselves “surprised by joy”[11]?

[1] Steamboats, Viaducts, and Railways (1833). To read the poems, click on the hyperlinks.
[2] I wandered lonely as a cloud (1802)
[3] Book Fourteenth of The Prelude (1798-1839)
[4] Nutting (1798)
[5] “My heart leaps up when I behold/ A rainbow in the sky” – My heart leaps up (1802)
[6] “then my heart with pleasure fills,/ And dances with the daffodils” – I wandered lonely as a cloud (1804)
[7] Book Fourteenth of The Prelude (1798-1839)
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “But the lord Almighty will be exalted in his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.” (Isaiah 5v16)
“…and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the lord, this holy God? (1 Samuel 6v20)
[11] Surprised by joy (1813-14)
Pictures taken from a variety of sources – click on the pictures for the hyperlink to take you to their place of origin.
8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2011 16:55

    You’re persuaded me to give Wordsworth another go. I liked The Prelude, but was put off at school by ‘Goody Blake and Harry Gill, his teeth they chatter, chatter still’… Loved your reflections/links with Romans. Thanks.


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