The Concept of "Nature" in William Wordsworth's "The Tables Turned"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

14 Pages, Grade: 1+ (15 Punkte)



1. Introduction

2. The Relation between Poet and Nature

3. The Construction of Nature as Positive Counterpart to Culture

4. The Divine Power of Nature

5. Nature as Teacher of Man and Source of Ultimate Truth

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction

In view of the economic and social changes of the Romantic period, society was often regarded as repressive and controlling force dominating both man and nature. Thus, during Romanticism, the interest in nature as a pure, but endangered system rose and writers of British Romanticism such as Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth incorporated and work out themes of nature and its beauty and relationship to man in their writings.

William Wordsworth, who is considered to be one of the most magnificent and influential “poets of nature” (Clark 2011: 15), published numerous works which are strongly characterized by his respectful perception of nature. Having been published more than 200 years ago, the ideas and concepts the poet formulated are still of great importance, in particular in current times of progressing globalization, environmental pollution and degeneration of nature. Due to its actuality, intensity and the remarkable way of illustrating nature’s beauty and grandeur, the paper concentrates on analysing the concept and the description of nature in Wordsworth’s works. Therefore, the lyrical ballad “The Tables Turned” (1798) was chosen, in which the poet not only represents the facets of nature, but also demands to stop analytical think- ing and investigation in order to get deeply engaged in the splendour nature offers. Analysing and interpreting selected lines and imagery by connecting them to own re-search as well as to chosen statements of secondary literature, the term-paper aims at examining Wordsworth’s appreciation of nature as well as his methods to describe the dimensions and ele-ments of the natural environment. Consequently, the paper commences studying the general im-portance nature has according to the poet, followed by an elucidation of the relation between na-ture and man as it is presented in “The Tables Turned”.

Subsequently, the focus is on the sacred and divine qualities Wordsworth attributes to nature and on his idea of nature being a moral educator of man and source of ultimate truth. Having provided a brief summary of major findings, the term-paper terminates with providing an outlook on further possibilities for research.

2. The Relation between Poet and Nature

As Stevens states, at the time nature was beginning to be threatened by the progressing industrialization and urbanization, it acquired greater value (2004: 17) and Romantic writers reinforced their interest in nature and as opposed to the Enlightenment, Romanticism was marked by an emphasis on individuality, emotion and imagination (2004:16). These tendencies can be clearly observed in the works of Wordsworth, in particular in his poem “The Tables Turned”, which is characterized by the veneration the poet shows in nature.

It is salient that Wordsworth enhances the word “nature” by capitalizing its initial letter, an act that can be ascribed to the importance the poet attached to nature:

Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth, (l.16-17)

Moreover, one notices that the poet genders nature as “female”, which shows he looks upon nature as the great mother of all comparable to Gaia, the Ancient Greek goddess of Earth who gives shape and form to anything. This can be interpreted as a reference of Wordsworth’s belief in the divinity and sublimity of nature. Furthermore, it can be seen as way to illustrate the poet’s idea of nature having its own presence and existence which is independent from human existence, though as important and worth being preserved and protected.

Wordsworth’s intention of “capturing the beauty of landscape” (Chaplin/Faflak: 2011: 107) is manifested in the grandeur the poet attributes to his natural surrounding which becomes perceivable in the emotional, figurative way of writing, aiming at “evoking pictorial images in the mind of the reader” (Stevens 2004: 126). Hence, by conveying the feelings and emotions he experienced in nature, Wordsworth intents to let the readers participate in this sublime emotional state and in the uplifting power of nature, considering his poetry to function as mediator between nature and man.

Furthermore, the setting sun, the wide fields and the singing birds are described in a way that show the deep emotional impact and movement Wordsworth experiences in nature and in exploring its wonders and richness which seem to overwhelm him. Thus, one can accord with Chaplin and Faflak who describe Wordsworth as being inspired by nature and therefore regard nature as the “enabler of poetic ability” (2011: 107). In “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”, Wordsworth characterizes poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”; referring to the preced-ing statement, one can argue that these “powerful feelings” that enable poetic writing derive di-rectly from engaging in nature and experiencing its sublimity and brightness.

The idea of nature not only being a place where one is able to find tranquillity, awe, wis- dom and transcendent experiences but also as poetic inspiration can to my mind be perceived es- pecially in the illustration of the sun setting behind a mountain. The sun (l.5), symbol of creative and divine power (Battistini 2002: 192) spreading its splendour and vigour through the world emphasizes the interpretation that it is nature and its impulses that vest Wordsworth with the in- spiration and strength for writing poems. Furthermore, since the sun is additionally associated with eternity and permanence, one can regard its “freshening lustre mellow” (l.6) as a constant factor in the poets’ life, giving hope and guiding his way, even in times of darkness and sorrow. Thus, in view of the circumstances under which Wordsworth wrote this poem, described by Chaplin and Faflak as “years of hardship” (2011: 39) due to the poet’s separation from his wife Annette Vaillon and his daughter, nature can be seen as perennial, reliable element in his life, offering joyful emotions and wisdom as well as inspiration and hope.

3. The Construction of Nature as Positive Counterpart to Culture

In “The Tables Turned”, a clear distinction between nature and culture is manifested. In contra- distinction to nature which is entirely positive connoted, the representation of culture is depicted negatively.

In the poem, Wordsworth describes culture as highly influenced and shaped by empirical and rational thinking, thus appearing to be “dull” and “strife” (l.9). Considering the social and economic context of Romanticism which is characterized by urbanization, industrialization and war, one can regard these factors of culture as contributing to a growing deracination, blindness and emotional induration of man which the poet points out in l. 2 and l. 27. Here, one can refer to Neumann who characterizes culture and society as “a repressive, even corrupting force, control-ling and dominating its citizens” (2010: 124). Wordsworth describes the destructive and degenerating elements of culture and its products by using expressions such as “toil and trouble” (l.4), “endless strife” (l.9) and “murder” (l.28).

In contrast to this negative illustration of culture and of human society, the poet portrays nature as its counterpart.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


The Concept of "Nature" in William Wordsworth's "The Tables Turned"
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Institut für Anglistik)
Nature and Literature - From Romanticism to Ecocriticism
1+ (15 Punkte)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
636 KB
concept, nature, william, wordsworth, tables, turned
Quote paper
Anne Volkmer (Author), 2012, The Concept of "Nature" in William Wordsworth's "The Tables Turned", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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