Examine aspects of the Romantic view of nature that exist today.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the roots of the modern environmental awareness movement can be traced to the pantheism that is so embedded in Romanticism.  Aspects of the Romantic view of nature exist today in the modern environmental protection movement.  The Romantic view of nature was that it was intrinsically good, something that existed beyond the corruptibility of social notions.  At the same time, the perfection within nature should be something that human beings must use as a model for their own inner sense of goodness.  Finally, within this natural setting, human beings can shed the competitive and undesirable aspects of society and find something good, true, and beautiful within themselves if they are able to recognize this element in nature.  The Romantic aspects of being that revere nature exist today in the modern environmental movement.

Groups like the Sierra Club believe in this ethic as a part of their own environmental mission.  The protection of the environment and the natural world is something taken out of the annals of Romanticism.  Thoreau's love of nature, Wordsworth's enamoring of the natural world, and Muir's advocacy for protecting the natural setting are all cut from the same cloth.   Consider the parallel between Wordsworth's love of nature and that of Muir:

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.

John Muir echoes this in his defense of nature and with it, summarizing the tenets of the modern environmental movement:

Now, it never seems to occur to these far- seeing teachers that Nature's object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit - the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.

In both frames of reference, the Romantic love of "elevated thoughts" and the modern environmental embrace of something "beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge" represents a love of nature.  This view of the natural world is one in which individual identity is enhanced when it is linked to the natural world.  In this, the Romantic view of nature can be be seen in the modern view of nature as seen in the environmental movement of today.