Is Nature a dominant theme in Romantic Poetry?

Nature is a dominant theme in Romantic poetry, understood to represent the divine presence in the world and a source of beauty, innocence, and solace to humankind.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For Romantic poets like Wordsworth, nature didn't simply consist of pretty objects like mountains, trees, and flowers. It was a power and a force in its own right; something divine. Far from seeing nature as an object to be measured, exploited, and controlled, Romantic poets regarded it as a source of truth that provided deep insights into the human condition. If poetry wished to aspire to the condition of truth, instead of just painting pretty pictures, it had to study nature and take inspiration from it.

To some extent, Romantic poets regarded themselves as instruments in the hands of nature. They felt that they were being used by nature, which they held to be divine or semi-divine, to communicate profound truths of which humankind as a whole was blissfully unaware.

At the same time, Romantic poets tended to see themselves as being at one with nature, as part of a natural unity that joined all aspects of the created universe together. In writing about certain features of the natural world, therefore, they were writing about themselves. Romantic poetry, then, tends towards the confessional in that a description of a particular aspect of the environment is invariably an act of self-revelation. In these lush descriptions of nature, we see the depths of the poet's soul revealed.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nature is a dominant theme in Romantic poetry. It is the theme, above all others, that is most often identified with Romanticism.

Nature is especially associated with Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who many regard as the father of English Romanticism. Wordsworth loved nature, but more significantly, believed people would come closer to God or the divine force if they became closer to nature. Nature, created by God, is the pure manifestation or expression of God on earth, according to Romantics like Wordsworth, while civilization, especially cities, represent the corruption of God's plan.

Wordsworth's poems extol nature over and over as a healer and a solace. The perhaps paradigmatic or model Wordsworthian nature poem is "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." First, it tells a story in simple words: a man is wandering around in nature, feeling lonely, when he comes across a beautiful field of wild daffodils swaying in the breeze in front of a lake. They look as if they are dancing. This sight surprises him, lifts his spirits, and takes away his loneliness. Nature becomes a solace and joy to him. Second, in cold weather or when in a sad mood, he can close his eyes, remember the scene of the daffodils, and recreate the happy feelings he experienced. Nature is simple, it is free, it lifts our souls, and it can be remembered to bring back its joy over and over again.

Other Romantic poets exalted nature, such as William Blake, who saw it as a place of innocence in opposition to the corrupt city, and John Keats, who found beauty and solace in the song of the nightingale or the autumn season.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For the Romantics, nature was a fairly dominant theme and occupied a very prominent role in the poetry.  For these thinkers, nature helped to enhance the individual experience.  The exploration of self takes place perfectly when embedded in the natural setting.  There is a powerful and potent element to the natural setting in its reverence.  The pantheistic view helps to enshrine the role of nature in the Romantic poet. At the same time, the love of nature was almost a response to what the prevailing social order espoused at the time.  Neoclassical society was cosmopolitan and conformed life took place in the urban setting.  For the Romantic thinker, to break from this into a new realm was liberating and powerful.  This is where the love of nature took on both the form of a statement and response.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While, broadly speaking, nature is a dominant theme in Romantic poetry, it is more important to examine what these poets are saying about nature and how they use it.  Romantic philosophy was a response to the Enlightenment and Rationalism and the scientific and technological advances it brought.  Romantics believed that logic and reason could no longer solve life's problems and, in fact, were creating more.  As such, Romantics sought to restore man's relationship with nature.  They saw nature as something pure and uncorrupted and, therefore, almost spiritual.  Most Romantics believed that humans were born pure and good and that society corrupted.  Nature, therefore, became a symbol of life without society, a truly good life.  Nature becomes a place where one can go to reflect and comtemplate the many questions of life, a place where one can find solace and happiness in its purity.  While most Romantic poets do write about nature, some also write about life in the city.  However, these poems tend to be much more dark and emphasize the idea that society corrupts.   

For an illustration of these ideas consider Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much With Us in It."  Throughout this poem he seems to be chastising mankind for losing their connection with nature and becoming much more caught-up in things like consumerism.  He ultimately rejects such a society in favor of a much more simple past culture (Ancient Greece), where nature is appreciated and celebrated.  Also consider Keats's "When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be."  Throughout this poem Keats lists the various worldy fears he has, using references and comparisons to nature, ultimately to state that when he experiences such anxiety all he must do is go out into nature and think until all of these fears "to nothingness do sink."

Examples like these are abundant in Romantic writing, and I would encourage you to examine the poems you are studying to find examples that connect to these ideas.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Indeed, the motif of nature is dominant in much Romantic poetry.  Some of the Romantics, especially the American William Cullen Bryant, were attracted to the philosophy of deism which held that divity could be found in nature.  Another factor  for Americans was the fact that they were in immediate contact with everything that supported this philosophy by living close to nature on settled countrysides.

In Europe, while Neoclassicism was cosmopolitan, occurring in the urban setting, Romanticism broke from the urban to the beautiful countryside of western Massachusetts where writers found in their surroundings metaphors to express their sense of correspondence between human life and the life of nature.  After Bryant, Dickinson, and later Robert Frost and Richard Wilbur became intimate with the whispering wind and shadows of the Brekshires and the nearby Green Mountains.  All these poets made their natural surroundings past of the landscape of American Romantic poetry.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial