Discussion Topic

Wordsworth’s portrayal of nature as an effective teacher in "The Tables Turned"


In "The Tables Turned," Wordsworth portrays nature as an effective teacher by suggesting that it offers wisdom and insight beyond formal education. He emphasizes that nature's simplicity and beauty can teach us more about life and ourselves than books and structured learning can, advocating for a deeper, more intuitive connection with the natural world.

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What do Wordsworth’s poems, such as "The Tables Turned," teach us about nature?

Wordsworth's poems teach us that observing and appreciating nature can bring us closer to God and give us joy. Through interacting with nature, we can also build up a store of memories that sustain us through sadder times.

The line "Let nature be your teacher" comes from Wordsworth's poem "The Tables Turned," in which the speaker tells a friend to leave his studying behind because he can learn more from a walk in the woodlands and the song of the birds than from his books. The speaker tells his friend that nature will teach him more:

Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Wordsworth repeats this theme of nature as a guide through many of his poems. In "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey," he writes of the joy nature brings him, saying that in it he feels the awe of God's presence:
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime.
In this poem and others, he also expresses how nature brings back fond memories. Returning to the Wye and Tintern Abbey periodically, he can recall the happiness of old times and measure his changes. In his poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," he celebrates the joy he feels when he sees a vast field of daffodils bending in the breeze as if they are dancing. Not only does the scene elate him the first time but, lying in his study in winter, he can repeatedly recreate the joy he felt through memory. Likewise, he can derive repeated joy from the memory of the song of a solitary young woman singing in the Scottish Highlands. Wordsworth understood himself as a poet sage in the mold of Milton, explaining the ways of God to man (humankind). But rather than writing a grand epic poem on Biblical themes as Milton did, he wrote lyric poems that celebrate the simple but sublime joys of nature that are available to everyone.
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Why is nature considered a good teacher in Wordsworth's "The Tables Turned"?

As an arch-Romantic, Wordsworth doesn't just see the natural world as a place full of pretty objects such as beautiful trees, majestic mountains, and gorgeous flowers. He sees it, in a somewhat exaggerated fashion, as a living, breathing force, a power in its own right that has the capacity to teach us much about the world in which we live.

That being the case, Wordsworth, in "The Tables Turned," exhorts his hapless friend to put his books away and get out into the open air. Yes, he can learn much from his books, but he will learn so much more from exploring the natural world and all its beauties. Nature will give the young man something he cannot get if he remains shut away in his study, and that's practical experience of the world.

Much knowledge can be gained from books, to be sure, but for Wordsworth, true wisdom is to be found in nature. By interacting with nature, we can experience the kind of truth that only comes through happiness:

She has a world of ready wealth,

Our minds and hearts to bless—

Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,

Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

Nature is a source of truth for Wordsworth, as it was for the Romantics in general. It teaches us much more than we can ever learn from books. If we want to learn what is ultimately true, we need to put aside our books and get out into the fresh air. Not only will we find the experience enlightening, but also rather enjoyable.

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