Romanticism is literacy, cultural, artistic, intellectual movement, in Europe (and America), in the 18th and 19th centuries. It changed the way people look at the world at that time and even today. Romanticism is a reaction against the industrial revolution, urbanization and the enlightenment. In this essay I am going to be discussing the key themes and ideas of romanticism that are expressed in the poem by William Wordsworth called nutting.
According to the dictionary nutting is the act of seeking and gathering nuts. The key characteristics of romanticism that are going to be analysed in this poem include reverence for nature, nature seen as a teacher and moral guide, as well as challenging enlightenment thinking and, also the idealisation of childhood. Finally, I will briefly discuss the relevance of these ideas today.
The poem starts with a boy on his way to gather nuts wearing a disguise. He moves “through beds of matted fern, and tangled thickets,” (line 15). The romantic reverence for nature is seen when the boy comes across a “nook”, a secluded sheltered place, which indicates that it was not touched or meddled with by human beings that is why the poet uses words like “unvisited” and “virgin scene” which both suggest that no one had been there before to describe the beautiful scene that he saw.
“But the hazels rose tall and erect, with tempting clusters hung”, here we can see the hazel nuts were ready to be harvested, but this also suggests the desire for humans to conquer and rule over nature as sexual words are used, this is also seen as “forcing my way” which suggests aggression and violence was used to describe how the boy came across the nook.
“Breathing with such suppression of the heart…As joy delights in” (22-23) these lines suggest the happy and exciting feeling one gets when they are in nature, that being in nature is an experience that can evoke powerful emotions as the boy was happy as he sat and played among the flowers.
He also expresses how he was filled with happiness beyond all hope and uses “blest” which is a past participle of blessed to acknowledge how blessed he felt. Nature imagery is evident in the poem as he uses “fairy water-breaks” to describe a stream of water which in his experience murmured on making a beautiful sound.
In the last stanza the poet suggests that nature has a spirit, “for there is a spirit in the woods”, that just like human beings, nature too has a soul.
Hutchings (citied in Rossman, 2019, lecture slides) said “Imbuing nature with “spirit”, might be said to offer an alternative vision, affirming the inherent value of the non-human world” emphasising how important nature is and, also how nature is greater than humanity. This romantic belief suggests that nature is alive and that there is more to nature than what meets the eye.
This also challenged the enlightenment thinking which saw nature as a thing and a mere object, a commodity and a resource whose only purpose is furthering human life (Rossman, Jean, 2019, course lecture notes). After the boy destroyed the trees and branches he felt pain and guilt as he held the “silent trees”, using silent to describe the trees explains that everything went quiet, as everything was destroyed he had hurt or killed this spirit in the woods, suggesting further, more that nature has a soul and it is alive.
Another characteristic of romanticism that is expressed in this poem is the idealisation of childhood which is the belief of children’s innocence and how children see mystery in nature (Rossman, Jean, 2019, course lecture slides). In line 4 “in the boy eagerness of boyish hope” the poet tells of the excitement that he experienced as he left his cottage to go nut gathering, eagerness explains how keen he was for the trip. This characteristic is evident as the poem is a quest narrative, an adventure story where the boy goes out into the woods to find treasure which in this case is a nut tree (Rossman, Jean, 2019, course lecture slides).
The boy’s eagerness for the quest shows how children see nature as a mystery which they want to uncover. Wearing his disguise, a “motley accoutrement”, which is a mismatch of assorted garments (Rossman, Jean, 2019, course lecture notes) he goes nutting. We can see idealisation of childhood as the poet recalls of his feelings as a young boy, and although things did not end well he learned a valuable lesson that day.
These ideas of romanticism are relevant to us today as this poem teaches us to respect nature, “in gentleness of heart; with gentle had, Touch” telling us to treat nature with care and gentleness, to not just view nature as an object. Today we are experiencing global warming which is the effect of humans treating nature as a commodity and an effect of enlightenment philosophy.
After destroying the hazel-nut tree the boy felt pain and guilt at the sight of what he had done, we too should feel a sense of regret for constantly polluting the environment, therefore we should respect and treat nature with love and tenderness. This poem emphasises that in this urbanised world we should appreciate nature. We should think like the naturalists and respect the balance of nature, we should not destroy nature for we are a part of nature.
- Rossman, Jean, 2019, course lecture slides