William Wordsworth

Consuming Nature - Poems of William Wordsworth on Nature and Technology 
 
William Wordsworth was born and lived most of his life in the rural northwest of England known as the Lake District. Like many other Romantic writers, he saw in Nature an emblem of god or the divine and his poetry often celebrates the beauty and spiritual values of the natural world. In his some of works, Wordsworth contrasted Nature with the world of materialism. He wrote, "Because we are insensitive to the richness of Nature, we may be forfeiting our souls." His accommodating tone in the sonnet on "Steamboats, Viaducts, and Railways," written in his late middle age (1833), marked his hesitant acceptance of industrial change.  However, this did not prevent him from mounting a campaign in his last years against the plan to bring rail service into his beloved Lake District where he made his home. The following selections illustrate Wordsworth's attachment to Nature as a moral and spiritual presence as well as his evolving and ambivalent view of industrial technology, both as a force destructive of natural environments and as the manifestation of human progress. 
 

ON THE PROJECTED KENDAL AND WINDERMERE RAILWAY 
 
Is then no nook of English ground secure 
From rash assault? Schemes of retirement sown 
In youth, and 'mid the busy world kept pure 
As when their earliest flowers of hope were blown, 
Must perish;--how can they this blight endure? 
And must he too the ruthless change bemoan 
Who scorns a false utilitarian lure 
'Mid his paternal fields at random thrown? 
Baffle the threat, bright Scene, from Orresthead 
Given to the pausing traveller's rapturous glance: 
Plead for thy peace, thou beautiful romance 
Of nature; and, if human hearts be dead, 
Speak, passing winds; ye torrents, with your strong 
And constant voice, protest against the wrong. 

                                                  October 12, 1844. 

This sonnet appeared 16 October 1844 in the Morning Post. Wordsworth, who had been named poet laureate the previous year, was protesting the construction of a railway line from Kendal to Windermere. With the line, it was argued that large numbers of factory workers would be able to take day trips to the Lake District, thus escaping urban blight. To Wordsworth, in his beloved country home, it meant rural blight.
 
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THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US 
The world is too much with us; late and soon, 
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; 
Little we see in Nature that is ours; 
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! 
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon, 
The winds that will be howling at all hours, 
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers, 
For this, for everything, we are out of tune; 
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be 
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; 
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, 
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; 
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; 
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. 
 
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"OUTRAGE DONE TO NATURE"  
from The Excursion 1814 
 
  
 Meanwhile, at social Industry's command, 
How quick, how vast an increase. From the germ 
Of some poor hamlet, rapidly produced 
Here a huge town, continuous and compact, 
Hiding the face of earth for leagues-and there, 
Where not a habitation stood before, 
Abodes of men irregularly massed 
Like trees in forests,-spread through spacious tracts, 
O'er which the smoke of unremitting fires 
Hangs permanent, and plentiful as wreaths 
Of vapour glittering in the morning sun. 
And, wheresoe'er the traveller turns his steps, 
He sees the barren wilderness erased, 
Or disappearing; triumph that proclaims 
How much the mild Directress of the plough 
Owes to alliance with these new-born arts! 
-Hence is the wide sea peopled,-hence the shores 
Of Britain are resorted to by ships 
Freighted from every climate of the world 
With the world's choicest produce: Hence that sum 
Of keels that rest within her crowded ports, 
Or ride at anchor in her sounds and bays; 
That animating spectacle of sails 
That, through her inland regions, to and fro 
Pass with the respirations of the tide, 
Perpetual, multitudinous! ... 

... I grieve, when on the darker side 
Of this great change I look; and there behold 
Such outrage done to nature as compels 
The indignant power to justify herself; 
Yea, to avenge her violated rights, 
For England's bane.-When soothing darkness spreads 
O'er hill and vale,' the Wanderer thus expressed 
His recollections, 'and the punctual stars, 
While all things else are gathering to their homes, 
Advance, and in the firmament of heaven 
Glitter-but undisturbing, undisturbed; 
As if their silent company were charged 
With peaceful admonitions for the heart 
Of all-beholding Man, earth's thoughtful lord; 
Then, in full many a region, once like this 
The assured domain of calm simplicity 
And pensive quiet, an unnatural light 
Prepared for never-resting Labour's eyes 
Breaks from a many-windowed fabric huge; 
And at the appointed hour a bell is heard, 
Of harsher import than the curfew-knoll 
That spake the Norman Conqueror's stern behest 
A local summons to unceasing toil! 
Disgorged are now the ministers of day; 
And, as they issue from the Illumined pile, 
A fresh band meets them, at the crowded door 
And in the courts-and where the rumbling stream, 
That turns the multitude of dizzy wheels, 
Glares, like a troubled spirit, in its bed 
Among the rocks below. Men, maidens, youths, 
Mother and little children, boys and girls, 
Enter, and each the wonted task resumes 
Within this temple, where is offered up 
To Gain, the master idol of the realm, 
Perpetual sacrifice. Even thus of old 
Our ancestors, within the still domain 
Of vast cathedral or conventual church, 
Their vigils kept; where tapers day and night 
On the dim altar burned continually, 
In token that the House was evermore 
Watching to God. Religious men were they; 
Nor would their reason, tutored to aspire 
Above this transitory world, allow 
That there should pass a moment of the year, 
When in their land the Almighty's service ceased. 

  

'Triumph who will in these profaner rites 
Which we, a generation self-extolled, 
As zealously perform! I cannot share 
His proud complacency: -yet do I exult, 
Casting reserve away, exult to see 
An intellectual mastery exercised 
O'er the blind elements; a purpose given, 
A perseverance fed; almost a soul 
Imparted-to brute matter. I rejoice, 
Measuring the force of those gigantic powers 
That, by the thinking mind, have been compelled 
To serve the will of feeble-bodied Man. 
For with the sense of admiration blends 
The animating hope that time may come 
When, strengthened, yet not dazzled, by the might 
Of this dominion over nature gained, 
Men of all lands shall exercise the same 
In due proportion to their country's need; 
Learning, though late, that all true glory rests, 
All praise, all safety, and all happiness, 
Upon the moral law. 
 
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STEAMBOATS, VIADUCTS AND RAILWAYS  
  
 Motions and Means, on land and sea at war 
 With old poetic feeling, not for this, 
 Shall ye, by Poets even, be judged amiss! 
 Nor shall your presence, howsoe'er it mar 
 The loveliness of Nature, prove a bar 5 
 To the Mind's gaining that prophetic sense 
 Of future change, that point of vision, whence 
 May be discovered what in soul ye are. 
 In spite of all that beauty may disown 
 In your harsh features, Nature doth embrace 10 
 Her lawful offspring in Man's art; and Time, 
 Pleased with your triumphs o'er his brother Space,
 Accepts from your bold hands the proffered crown 
 Of hope, and smiles on you with cheer sublime. 
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This page was created by Julia Lee '99. It is maintained by Professor Robert Schwartz of the History Department, 
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