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Nature serves as a muse and a source of clarity in times of distress; it soothes and re-centers the soul. On the other hand, Nature can be a force of chaos that has the capacity to bring mankind to its knees. Romanticism strived to encapsulate the likeness of nature and interpret it in all of its multifaceted greatness. Many poets of the Romantic period have been influenced by the different aspects of nature which can be observed in their work and in the world around us.
A prolific poet during the Romantic period, William Blake, reflected upon the facets of nature and harnessed their traits into his writing. During much of his life he was not considered to possess a sound mind by his peers or own family at times. These unfavorable views on Blake’s sanity were chiefly due to the fact that he was often cited as having visions of spirits, angels, and at one point, God himself. Although many found him to be peculiar and insane, Catherine Boucher, his wife, was a light in his life that he considered to be his guardian angel. His poetry often reflected his life as well as what went on around him, whether it was in his personal life; or in nature.
William Blake’s work embodied much of the Romantic period in the way that he used elegant simplicity in his poetry to capture nature in a way that related to sympathy for the outcast as well as glorification of the normal. The pure beings that embody the lightness of nature with the appearance of nefarious beings that shine a light on the darker aspects of nature in much of Blake’s work. These beings within William Blake’s poetry can be understood in order to gain insight of the poet’s life; as well as the period in which they were written.
For instance, in William Blake’s work, The Lamb, the lamb in the poem is hailed as a being that joyful and lovely being that, “makes all the vales rejoice”. At one point, the narrator entreats god to bless the lamb which links into the calm and almost holy aspects of nature. Seeing the lamb as blessed by God in addition to viewing the lamb as a form of God, as seen in the way the lamb, “is called by the same name,” can be understood by linking it to the tendency of glorifying the simple during the romantic period.
Tying into the previously stated, this idea of glorification of the otherwise normal and lovely characteristics of the lamb can also be likened to Catherine Boucher, Blake’s partner, because of the way that Blake sees her as more than human; in the sense that she was his guardian angel. The glorification of the lamb can be interpreted as a nod to how Catherine Boucher was seen in Blake’s eyes. Observing the life of the poet and his poetry reveals the commonalities between them as well as the aspects of the period in which they were written.
Another occurrence where Blake’s life and poetry reflect one another is in another poem, The Tyger. The tiger in question is understood to be a wretched creature that wreaks havoc and destruction to all that is around him as seen in the way that it clasps onto, “deadly terrors,”. Although the aforementioned tiger is perceived as a threat, there is an element of sympathy towards the tiger. The narrator asks the tiger what, “could twist the sinews of its heart,” as if to almost pity the tiger for not being able to experience complex emotions. This sympathy for the tiger could be interpreted as Blake asking the world around him to take pity on him and grant kindness despite the way he was thought of as peculiar by many of those around him during his life.
While the use of implied destruction and terror could mirror the way that Blake felt torment over being outcasted by his peers, it could also be interpreted as Blake being the tiger itself. Seeing the tiger as a double of Blake himself can be reached in the way that, “ the stars threw down their spears // And watered heaven with their tears,” as though to show sadness for their sadness. This sympathetic way of viewing the tiger as a pitiful creature could tie into the way Blake pities himself for being an outcast. Lending sympathy to the outcasts and otherwise unsavory creatures is apparent within The Tyger, and reveals more about Blake, the world around him, and how he used nature as a means of communicating his thoughts and ideas. Observing the aforementioned within the poem is another characteristic of the Romantic period that lends itself to connecting and pitying the outcasted members of society.
Along with being a reflection of the life of the poet and the time period, qualities within Blake’s poetry can be observed in the outside world. When I walked along the banks of a river I noticed a trail of ducklings following their mother in the water. Such grace was lovely and could easily be considered more than just a mother and her ducklings. She could be heralded as a savior of her kind for protecting her children as they ventured into the unknown depths of the water in which they swam. This occurrence ties into the purity of the lamb expressed within the poem as well as to Blake’s life and the Romantic period. The grandeur that can be found in the simplicity of the ducklings following their mother embodied the pure aspects of nature as well as the glory and beauty found in the most normal of actions. In accordance with the aforementioned, during my time in the woods, I came across a ring of mushrooms. While on the surface they appeared as mere fungi, I imagined that the ring of mushrooms could have been a gateway into another realm. The simplicity of a ring of mushrooms and the glorification of what they could have been allowed for the romanticization of even the simplest of occurrences. Akin to the nature of the lamb in the poem as well as the mother and her ducklings, the mushrooms had and air of sacredness to them in a way that they could be something more than the mere sum of their external looks.
In addition to the previously stated, real life followed the aspects of William Blake’s, The Tyger, and its ties to the Romantic period. As with the tiger in the poem, I found sympathy in my heart for what I found in the woods. In the distance, there was a vulture eating another dead animal. While at first it was revolting to see, I could understand that the vulture was only doing what it must in order to survive. Vultures are often described as ugly creatures that are only worthy of scavenging for food, but in that moment I was able to sympathize with the vulture as one would sympathize with the tiger in William Blake’s poetry. Later on, my stroll in the woods carried me to a cluster of flowers with one standing away from the rest. The lonely flower grew alone seemingly outcasted from the rest of those growing nearby. There was a certain loneliness the flower possessed that one could not help but feel sorry for it. This lonely flower held a commonality with the tiger and the vulture in that it was cast out and evoked pity from those who saw it. One could not help but draw the connection between the somewhat lonely life of Blake and the sympathy for outcasts during the Romantic period.
As the aforementioned elements pointed out, the many facets of nature inspired many poets during the Romantic period to create works that capture its likeness; as well as convey the thoughts and feelings of the poet themselves. Much of the poetry created could also be tied to the lives of those who created them whether it pertains to the better or worse parts of their experiences. The commonalities of the differing topics in William Blake’s work demonstrates different moments in his life as well as the aspects of the Romantic period.
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