William Wordsworth, “The Daffodils” and “The Solitary Reaper”
The Romantic period in Europe saw the end of the dominance of the Renaissance tradition. One result was the rediscovery of local cultures, and a flowering of vernacular literatures. The Romantic period saw changes in philosophy, politics, and religion, as well as in the arts of literature, painting, and music, changes which the English Romantic poets both articulated and symbolized. In philosophy the Romantic period saw a reaction against the rationalism of the 18th century. It was a reaction against a view of the physical world increasingly dominated by science, and of the mental world by the theories of Locke. The Romantic poets rebelled against the emphasis on the material and on ‘common sense’ which had dominated the preceding period.
For the Romantics society had become an evil force moulding and stunting its citizens. One of the many consequences of these ideas for the poets one was the flight from the city. The Romantic poets on the whole fled from the city. Of the many social evils of the late 18th and early 19th centuries – the slave trade, the treatment of the poor, press-gangs – one was beginning to be recognized as a new and growing threat: industrialization (Blake’s poems). By and large the description of mass industrialization is a feature of mid-19th-century literature. But the description of the cast of mind that causes it to happen was first recognized for what is was by the Romantics.
It is hardly surprising therefore to learn that the Romantic poets turned to nature. This is not to imply that their predecessors did not write about the natural world. They did, but they tended to appreciate different things there. Nature needed the help of man is she was to fulfil herself. The Romantics describe many different kinds of natural scene, and they are if not ‘wild’ as least independent of man. Many of the poets of this period found their deepest experiences in nature. For them it was nature, rather than society, that was man’s proper setting: man needed the help of nature to fulfil himself.
In the search for a spiritual truth the Romantic poets used two faculties which rationalism had tended to discredit: feelings (Wordsworth in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads: “For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”) and the imagination. The imagination in the Romantic period was raised from being simply the faculty for creating fictions, pleasing perhaps, but not necessarily true, to a method of apprehending and communicating truth. The result was that the search for spiritual truth became one in which the poet played a greater role than before. The imagination, the peculiar gift of the poet, was now enlisted in man’s most important endeavour.
The events in “The Daffodils” as well as in “The Solitary Reaper” have a huge impact on the speaker; therefore he can evoke and live through his meeting with the beautiful flowers and at the end of the poem he declares: “And then my heart with pleasure fill, / And dances with the daffodils.” In the other poem the song of the lass and her loneliness make him sympathise with the girl and he can hear the chant “long af
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