“The Standard” Shapes Our Encounters with Nature
How we encounter and view nature is constantly being challenged throughout British literature. We are given both the masculine and feminine viewpoints of what it means to perceive the landscape. In Wordsworth’s piece called Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey I am able to see how these two viewpoints are challenged by each other and how they consequently challenge the readers idea of what it means to encounter the landscape. By comparing and contrasting these two perspectives, I hope to find a foundation for what it means to truly encounter nature and if that viewing could bring about a new standard in poetry. I will also introduce a second piece of poetry as the mediator between the masculine and feminine perspectives; this piece of poetry is called Mont Blanc by Percy Shelley.
In Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth is encountering the landscape from the male standard. The speaker in that poem is expressing his attitude towards the landscape in a very masculine way and in doing that he is encouraging the reader to see it from this approach as well. Wordsworth does not say that man manipulates the landscape, but we get the sense that the speaker in Tintern Abbey does use the landscape to inspire a power within his self when he is away from it. The speaker also points out that he would not be who he is today without his younger encounters with nature. In stanza five of Wordsworth’s poem, we see how the speaker calls upon the forces of nature to give his sister the same encounter that he once had:
Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain winds be free
To blow against thee: and in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure (135-140)
Wordsworth uses the male standard, and these lines show that he wants to impress that standard upon others as well. The speaker in Tintern Abbey desires for his “dear, dear, Sister” (122) to have an encounter with the landscape that will help her “mature” (139) into someone that more resembles who the speaker is now that he has developed into his full “moral being” (112). This hints at the notion that the male standard uses nature in a possessive way that does not appreciate the landscapes full potential and in a way does not trust the females perspective when encountering nature.
Wordsworth’s experience of the scenery uses a fixed position from which to survey the landscape. This stationary standard gives the reader only one approach to the scenery, but it is an approach that is also linked to the speakers past and present feelings that he has adopted. Which leads to one of the similarities between the masculine and feminine perspectives; they both address the landscape on an internal plane by influencing their feelings upon the scenery.
Mont Blanc by Percy Shelley is a good middle ground from which to view these two perspectives. The opening stanza introduces nature as an unfixed aspect and meanders through images of the landscape. What’s interesting about this poem is introduced in stanza two:
Thine earthly rainbows stretched across the sweep
Of the ethereal waterfall, whose veil
Robes some unsculptured image; the strange sleep
Which when the voices of the desert fail
Wraps all in its own deep eternity; (25-29)
These lines beseech an “ethereal” (26) waterfall, but the interesting part is that the waterfall curtains an “unscupltured image” (27). If an image is un-designed then it would be neither male nor female which would contradict both concepts of creation and gender. We could infer that the un-designed image is showing the reader that it is not only blurred by the waterfall in the poem, but that the poem is giving us a blurred image of what the standard could be. If the standard is indistinguishable as neither male nor female; then, in a sense, we can either make the standard what we want it to be or leave it as an indistinct image that supports both the male and female perspective. In stanza three of Mont Blanc the narrator speaks about the history of the landscape:
Its shapes are heaped around! rude, bare, and high,
Ghastly, and scarred, and riven.—Is this the scene
Where the old Earthquake-demon taught her young
Ruin? Were these their toys? or did a sea
Of fire envelop once this silent snow?
None can reply—all seems eternal now (70-75).
Shelley goes on to express how nature teaches us an “awful doubt” (77) that makes us in awe of its power. That power gives us a faith in nature that sets us apart from it. This separation coupled with the fact that we can marvel at our encounters with the landscape gives us a perception and awareness of ourselves. If we were to lose that awareness we would then be reconciled with nature, and in a lot of ways that would mean that humanity would once again be un-created or “unsculptured” (27).
In the same way that men want the standard to be in place so that you can view the world from their perspective, nature wants our separation from the geological forces because without that separation nature would not have an audience for its power. Nature is in many ways an un-sculpted image, because it is both masculine in power and feminine in beauty. Our encounters do not need to be strictly masculine nor feminine, just as long as they continue to happen so that the landscape can keep its audience and so that humanity can maintain its consciousness. I believe that the poems Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth and Mont Blanc by Percy Shelley are great pieces of poetry, and what they hold up as their standard is that the feelings that brew within us when we encounter the landscape are essential to our understanding of ourselves.
Hablik, Wenzel. Sunset, Mont Blanc. 1906. Pinterest.com. 2013. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni.” History of a Six Weeks’ Tour:
1817. Comp. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Oxford: Woodstock, 1989. N. pag. Print.
Wordsworth, William. “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.” Wordsworth and Coleridge
Lyrical Ballads, 1798. By Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Comp. Harold Littledale. London: Oxford UP,
1953. N. pag. Print.