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Romantic Tradition Shown in Yeats’s Nature Theme  

2008-03-25 23:00:20|  分类: 作业及论文 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Romantic Tradition Shown in Yeats’s Nature Theme

--Taking “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” as an Example

Irish poet, playwright, essayist and autobiographer, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was regarded as the last great poet in the English romantic tradition and the only poet in that tradition, except Byron, with a genuine sense of humor and gift of wit. His poetry can be divided into three phases: before 1900, and roughly after 1920s. Most critics say that Yeats is a poet whose later poetry was greater than his earlier; and who conceived of his poetry as part of a search for a philosophic and aesthetic system that would resolve the conflict between art and nature. His earlier poetry, though received less fame, evinces great philosophic and aesthetic achievements and English romantic traditions.

Taking “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” (1890) as an example, he creates an isle similar to Thoreau’s Walden and describes a kind of pure, simple life there with a very strong romantic sense upon nature. In order to trace his romantic tradition specially represented by nature theme, this article is going to analyze Yeats’s philosophic view upon nature.

Brief Introductions

1.       Romanticism

Romanticism in English literature began in the 1790s with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth’s “Preface” to the second edition (1800) of this collection in which he described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” became the manifesto of the English Romantic Movement in poetry. On a whole it was a rebellion against the objectivity of rationalism; for romantics, the feelings, intuitions and emotions were more important than reason and common sense; they stressed the close relationship between man and nature; they emphasized individualism, placing the individual against the group, against authority; they were attracted by the wild, the irregular, the indefinite, the remote, the mysterious and the strange.

2. Romantic view on nature

From the above characteristics, we may find numerous traces of Yeats’s following such tradition. But here, I’m going to touch nature’s function in Yeats’s philosophy through analyzing “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. Nature is loved by literature in almost all generations and all genres. But it contains different meanings in different literary schools. Romanticism, too, is interested in external nature – for itself, for beauty. It regards nature as source for the admiration of the primitive, as refuge, and as revelation of God to the individual, the three of which will be discussed in the following chapters respectively.

3. About “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

   Yeats describes a kind of life on Innisfree. In the first stanza, he delineates that he will live in a small cabin made of clay and wattles, till nine bean rows and be accompanied only by a hive with loud bees. In the second stanza, he depicts different scenes there in one day, morning, noon, evening and midnight: rains, cricket’s singing, purple glow, and linnet’s wings, etc. The third stanza mentions his present life of industrialization: roadway, pavements, etc., and metaphorically depicts the everlasting lapping sounds of the lake water calling from his deep heart’s core, which evinces his urge of leaving his present world for Innisfree.

Chapter I Admiration of the Primitive & Refuge

The sudden acceleration of technical and economic development began in Britain in the second half of the 18th century. The traditional agrarian economy was replaced by one dominated by machinery and manufacturing, made possible through technical advances such as the steam engine. This transferred the balance of political power from the landowner to the industrial capitalist and created an urban working class. From 1830 to the early 20th century, the Industrial Revolution spread throughout Europe and the USA and to Japan and the various colonial empires. It swept out the old mode of living, thinking, and caused various social and political problems as well as development. People were driven out of their land and became employers and employees in the factories. A lot of writers, artists sensed the destruction of the previous harmonious agricultural society and wrote and composed various works to condemn this and try to find a way out.

Yeats is one of them. The very moment after having read this poem, we cannot help but recall life in Walden described by Thoreau, simply, peaceful primitive; labor on both hands, direct communion to nature beings and objects. Yeats’s distrust of cities carries an odor of primitivism, too. Innisfree is another ideal paradise like Walden, untrodden, undestroyed, uncivilized and un-industrialized, for people to return to. The poet is eager to live there. He depicts with his whole-hearted emotion: planting beans and vegetables all by himself, building a house without any modern equipment, keeping a primitive way of life and abandoning his present industrialized life. We may find various romantic period writers, especially poems held such idea: Wordsworth went back to the Lake District and wrote many nature poems there. One of Shelley’s masterpieces “To a Skylark” publicizes not only his nature theme but also his revolutionary ideal for people to listen attentively to. And so on so forth. Nature is self-evidently primitive without destruction of modernization, which is one of the most appealing charms to writers, artists and ordinary people.

The uniqueness of this poem lies in his creation of “Innisfree”, an island, as refuge from the actual world where he can purify his filthy soul. It is of course criticized by most critics as escapist.

Since it is obvious that he admires such primitive life in such an escaping way, I will not go any further on this point.

Chapter II Revelation of God to the Individual

Most romanticists hold that nature is something divine which can give us revelation and that their pursuit of their individualism is, in a way, directly connected with nature because they believe in direct communion to nature and God to receive revelation.

It is very typical to set Wordsworth as an example. As a vision poet, Wordsworth depicts nature as a trinity of divinity, rationality and humanity as well as simply beautiful scenery.

Nature is firstly divine. In his “Influence of Natural Objects”, he calls natural objects “Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe”, “Soul” and “Eternity of thought”. He holds that their life and existence is controlled by the spirit of the universe and is the incarnation of the universe. Nature is then the representation of rationality. Being the divine representation of God, nature is also omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent in its didactic instruction and enlightenment as well as care, consolation and joy, to man. In his “Above Tintern Abbey”, he believes that natural objects give him “a serene blessed mood”. Finally nature is like an actual human, an instructor, a friend, a mother, to communicate with the individual and give him help, comfort and nurturing.

Nature, in Yeats’s poems, is also the trinity of divinity, rationality and humanity. He finds direct communion to nature as God. He hears a sound articulated by “lake water lapping by the shore” calling “in the deep heart’s core”. He seems to have a talk with this sound and receives revelation from this talk. Through this direct communion, he acquires the instruction to abandon the disastrous modern life brought along by industrialization. And through this direct communion, he tries to figure out his individuality and subjectivity. The sound is now becoming God’s revelation. And what he realizes is that he should live on Innisfree and lead a simple, primitive life. His strong desire is enhanced by the vivid descriptions of the surroundings in the first stanza and the whole day scenes in the second. Heart is usually considered as one’s emotion. When his heart is guided by nature and meanwhile guides his rational action, we can definitely find his divine expectation upon nature as God and his search of individualism in the revelation.

Conclusion

After analyzing the nature poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, we may conclude that Yeats admires nature very much in that it is primitive without the destruction of industrialization, and he seeks nature as refuge to be far away from the crowded chaos of modernization, and most important of all, he adores nature as God who gives revelation to his individual. And a case in point is, the above philosophical views of Yeats on nature are all derived from the British Romantic tradition.

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