Discuss the relation between the mind and the natural world as it is understood in two texts written in the period.
Coleridge wrote that in Romantic poetry, ‘paradox is the only mode in which realities of a certain order can be expressed.’ (Gurney 47) I contend that these words articulate the way in which Keats, in his ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, expresses his own ‘reality of a certain order’: his view on the reality of the relation of the human mind and natural world. As the speaker sits and watches this nightingale, Keats uses paradoxes and antitheses to continuously contrast the speaker’s world and the singing nightingale’s world. I will explore these antitheses, such as the dullness of the poets ache compared to the sensuous pleasure of his union with the bird, as well as the nightingale’s obliviousness to transience compared to the poet’s painful awareness of it. However I will also explore Fogle’s argument that proposes that these series of oppositions make up the ‘principle stress of the poem: the struggle between the ideal and actual,’ (211) and I aim to show that this constitutes Keats’s concluding view: in our attempt to achieve the ideal experience of nature we are only reminded of our place in the actual and material which prevents the human mind’s full union with nature. Interestingly, in Wordsworth’s ‘Ode. Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ it is this very meditation as to the transience of life which removes the speaker’s sense of dislocation and restores him with hope. Memories of childhood, and of the ultimate glorified vision of nature that he had during this youth, reinstates his connection to the natural world. Yet the true restorative power of this is only achieved when one accepts man’s mortality and the presence of expiration and demise in the world.
The speaker describes the sadness he is experiencing as a ‘drowsy numbness’ (1) and ‘ache.’ (1) His state is characterised as an emptiness or absence of something; he has been ‘emptied’ of ‘some dull opiate to the drains.’ (3) In hearing the nightingale’s song, he experiences a painful awareness of the bird’s contrasting condition: the bird, amongst nature is characterised by fullness and excess: its ‘shadows’ are ‘numberless’ and it sings in ‘full-throated ease.’ (10) Therefore his desire for a union with the bird translates as a desire to be filled and invigorated. Language and rhythm is effectively used here to create a distinction of different moods, which works to increase the sense of separation between the speaker’s own mental state and his thoughts of the natural world: in the first stanza, a sense of sluggish weightiness is created by the excessive use of heavy thudding alliterative ‘d’ and ‘m’ sounds to describes his dull ache, ‘dull opiate to the drains,’ (3) ‘some melodious plot,’ as well as the harsh and sharp ‘p’ sounds, ‘too happy in thine happiness.’ (6) This is very different to the vitality created by the light vowel sounds...