Community and the Individual in Wordsworth

After “five long winters” away from the banks of the river Wye, William Wordsworth speaks of a man’s reconnection with nature. He writes in Tintern Abbey:

Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion
It is as an individual alone that the speaker is able to access the true essence of nature. Deep thoughts begin to flow only when in solitude. He shows the desire to seek solace in the meandering flow of the river Wye, which is almost a role model for rambling individualism:
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
         How often has my spirit turned to thee!
Wordsworth’s inwardness and pleasure through seclusion of the human mind in harmony with nature contrasts that of Dorothy Wordsworth. In his lecture “Romanticism and the Invention of Nature,” Simon Bainbridge pointed out that as William was “wander[ing] lonely as a cloud” with the daffodils, Dorothy’s journals indicate that she was actually with him despite “the bliss of solitude” that the poem advocates. Dorothy’s journals exhibit a more reciprocal relationship with Nature. While Dorothy does spend a lot of time alone in nature and at home, she is often waiting for a letter or simply waiting for William’s return. Her journals show the beauty of nature yet the necessity of community as she walks about the Lake District meeting the townspeople.

For better or for worse, William came back from France as a new man and with a new perspective:

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
If humanity is collectivity or community, he seems to show little faith in his fellow human beings. The “sad music of humanity” could be the cries of the French Revolution which ring through his memory. But alas, a lonely walk in the nature seems to be the ultimate cure for this “worshipper of Nature.” After the appearance of his cherished sister towards the end of Tintern Abbey, he writes:
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; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies
-C.H.
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“The picture of the mind revives again”

Wordsworth tells us:

Though absent long,
These forms of beauty have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet”
Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, ll 24 – 28
He sings the virtues of memory, but of a special kind. Not a photographic one, such as those held in the pages of an album, but rather a multi-dimensional one. To this recollection the mind may return and explore depths of field. This act of remembering allows for an active displacement in time, a true revisiting of past events. In this way, Wordsworth can return to Tintern Abbey and enjoy a vivid experience of the past. In the same way, two years after coming across a parterre of daffodils (as told us by Dorothy Wordsworth in her Grasmere Journals), he can float above the scene, enjoying a new, free-flying point of view.
Could this be part of the essence of Romanticism? The power of the mind to remember but also reinvest past scenes with a present sense of adventure.
Keats writes:
Then let winged Fancy wander
Through the thought still spread beyond her:
Open wide the mind’s cage-door,
She’ll dart forth, and cloudward soar.
To Fancy, ll 5-8
Who is Fancy- if not the embodiment of creative remembering? Do we not read, enjoy, weep at words on the page precisely because we are encountering the past revived, shown us from ” a few miles above”…?
So while the rain has returned to the shores of the Léman, dashing all our hopes of spring.
[Fancy] will bring, in spite of frost,
Beauties that the earth hath lost;
She will bring thee, all together,
All delights of summer weather;
All the buds and bells of May
To Fancy, ll 29-33
 -L.M.

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