Compare "Tintern Abbey" by Wordsworth and "In Memoriam: Lyric 56" by Tennyson?



Answers:
What's most important to see here is the attitude toward nature conveyed by both poems. Obviously, Wordsworth sees nature as not only the source of the spirit, but the source of his morality, basically all his human goodness. Consider this passage:

"In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being."

So, by talking about "anchoring" here, we can see that Wordsworth perceives nature to be actively involved in the spiritual life of man, as protecting the soul, the heart, and all of the speaker's moral being. Obviously, what we have here is a nurturing mother Earth, from which mankind draws strength and inspiration.

Now, onto Tennyson. We have a much different attitude towards nature and its relationship towards man's spiritual life and spirit itself. Basically, Tennyson's portrayal of nature, or mother Earth, is that she is indifferent to the spirits and spiritual lives of men, and that we can not look to her to nurture our spirits. Consider this passage:
"A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.

"Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more."

Here, mother Earth is basically saying, "I'm brutal and callous, I could care less about your spirit and self-important view of your life. To me, its just the system of nature itself that I perpetuate, and nothing more."

The fundamental difference between Tennyson's attitude towards nature and Wordsworth's is that, in nature, Wordsworth finds reason to believe in the goodness of the world, and finds meaning, inspiration, and solace in the beaty and majesty of the natural world. (Additionally, he alludes more to natural land formations and inanimate things like trees, etc.) Whereas Tennyson is referring more to the brutality of nature, referring more to the animal kingdom and the food chain as evidence of nature's brutality, (The passage "Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw" conjures the image of battling animals / predator and prey) and thus nature's indifference to man's spiritual need for nurturing and inspiration; basically, what Wordsworth finds provided by nature, Tennyson says that nature never provides.

Finally, these differing views have ramifications for ways in which the poets render humans' relationship with God. Wordsworth, obviously, sees in nature many things that correspond to God's love. (He is slightly afraid of it in a respectful way, and, very important, he connects the human spirit and mind DIRECTLY with nature, in this passage: "Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man")
Finally, nature's role as guardian of all the human virtues within the speaker also seems to correspond to God's role in man's spiritual life. Thus, it makes sense that he connects man directly to nature in the passage above, because man is made in God's image, according to scripture.

Tennyson sees nature as somewhat of a tyrant, seeming to defy God by being ruthless to the beings on earth, which causes Tennyson to feel despair in a "God, why have you forsaken me?" kind of way. He feels that we have to just wait until we die to see if we just end up "blown about the desert dust, / Or seal'd within the iron hills," (That is, doomed to be at nature's mercy until the end of time) OR if God has a reason for all this brutality, which we will only know when we meet him, or see "behind the veil."
One was written by a Brit and the other was written by another Brit.

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