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Virginia Wesleyan College
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Student Research Projects

Sublimity to Mastery: The Developing Relationship of Man and Nature in William Wordsworth's "The Prelude"

Student Shaylyn Baker
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department English
Course ENG 491


William Wordsworth is generally referred to as a nature poet. His writings are heavily influenced by his interactions with and his view of nature. In his epic poem, The Prelude, he frequently represents nature as a sublime parental figure, inspiring both awe and fear and shaping his behavior through chastisement, but at the end of Book Fifth of the 1850 version, the tone of the poem shifts. Wordsworth no longer asserts the sublimity of nature as superior in the man/nature relationship. Instead, he says the true power in the man/nature relationship belongs to the mind of man which has the ability to create wonders far exceeding those of nature. The foundation for representing nature as secondary to the mind of man is laid within both the 1799 and 1805 versions of the poem. The change in depiction of nature from sublime and masterful to co-creative with man stems from the humanistic tradition, developing during the Romantic Era, from his quest to find significance in humanity after his disillusionment with the French Revolution, and from his friend and mentor Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s influence, who encouraged him to chronicle the growth of his mind in a blank verse poem.

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