Reading Wordsworth’s Sonnet “Earth has not anything to show more fair” in Association with Schlegel’s Theory “History of Literature”

This paper explores the theoretical applicability of C. W. F. Von Schlegel’s theory “History of Literature” in William Wordsworth’s sonnet “Earth has not anything to show more fair”. In the sonnet, Wordsworth stands upon the Westminster-bridge and observes the city, early in the morning. He finds the city unexpectedly beautiful, due to the artificial structures and their proximity to nature. The poet appreciates both the city and nature, though there is something doubtful about his motive.

Schlegel gave his 12th lecture on “History of Literature” in which he talks about poetry and the processes of making poetry universally relevant. Wordsworth, through his empirical observation, makes people of all ages believe that morning is the time when everything seems beautiful, despite the city’s ugly appearance from unnecessarily high structures.

Wordsworth portrays the city by mentioning artificial things like, ships, towers, domes, etc. and giving them metaphorical attributes. Likewise, he portrays the nature by mentioning sky, air, sun, valley, rock, hill etc. and aggrandizing them with unusual features. He claims that the earth is at the paramount state of beauty in the morning. The air is smokeless which means when the scientific creations are not in use and people are inactive, the air is devoid of smoke. This connotatively means the poet is against the scientific achievements which are either directly or indirectly responsible for the pollution in nature. The sun is shining the brightest ever and the river is flowing without human and mechanical interruptions and the people in every home are still asleep.

Too much has been discussed and written about William Wordsworth and his poetical works. Harold Bloom has made a collection of reviews on Wordsworth’s characteristic poetry. He has included the lecture of William Hazzlit on “English Poets” in 1818, in which Hazzlit talks about Wordsworth:

“His poetry is not external, but internal; it does not depend upon tradition, or story, or old song; he furnishes it from his own mind, and is his own subject. He is the poet of mere sentiment.” (66)

Hazzlit is true when he says Wordsworth’s poetry is internal. Wordsworth picks up a subject that is eternally relevant, i.e. nature and makes his claims universally and eternally relevant. Theoretically, he doesn’t stick to traditions and social norms and values, rather he stands out of the crowd by creating his own noble philosophies. Being a romantic poet, he chooses subjects related to nature and appreciates it reluctance and invincibility against human’s attempts to destroy it. In the poem, the poet observes the beauty of nature when uninterrupted by humans though his underlying message is that nature is fighting against the science and industry. Since nature is too close to us, unlike poets like Wordsworth, we cannot see the beauty and realize the importance of nature. However, Hazzlit misinterprets Wordsworth as a poet of mere sentiment. Great poets share a feature of bundling up their main idea and ask readers to untie the bundles and take what is inside. His poem bears the qualities of news, but the readers need to figure out the poet’s motive for themselves. By seeing a beautiful city from the Westminster-bridge, early in the morning, he superficially adores the nature and the city. However, in a deeper sense, he ironically laments that his surrounding has been ugly due to modernization and industrialization. Hazzlit adds on Wordsworth’s poetry:

“They open a finer and deeper thought than any poet in modern times has done or attempted.”

Generally, poets reveal the known facts with which readers are familiar. In contrast, Wordsworth explores the invisible challenges and dangers we are going through or going to face. He not only points out the causes, in addition, but he also offers some resolutions as well. He is an expert in the relation between human beings and nature. We are destroying the nature being unaware of our vulnerability in return. We cannot guess what Wordsworth is going to say, but when he says, we cannot resist believing and appreciating his principles. His poetic principles are thought-provoking and they become a kind of news that no one but the poet himself can deliver.

In his lecture, Schlegel illustrates the subject matter and nature of poetry. He claims that human and nature are appropriate subject matters of poetry, for we are directly engaged with them whereas we are less informed about the exotic things and we cannot represent them justifiably. Moreover, Schlegel asserts:

“The proper business of poetry is to represent only the eternal that which is, at all places, and in all times, significant and beautiful; this cannot be accomplished without the intervention of a veil.” (22)

He means poetry should be such that represents eternity. It should combine the past, the present and the future in order to accomplish eternal relevance. Poets should take some materials from the past, some from the present and some others from the future so that it can represent all the ages equally. That means, poetry should be readable and applicable for people of all ages and times and they should never be outdated, rather remain evergreen. We, normally, see nothing significant in what is around us and Wordsworth explores them. That only is not enough, poets, in addition, should make the familiar things strange and most importantly, be more resourceful, so that the readers will be attracted. We need to treat our subject matters imaginatively and give higher significance to the ugly things in order to show the beauty in them. The present is actually a mystery in which we cannot see any traces of beauty on the surface, unlike in the past. Therefore, poets should be more knowledgeable while writing about the present in order to offer some mysteries to the readers. Past is vague and the present is clear, but sometimes clarity becomes a problem and vagueness inspires you to write.

Unlike any common people, Wordsworth knows where to find beauty even in the modern, industrial and scientific world. He holds a view that beauty is in everything, we should only know how to see them. He accomplishes his desire to see a beautiful city by standing on a bridge in the early morning. Those who cannot see beauty are supposed to be dull. Artificial structures are destructive in nature, but still, they are beautiful in the eyes of the poet. In the morning, everyone is still in bed and no vehicles could be seen running on the road. The poet knows that the city will be corrupted by the smoke and noise of vehicles and industries during the daytime. The poet strategically observes the brightest ever sun in the morning. The ‘mighty heart’, i.e. the earth is always still and the very quality makes it even more beautiful and stronger. In the day, the city must be ugly, but the poet has eulogized the beauty of it in the light of the brightest sun in the morning. Through this poem, Wordsworth demands an evergreen nature that is undisturbed by the human creations. Nature should remain as calm as it is in the morning. Nature was significant in the past, it is even more significant in the present and will be even more significant in the future. Therefore, the poet is universalizing his theme of preserving nature for better tomorrow and making it eternally relevant.

Hence, William Wordsworth and Von Schlegel are theoretically unified. Schlegel has proposed a theory of universally relevant poetry which Wordsworth has been successful in practice. Schlegel has talked about the representation of the past, the present, and the future, likewise Wordsworth has presented a fine example.

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. New York: Michael Rosenberg, 2009

Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s Classics Critical Views: William Wordsworth. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009.

Shelden, Raman. The Theory of Criticism. London: Longman,

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*