Throughout Lyrical Ballads, the theme of spirituality seems to play an important role when looking at the poetic messages and opinions of Coleridge and Wordsworth. The spiritual aspects within this collection range from the beauty and power of nature coupled with the divinity and importance of the Alighty, a predominant feature of spirituality and crucially important in understanding the context of which the Lyrical Ballads were written. The theme of liberty and freedom is another important spiritual aspect that runs across the collection, used to portray the shackles of institutions and the rules and regulations of mankind.
In terms of nature, ‘Lines’ is one poem that seems to portray nature as a spiritual safe haven, a place where negative thoughts and burdens are those of unimportance. In the sixth stanza, we see “From earth to man, from man to earth/It is the hour of feeling”. Wordsworth’s imagery here, beautifully defines the connection between man and nature, a connection where emotion and feeling flow freely and without boundaries. In the following stanza, Wordsworth writes “Our minds shall drink at every pore/The spirit of the season”. Wordsworth here, is perhaps hinting at the idea that nature and its spirit can teach a man more that institutionalised education has to offer and, furthermore, the idea of ‘drink at every pore’ seems, in my opinion, to suggest that man needs every ounce of nature’s spiritual wisdom to become one with nature.
Alternatively, Wordsworth also seems to be implying that upon drinking in natures magnificence, human life and spirit is somewhat renewed. In the ninth stanza we read, “from the blessed power that rolls…we’ll frame the measure of our souls”, which to me seems to show mankind basing his soul and spirit upon that of nature. The imagery of the Almighty seems also to be portrayed here. In particular, Wordsworth’s use of “blessed power” seems to suggest that by aligning with nature, man can also experience the divine touch of the Almighty. Interestingly, Wordsworth had written this poem in March 1798 together with his ‘Expostulation and Reply’ and ‘The Tables Turned’, which both cover the idea of nature overpowering the institutions of science and the reasoning of natural life.
‘Expostulation and Reply’, is a poem based upon a conversation between Wordsworth and William Hazlitt, a humanistic essayist in the 18th and 19th Century. Wordsworth writes in the persona of Hazlitt, “Up! Up! and drink the spirit breathed/From dead men to their kind’. Here, Hazlitt urges Wordsworth to arise from his daydream based around nature and “drink the spirit” from philosophers that have passed before us as opposed to Wordsworth’s belief in ‘Lines’, in which he tells mankind to do the complete opposite.
Wordsworth’s reply in ‘Expostulation and Reply’ again follows that same opinion, as we see, “Our bodies feel, where’er they be/Against, or with our will”, which suggests to the reader, that the mind cannot force the body on a certain path of life. On the contrary, the mind and body will follow the spirit of nature. He continues in the sixth stanza, ‘we can feed this mind of ours/In a wise passiveness’, which again shows that through patience and enjoyment of the natural world as opposed to lacklustre revision, life will choose it’s path. However, though Wordsworth seems to believe that nature takes precedent over institutions and philosophy this does not suggest that Wordsworth was declaring himself an enemy of literature. It was perhaps the fact that philosophers such as Godwin “ignored…what he called the “primary passions” of men1″. This would suggest that Wordsworth’s message to his readers was to be aware of the spiritual inspiration that nature can offer when enjoying such hobbies as literature and science.
‘Lines written near Richmond upon the Thames, at Evening’ is another poem in which nature and divine beauty can be seen. It opens with “How rich the wave, in front, imprest/With evening-twilight’s summer hues”, which is typical of Wordsworth’s serene and scenic language and already seems to be introducing to the reader, a form of divinity within this scene. In the third stanza, Wordsworth writes “Oh glide, fair stream! For ever so;/Thy quiet soul on all bestowing”. Again Wordsworth’s delicacy of words paints an ever-growing picture of peace and tranquillity within nature. Furthermore, Wordsworth seems to base his “quiet soul” on the omniscience of the Almighty, carefully watching over the natural and human world. It is a particularly spiritual poetic scene. In the last stanza, we read, “The evening darkness gathers round/By virtues holiest powers attended”. With regard to Wordsworth’s use of “darkness” in comparison to his earlier “how dark the backward stream”, there is much debate surrounding the poetic meaning here. I would suggest, that by embracing the “holiest powers”, the darkness is quite irrelevant. By embracing the natural flow of the river and trusting in the spiritually divine power, you can then embrace the darkness without fear or worry.
It is not just the natural world that has a spiritual impact upon Wordsworth and Coleridge. Liberty is another spiritual area within Lyrical Ballads and is often coupled with the natural world. ‘The Dungeon’, an extract taken from Coleridge’s play Osorio, rather directly yet with great effect, shows the significant differences between a prison cell and the natural world, in terms of liberty and reform. In the first stanza, the hero of the play, Albert describes the prison cell. He remarks, with bitter sarcasm, “this is the process of our love and wisdom”, which seems to personify Coleridge’s own view, that with all the resources that nature and man has to offer, we choose imprisonment and captivity as a source of reformation. In terms of the dungeons effect upon man, we read “His energies roll back upon his heart,/And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison’.
An image of bare negativity is portrayed here, effectively showing that all life that a man has when locked into confinement is lost. Instead of a positive, life enhancing effect we are projected with reversal, where life is shunned aside, ignored and forgotten. Unlike Wordsworth’s calm and often beauteous imagery, Coleridge, though still passionate and poetically brilliant, is far more direct about his language here. However, in the following and final stanza, the liberating theme of nature is seen once again, and Coleridge’s language changes to fit that of Wordsworth’s. We read, “O Nature!/Healest thy wondering and distempered child”, a similar message of that in ‘Lines’ and ‘Expostulation and Reply’. Within ‘The Dungeon’, however, we are provided with an additional thought. Coleridge seems to suggest that when man is somewhat lost or confused in life, the freedom that nature possesses will spiritually guide him to reform the evils and burdens that have fallen upon him.
Wordsworth’s ‘Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Women’ is another poem that focuses on spirituality within freedom. Written in Alfoxden in 1798, Wordsworth describes this poem as “the last struggles of a human being, at the approach of death, cleaving in solitude to life and society”. However, the opening line of the opening stanza reads, “Before I see another day,/Oh let my body die away!”, which slightly contradicts Wordsworth notes on the poem, as the Indian women seems to wish away her links to humanistic life and society. Furthermore, in terms of spirituality, Wordsworth writes “body” instead of “life”, which interestingly suggests that upon the death of man’s “body”, spiritual life is free to blossom.
However, in the fourth stanza, Wordsworth writes, “too soon despair o’er me prevailed;/Too soon my heartless spirit failed”. In relation to Wordsworth’s notes on the poem again, it is easy to see the idea of “cleaving …to life and society”, as her want to survive almost stops her spirit from releasing the strains of human life. In the penultimate stanza, on the other hand, the theme of spirituality grows stronger as we read “In spite of all my weary pain,/I’ll look upon your tents again’, which suggests that the divinity within her soul begins to take more of a dominant role in helping her to depart from her human body. Wordsworth seems to be experimenting with the role of the soul and the spirit in this poem which makes it much more significant in terms of the spiritual aspects of Lyrical Ballads.
In conclusion, spirituality plays an imperative part within the collection. We have seen both Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s reliance on the natural world and the Almighty as spiritual guidance’s helping mankind’s spirit and soul to embrace what fears or darkness that may entrap him as. Similarly, the theme of liberty and freedom that is usually united with nature helps to release the spirit from the doubts and burdens of human life and the shackles of human society.