William Wordsworth’s View On Industrialization As The Downfall Of The Human Mind

Good poetry includes an overflow of powerful emotions meant to speak to the feelings of the reader and develops from a poet’s exposure to the world around him and the experiences he has in that world; the key to identifying good poetry is by discovering meaning in the poem. For Wordsworth, meaning is found in who we are and where we come from with the answers waiting for us in nature. He understood the relationship between man and nature as necessary to provide us with the knowledge to help us understand ourselves better and become aware of who we are. Poetry enhances human intelligence while nature keeps man alive and healthy, both spiritually and physically. Technological advancements from industrialization had detrimental consequences to nature and as a result, the human mind began to suffer. The benefits to society from Science and technology are materialistic in nature while poetry has the capability to shape our existence. Wordsworth proposed a new theory of poetry that used common language and discussed the lives of the common man to represent ordinary people of society; thereby, producing something extraordinary. He disagreed with the neoclassical view that the language of poetry should be elevated higher than regular speech, suggesting hesitancy to accept the many changes in society. Wordsworth was worried about humanities’ increasing ability to appreciate the destruction of the landscape, making it impossible for us to enjoy the simple beauties in the world around us. He believed man needed to learn how to advance technology by putting nature first or we risked losing ourselves.

Wordsworth believed the connection between people and nature was a relationship that developed naturally and was part of man’s spirituality. The connection developed amongst the common people from their reliance on the land for their way of life and to provide them with the basic necessities of life. He understood nature to have the ability to touch the human soul, hence man’s instinctive desire to be close to nature. He reflects his idea in the poem “Lines Written in Early Spring” when he writes: “To her fair works did Nature link / The human soul that through me ran”. He continues by expressing his concern that we were losing ourselves to man’s inventions: “And much it grieved my heart to think / What man has made of man”. Industrialization demanded more from the environment than ever before while consequently clouding the soul’s ability to see beauty and find meaning. Mankind was contributing to this loss and the power of nature was diminishing.

Wordsworth insisted people needed to recognize the importance of nature and he believed that technological advancements should only proceed if we put nature first. Before industrialization, most people had never owned or used an item that was made outside of their community. The invention of the steam engine propelled the need for coal and led to the development of the railroad, creating the ability to acquire goods from far away markets. The mining of coal and the development of railroads demolished natural environments, destroyed landscapes and created pollution at an alarming rate. Wordsworth’s frustration with the advancement of this technology is described in his sonnet titled “Steamboats, Viaducts, and Railways”, about a war taking place between nature and industry. The progress of technology and industry is represented by the title of the poem, with the progress being the three entities the poem is named after. Wordsworth acknowledges the need for advancements like the railway, but not at nature’s expense: “Nor shall your presence, howsoe’er it mar / The loveliness of Nature, prove a bar”. He continues: “To the Mind’s gaining that prophetic sense / Of future change, that point of vision, whence / May be discovered what in ye soul ye are. ” indicating he believed that man could not see the current or future implications industrialization had and would continue to have on the soul.

Additionally, industrialization led to the desire of personal gain over the protection of nature. Coal provided a source of energy strong enough to power machinery and cheap enough to make it economically efficient for manufactures to use machines and lower production costs. The lower costs combined with a demand for goods created the market for local manufactures to increase production in order to compete with other markets. Corporations were driven by greed, machines were replacing labourers and people were forced to work for lower wages, dividing nature and forcing man to compete with one another. Wordsworth references this competition at the end of the sonnet: “…and Time, / Pleased with your triumphs o’er his brother Space”, continuing with man’s desire for personal advancement: “Accepts from your bold hands the proffered crown / of hope…”. He possibly felt that nature too had been corrupted by this competition and because nature cannot control technological advancement or the destructive nature of man, the only hope for nature’s survival and humanity’s survival was in the future.

The deforestation, soil erosion and the over mining of natural resources depleted the natural environment provided to man and replaced it with factories, machinery, material goods and pollution. These changes altered the common man’s environment and changed their outlook on life, often more profoundly than the higher classes of society. Wordsworth emphasized the language of ordinary people or the common man contains a deeper reality than that of city folk. The common man could relate to nature more easily than higher classes as they worked more closely with nature and is easily comprehended. The goal for Wordsworth was to advance the intelligence of humans through his poetry and with the knowledge they acquired, they would easily recognize the consequences to nature.

Contribution to literary criticism is his new theory of poetry, taking common language related to the common man had a profound effect on the masses of society. They could relate more to the common language than the elevated language of previous poets. The idea that society first asks can we do it before asking if we should do it is a central theme for Wordsworth and his poetry. Wordsworth’s frustration with technological advancements wreaking havoc on the natural world and the human mind is evident in his writings.

10 October 2020
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