In this world, the only thing we can be sure of is that everything will change. With all of these transformations happening, it is a wonder that a great poet may write words over one hundred years ago, that are still relevant in today’s modern world. It is also remarkable that their written words can tell us more about our present, than they did about our past. Is it just an illusion that our world is evolving, or do these great poets have the power to see into the future?
In this brief essay, I will investigate the immortal characteristics of poetry written between 1794 and 1919. And, I will show that these classical poems can actually hold more relevance today, than they did in the year they were written. Along the way, we will pay close attention to the style of the poetry, and the strength of words and symbols used to intensify the poets’ revelations. The World Is Too Much with Us, written by William Wordsworth in 1807 is a warning to his generation, that they are losing sight of what is truly important in this world: nature and God. To some, they are one in the same. As if lacking appreciation for the natural gifts of God is not sin enough, we add to it the insult of pride for our rape of His land. Wordsworth makes this poetic message immortal with his powerful and emotional words. Let us study his powerful style:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Lines 1 – 4
Materialism, wasteful selfishness, prostitution! These are the images that these lines bring to me! Yet, is it not more true today than in Wordsworth’s time, that we are a culture of people who simply consume and waste? The third line awakens me, and says that I have been raised with the mentality that I am not a part of nature, and that I do not identify my needs with those of nature’s needs. This mentality may have been quite true in 1807, but it is surely more true in 1996. There is absolute disregard of nature in the acts of well respected western corporations.
Would someone who is in-touch with nature orchestrate the “slash and burn” of beautiful rain forests of South America, or the life giving jungles of Africa and Asia? Would someone who is in-touch with nature dump chemical waste into waters that are home to billions of plants and animals? These and other abominations have surely increased in the last 189 years since this poem was written. What makes the sin even worse is the fact that men who order this destruction are well respected people in our culture.
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.
Lines 6 – 9
Wordsworth gives life to nature in his words, and displays to us nature’s agony and pain, “howling at all hours.” But, we listen not! For we are out of tune, and much too important to ourselves, that we may not listen to the wind, rain, land or sea. I do not know which is the greater sin: the pillage of the earth’s natural beauty, or man’s torturous inhumanity toward his fellow man. London, written in 1794, by William Blake is a poem of civilization’s decline â€“ and also the decline of compassion and humanity.
I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow, And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe. Lines 1 – 4
London, a city of millions, with very few who are wealthy enough to own land. In a subtle way, Blake tells us that every inch of London is owned â€“ the “charter’d streets,” the “charter’d Thames.” It is a reflection of the immaturity of our culture that we allow just 50f the world’s population to control 800f the world’s wealth , leaving most in utter poverty. This is especially true today: the United States frequently dumps excess farm and dairy produce to keep their market price high, rather than share the excess food with the hungry people of the world. During Blake’s time, the world was not in such excess as it is today. It seems that in our culture, the more we have, the more we waste.
How the Chimney-Sweeper’s cry Every blackning Church appalls, And the hapless Soldier’s sigh Runs in blood down Palace walls. Lines 9 – 12
Every potent word of these four lines inject emotions of grief, hopelessness, and death: the images of the child’s cry, the blackning Church, and blood on Palace walls. The words force us to mourn the decline of London’s society. The history of the child enslavement of chimney sweepers, during Blake’s time, was a horrid inhumanity to children. Great Britain and other western nations would like to praise themselves for abolishing this sort of slavery. However, the inhumanity of child enslavement is more true today than in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds.
The sin of enslavement is even more heightened, because neocolonialism and multinational corporations have moved their inhumane business practices to developing countries, where they may take advantage of the desperation and poverty of those areas. In addition, the disturbing images of slavery are hidden from westerners who respect the success of multinational corporations. Yes, Blake’s poem is very relevant today. It is difficult to choose among William Butler Yeats most timeless poems, because every one of them has immortal qualities. His poem, The Second Coming, not only embraces eternal relevance and a deep understanding of humanity’s history, but also the fruits of prophesy!
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the worldâ€¦
Lines 1 – 4
With respect to the two major topics discussed before man’s inhumanity and disrespect for nature, this stanza offers much insight into the progression of humanity. The state of decline that was described in poems written over one hundred years ago described a human cultural trend that is to continue on an intensifying cycle, like the “widening gyre.” Today, we are approaching a state of complete detachment from our origin, our nature and our God: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer,” as insightfully described by Yeats. This stanza is so very relevant to us, because it symbolically describes every aspect of the progression of humanity! Yeats poetry transcends immortality, and becomes prophetic! His “widening gyre” symbolizes the climactic end, until anarchy is upon us. Every word of his poem creates a deep fear of humanity’s downward spiral. The relevance of poetry is undeniable. As Percy Bysshe Shelley admits, “A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.” It is an “eternal truth” that can offer wisdom for hundreds of years after the poem’s birth. A prophet or a mystic may attempt to tell ones future; but, the poet approaches from a very different angle. The poet becomes intimate with the nature of humanity, and its timeless characteristics.
In this way, the poet surrounds himself in a divine sort of wisdom. Truly, poetry is immortal. To explore the wisdom and symbolic message of poetry is an exciting journey for me. As a child, I was never introduced to poetry, and certainly never was exposed to its importance. To study the deeper meaning of poetry has been a challenge and an adventure. It has brought my mind to contemplate things to which I have never attached a value, such as my personal connection with nature. I agree with Shelley, that poetry “awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought.”