Reason Vs Emotion
Following the Enlightenment Period, European writers developed what is known as Romanticism, where they were free to express their feelings and emotions in their writing. This emotional transformation from the rationality of the Enlightenment allowed writers to focus on originality and individual genius, as well as infuse optimism into society. One of these romantic authors, William Wordsworth, composed many lyrical ballads, in which he returns to an origin of language and stresses emotion over reason. The power of nature, as well as the innocence and purity of childhood are common themes in his ballads, where he encourages his readers to self-reflect and return to the untaintedness of childhood. This new idea of trusting emotion leads to questions of whether or not one should trust their emotions or their reason. In his ballads Anecdote for Fathers, Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, and Simon Lee, Wordsworth argues that it is better for one to return to the innocence of childhood, as it is where humans actually understand the most. The constraints of society and adulthood corrupt the creativity of human beings, leaving them ignorant to the beauty of nature and life. By connecting with emotions rather than reason, one can truly be aware of the beauty of life and save their soul from the impurity of civilization.
Childhood and the state of nature give human beings a greater wisdom than the rationality of adulthood and the restraints of society. Children are seen as pure and creative as they have not yet been corrupted by society and reason. In Wordsworth’s ballad, Anecdote for Fathers, he depicts a conversation between a son and father, where they discuss where they would rather live, by the shore or in Kilve. The young boy determines that he prefers the shore to Kilve, however the father cannot seem to fathom why this is and requests a logical answer from his son, “At this, my boy, so fair and slim, / Hung down his head, nor made reply; / And five times did I say to him, / ‘Why? Edward, tell me why?’” (Anecdote for Fathers, 57). The son struggles to come up with a rational reason that will appease the adult for why he prefers the shore, so he picks a tangible thing— a weather-cock— that he can point out to his father, “Then did the boy his tongue unlock, / And thus to me he made reply; / ‘At Kilve there was no weather-cock, / ‘And that’s the reason why’” (Anecdote for Fathers, 58). The poem suggests that this is not the real reason for his decision as he “made reply” instead of stating a genuine answer; and that the boy has been forced into lying through the need placed on him by his father to come up with a rational reason for his emotional feeling. While the father requires rational justification for his son’s decision, it demonstrates how he has lost his creativity with age. However, his son is able to tune into his imagination and emotions, allowing him to see the beauty of the shore, something his father is unable to do anymore. The boy, in his youth and innocence, knows more than the parent who has lost his imagination with age. Children are more inclined to understand and use their deeper feelings compared to adults who struggle to connect with those feelings as they have lost their naiveté to adulthood.
Along with the importance of childhood emotional intuition, Wordsworth also stresses the importance of nature in an individual’s emotional, creative and spiritual life. Often times, nature takes on the form of God as it has immense power over human beings and their emotional status. In his ballad, Lines written a few miles from Tintern Abbey, the speaker sees nature as a reminder of who he once was, as it brings him back to the innocence of his childhood before he was corrupted by the limits of society. He holds nature in a high regard— as one would hold God, approaching nature with a religious fervor and as a divine being, “In nature and the language of the sense, / The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse, / The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul / Of all my moral being” (Tintern Abbey, 112). He sees nature as an entity with a kind of sovereignty over him, something that has the power to control and guide his “heart, and soul” and “all my moral being. ” Wordsworth is able to find a sublime unity through the interconnectedness of nature, something that he cannot find in humankind. The speaker states, “For I have learned / To look on nature, not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes / The still, sad music of humanity,” (Tintern Abbey, 111) further highlighting the fact that nature is not “thoughtless youth” or naiveté, but rather the remedy to the corrupt and “sad music of humanity. ” In his ballads, Wordsworth often discusses “the sublime” which is to be seen as different from “the beautiful”. Something that is beautiful is well formed and evokes pleasure in the viewer, however something sublime is characterized by an essence of greatness and transcendence. It evokes fear, awe, wonder, and curiosity beyond measure. The speaker in Lines written a few miles from Tintern Abbey sees nature as a sublime being, “For nature then / (The coarser pleasures of my boyish days, / And their glad animal movements all gone by,) / To me was all in all” (Tintern Abbey, 111). Instead of being another element of the world that is overlooked, the speaker sees nature for the greatness that it is, a transcendent entity. His appreciation of natural beauty has allowed him to see the divine power of nature, as his reflection of it is one of awe— breathtaking and strikingly beautiful. His realization of the divine presence found in nature turns his awe into a kind of piety, where he becomes a faithful worshipper of nature.
The idea of trusting one’s emotions over their reason became a popular concept for romantic writers like Wordsworth, as they believed that emotions allow humans to understand the beauty of nature and life. In his poem Simon Lee, Wordsworth describes the life of an old and decrepit man who used to be young and lively. Instead of living in despair of his current physical condition, he maintains a cheerful attitude and finds happiness in what he can. While maintaining this cheerful attitude, “And no man was so full of glee;” (Simon Lee, 52) he also pushes himself into completing daily tasks, working harder than any other man his age or in his situation should. Throughout the poem, Simon is seen working, contrary to dwelling on the misfortune of his situation. The speaker is constantly urging the reader to think and linger on the unfortunate elements, however it is clear in the story of Simon that he cannot spare to just sit and reflect. While his efforts are clearly not enough save him from his inevitable passing, “Alas! ‘tis very little, all / Which they can do between them” (Simon Lee, 53) Wordsworth clearly indicates that Simon is responding to his circumstance in the most optimistic way possible, showing that it is emotion, rather than reason, that truly saves a person’s soul. The speaker states “And still there’s something in the world / At which his heart rejoices; / For when the chiming hounds are out, / He dearly loves their voices!” (Simon Lee, 53). His passion and determination to maintain a positive moral life is an act of emotion, and for the characters of this ballad, the clear noble decision is to act, not overthink. While a rational person would sit in despair of his situation, Simon demonstrates how remaining optimistic saves the state of one’s soul, which is far better than saving their physical being.
Through emotional reflection and nature, human beings are able to return to the innocence and wisdom of childhood, while also saving the moral state of their soul. The constraints of society and adulthood corrupt the creativity in human beings, leaving them with only their reason to get through life. Without the power of emotion, people would be blind to the beauty of life and nature, leaving their lives monotonous and unfulfilled. Wordsworth’s ballads Anecdote for Fathers, Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, and Simon Lee all share a common thread of emotional entrustment, arguing that by trusting one’s emotions over their reason, they can truly appreciate and understand life. Through his own emotional connectedness, Wordsworth is able to create stories in his poetry that teach his readers the importance of trusting our emotions, as they allow us to restore our childhood insight and purity from the corruptness of adulthood. Likewise, not only do we learn about the beauty of the world surrounding us, but we also discover how to truly save the state of our souls and how to live positively.
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