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Amy L.

Kleinvachter
Dr. Kimberly DeFazio
3 March 2015
English 204: English Literature II
Mid-Term Paper

The Relationship between Nature and Spirituality in Romantic Literature


The 19th century, often called the romantic era, was a time of unfathomable change and
transformation. The west went from an agricultural to an industrial society, science emerged and
we saw the spark of industrial revolutions, and the idea of nationalism came forth bringing with
it a demand for authority. The 19th century also became a defining moment for the way in which
literature would be composed and thought of. It was within the romantic era that we saw the birth
of many great writers and literary works, and it was their ideas and philosophical trains of
thought that were most impressive and noteworthy. The writers of this time, oppressed by the
power of authority and the revolutions, were in search of freedom in their personal and political
lives. As they began searching for this freedom, they let their ever creative imaginations take on
far greater tasks than ever before, and outpoured their feelings, emotions, and senses into their
literature. Hand in hand, with their great respect for imagination and emotions, romantic writers
found nature to be one of their most peaceful and powerful assets. Nature to them was tranquil,
powerful, divine, and an escape from the harsh economic and political realities of the world at
this time. The romantics had a very special relationship with nature, and it is that relationship
that raises many questions. One of the biggest questions I have is, how powerful of a religious
role did romantic writers place on nature? Was nature more powerful than God himself?
Thinking on that, the rest of this paper will go on to analytically explore the powerful, romantic
ideals of nature and religion. I will specifically focus on the romantic writer, Samuel Taylor
Coleridge, who had emerged at this time. I will show how he gave nature a religious power. I
believe he thought so highly of nature that he saw nature as more powerful than God. As we
analyze his writings we will see this argument slowly unfold (Damrosch and Dettmar 7-26).

Studying Coleridges writings, there is undoubtedly one theme in common, and that is the
idea of nature. Coleridge saw nature as sublime. He gave it a sense of divinity, and used it in a
way to connect with the human soul. As we talk about nature and its divinity I want to bring to
our attention a poem called, This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, written by Coleridge. For some
background information, the poem starts out with the speaker, Coleridge, explaining how he
suffered an injury to his foot and is unable to go on a walk through nature with his visiting
friends. Unable to participate, he compares a garden of lime trees he is sitting in to a prison cell,
because finds himself discouraged and sadden by the fact that he is missing out. So he puts
himself in their shoes, and begins to wildly imagine what he thinks they are seeing. As his
imagination takes him on this imaginative walk, he realizes his power to connect with nature,
which we will see becomes a key aspect of this poem (Damrosch and Dettmar 561).
The first part of the poem I want to discuss begins with Coleridge describing his friends
walking through a dark, damp ravine, arriving at a waterfall, and then emerging under a wide
heaven overlooking a beautiful landscape. Looking at the lines specifically Coleridge states:
Fannd by the water-fall! And there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank Weeds,
That all at once (a most magnificent sight!)[]
Now, my Friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heaven and view again
The many-steepled track magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea (16-24).
It is important to note that before these lines, Coleridge describes nature as having a very dark
and eerie presence. He then imagines his friends traveling through a ravine, which I believe

Coleridge used to symbolize as a very low point in someones life. For example, the ravine could
have symbolized the many struggles people faced in the romantic era both politically and
personally. It could have also symbolized his emotions at the time he was writing this poem,
because he was devastated about not being able to go on the walk. Continuing on in the poem,
Coleridge then imagines his friends arriving at the waterfall which he describes as a most
magnificent sight, as the lines say above. When he describes the waterfall as a most significant
sight, I related the water of the waterfall to a baptismal scene, because as the water spread its
moisture on the nature around it, Coleridge imagined his friends emerging under the wide heaven
looking at a breathtaking landscape. From this I got a sense that, Coleridge or his friends, were in
tough times which was symbolized by the ravine, came upon the waterfall and were cleansed by
God, and then ultimately guided to a better place as they emerged under the wide heaven. In
broader terms, when Coleridge says his friends emerge beneath the wide heaven he is comparing
the sky to a heaven like symbol. This gives the sky a very God-like, inviting and limitless aspect.
It is also important to note that these lines come right after he imagines his friends walking
through the ravine, a symbol of struggle and tragedy in life. So, this shows that after you seek
nature the power is limitless, and nature has a God-like presence in everyones life whether they
see it or not. I feel as though Coleridge compared a walk through nature to being the same as a
walk through a life where God is always present. Coleridge showed us that even in the darkest of
times, if you appreciate nature, God will give you strength and lead you to a better place.
Continuing on, the next few lines only add to this God-like image of nature. When Coleridge
says many steepled-tracks, I believe he compares the hills in the landscape where his friends
emerge to steeples of a church. So, I believe Coleridge saw nature as a place of worship. The
word many is also important because it describes nature as having many churches or places of

worship. This lead me to think Coleridge saw nature as a far greater being than man, because it
had many places of worship unlike in the city where they had just a church. In other words,
Coleridge viewed nature as having more religious power than man.
At this point, we need to introduce Charles, one of Coleridges dear friends. As Coleridge
describes it, Charles was a working man who lived in the industrialized city, which put a burden
on him because he was unable to experience and connect with nature. Along with living in the
city, we also need to note that Charles had recently experienced a very tragic event when his
sister, who at the time was mentally unstable, killed their mother. This left Charles feeling very
depressed, and in search for something to heal his heartache (Damrosch and Dettmar 561-2).
Now that we know who Charles is, we can analyze one of more powerful passages of
Coleridges poem. The passage reads:
So my Friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and such hues
As cloath the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence. (37-43)
In these lines, Coleridge is referring to Charles when he says my friend, and he explains how
he hopes Charles can find joy and peace in one of natures most beautiful creations, the sunset, as
he himself has done before. The sunset being so beautiful is a sign that it is very powerful. In this
case, Coleridge had asked nature to paint such a beautiful scene because he thought Charles
needed an escape from not only the harsh realities of the hectic city scene, but also an emotional

uplifting from his recent family tragedy. The sunset is Coleridges hope that Charles can forget
about his sorrow for a minute and just embrace the beautiful scene that nature is painting in front
of him. He hopes Charles can spiritually connect with his soul when looking at the sunset, and
find the strength to push through these tough times. In a sense, the sunset was so beautiful and
empowering that Charles, overwhelmed by its beauty, experienced something very spiritual. It
was as if the sunset had more power than God, in the way Coleridge described the effects it had
on Charles.
As the poem continues, we see that Charless soul is renewed by appreciating nature and
its beauty. We also see Coleridge finds peace himself. The more he imagines the spiritual
connection Charles is having, the more he personally feels spiritually enlightened. He begins to
realize that even though he didnt go on the walk, he can still be satisfied and connect with
natures sublime power. He realizes that as long as he appreciates nature, no matter where he is,
it will always provide him with what he needs. He shows this realization when he states,
Henceforth I shall know/ That nature neer deserts the wise and pure (59-60). In other words,
nature is a powerful tool and spiritual being to those who appreciate it. By now, it is clear to take
away the message that nature is very God-like. It can be seen as a place of worship, and a place
to connect with your soul. Specifically for Coleridge, nature was a place of consolation. He
essentially saw nature as a force as powerful as God. To him, as long as you appreciated nature
and embraced it, it would always offer its healing power and strength. He emphasized the idea
that nature, with its beauty, could be more powerful to man than God himself.
After analyzing these few scenes from Coleridges This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,
and showing how nature was more powerful than God, I want to bring in a second piece of
literature. I want to analyze how some of the ideas from chapter one in Nealon and Girouxs

book, The Theory Toolbox, relate to the thoughtful construction of Coleridges poem. Chapter
one discusses theory in a way that one might not think of it, and questions the conventional ways
of thinking. As Nealon and Giroux said, were interested in theory as approach, as a wider
toolbox for intervening in contemporary cultures (Nealon and Giroux 7). In other words, the
way in which we interpret or think about something is very critical. The more we can critically
analyze something, the more we can draw from it. If we can see past the normal consistencies of
facts and think outside the box, the better off we will be. This made me think of how Coleridge
conducted his thoughts and analyzed nature. For example, in Coleridges imaginative walk he
emphasized ideas and concepts about nature that not everyone was aware of. He could see things
in nature most others couldnt. The God-like power he portrayed in nature was taking a relatively
popular romantic ideal, and turning it into something much more. I also want to point out that
Nealon and Giroux said a few times, what we think changes how we act (Nealon and Giroux
5). This concept was also very much so present throughout the poem. We repeatedly saw how
Coleridges thoughts dictated how he felt. He was depressed in the beginning, and then after
imagining the walk and connecting with nature he felt spiritually enlightened. As soon as he was
able to think differently and shed light on other ideals his lime tree bower wasnt a prison
anymore. Rather, his surroundings were just as beautiful and spiritually connecting as his friends
walk. This proves that how we think, truly does alter how we act. If we can think of nature as this
powerful spiritual being, then we can soulfully connect with it. This was one of Coleridges most
powerful assets. The more he could see nature in a different light the more he got out of it, and in
the end we see him share that idea with his best friend Charles.
In conclusion, there is two main ideas we need to take away from this analysis. First, we
need to realize that Coleridge saw nature as more powerful than God. He appreciated nature to

such a high degree that it was a Godly figure for him. He could find spiritual consolation, and the
more he appreciated it the more powerful that connection became. Second, the way in which he
conducted his thoughts was very important. If he wasnt able to abstractly think about nature as
the God-like figure he saw it as, he would have never felt the way he did about it. So, it is critical
we analyze the way in which someone thinks about something, because those who cant see
outside the box of natural facts will never really see the true beauty in things.

Works Cited
Coleridge, Taylor S. This Lime Tree Prison My Bower. The Longman Anthology of British
Literature Vol. 2 4th ed. Eds. David Damrosch and Kevin J. Dettmar. Boston: Longman.
2010. 561-3.
Damrosch, David and Kevin Dettmar. The Romantics and Their Contemporaries. The
Longman Anthology of British Literature Vol. 2 4th ed. Eds. David Damrosch and Kevin
J. Dettmar. Boston: Longman. 2010. 3-33.
Nealon Jeffery and Susan Searls Giroux. The Theory Toolbox. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman &
Littlefield. 2012. 1-8.