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Thoreau Through the Eyes of Wordsworth

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Viewing Thoreau through the eyes of Wordsworth
There are times when reading an essay that it is confusing to understand what the author is trying to purvey. Later, gaining more knowledge of the subject through other authors, it is easier to see what previous authors that have been read where trying to say. Looking at Henry David Thoreau’s “Solitude” after reading William Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much with Us” brought clarity to many aspects of Thoreau’s essay. Wordsworth’s poem brought clarity to what Thoreau believed some people are missing or closing themselves off to when they sever their ties to the natural world, the bond that Thoreau himself has with nature and why it seems he has found happiness.
There are many aspects of nature that many people miss that both Thoreau and Wordsworth see. When Wordsworth speaks of “getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; / little we see in nature that is ours” (356), it clarifies a conversation Thoreau has within his essay with one of his “townsmen, who has accumulated what is called a handsome property” (50). The conversation that Thoreau has with this townsman leads the man to asking Thoreau how he could “give up so many of the comforts of life” (50). When Wordsworth’s quote is applied, it helps to illuminate the point that many people are so busy trying to gain material possessions that they can no longer see simple beauty in nature; everything has to have a monetary value to make it worthwhile for many people to pursue. It shows that many people do not find peace in nature, they only find it through the material world.
Wordsworth in his poem expresses his belief that “we have given our hearts away, a sordid boon” (356) this emphasizes the aspect of Thoreau’s essay that deals with where many people have ended up in the world. Wordsworth’s quotation shows that he feels that people have given away a part of themselves, the part that is in the natural world not the material world; and the fact that what they have given it up for is empty and vile. This brings clarity to when Thoreau talks about his observations of what people face living close together. Thoreau says “we have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war” (52). This rigid society where “we live thick and in each other’s way” (Thoreau 52) is what we get when we give up the bond with nature; this is what Thoreau seems to believe we have asked for, and seems to be a clear example of the “sordid boon” (356) Wordsworth is trying to open our eyes to.
Wordsworth goes on to talk about how we have lost touch with nature and that “we are out of tune; / it moves us not” (356), saying that we are no longer on the same wave length as nature and that it no longer stirs any deep feelings within us. With this quote, it helps to understand the points in Thoreau’s essay where he speaks of the same issues of people not being “wholly involved with nature” (51) and that many people “have lost their subscription ticket to…this world” (53). Wordsworth’s words help to decipher what Thoreau is trying to explain; there is no great bond between most men and nature anymore and that even the most beautiful sunset is no longer as appreciated as it once was.
There are also aspects in Wordsworth’s poem that helps to shed light upon the bond that Thoreau has with nature, and that it seems as if Wordsworth would actually be jealous of what Thoreau has experienced. When Wordsworth said he would “rather be a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn” (356) it helped me to understand the bond that Thoreau has with nature. When Wordsworth talks of wanting to have a closer bond to nature like the bond created by traditional Pagan beliefs, it helped to clarify the amazement in nature that Thoreau has throughout his essay. Thoreau remarks about being “struck with awe” (50) at the things he sees and feels in nature, and that he is “partly leaves and vegetable mould” (52) himself. With Wordsworth, the desire he expresses shows how Thoreau truly did find himself “more favored by the Gods” (49)
Wordsworth, after speaking of his desire to be closer to nature, goes on to say that if he did have that bond that he might “have glimpses that would make [him] less forlorn” (356). Thoreau having formed his bond with nature speaks of “an elderly dame, too, dwells in my neighborhood, invisible to most persons” (52). This to me seems to be that Thoreau has had a glimpse into the natural world that you can only see if you are truly a part of nature. It seems that Thoreau has formed a bond so deep that he can commune with mother-nature herself. Without reading Wordsworth and seeing his example of the “sight of Proteus rinsing from the sea” (356) it was easy to overlook the spiritual aspect of Thoreau’s conversation with the woman who is “likely to outlive all her children yet” (52).
When taking a closer look at Thoreau and Wordsworth, it is easy to see the similarities in their works, yet the different levels of bonding with nature each has achieved. Wordsworth sees what the world has given up and what he is missing while Thoreau is living his words. Wordsworth’s words are the “subscription ticket” (Thoreau 53) to finding happiness in nature. It seems that the happiness Thoreau has found in solitude is a direct reflection of Wordsworth’s poem.
There are many different ways to look at look at literary works on the environment. With such a broad range of topics that can be covered it easy to miss aspects of essays or misinterpret them. Yet when you look back with a little more knowledge, and a few new words to guide your way, it can bring clarity and a whole new understanding to things that can open your eyes to the natural world.

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