Poetry As Art: Friedrich Schiller and William Wordsworth
Posted on Dec 17 2011 at 10:06:17 AM in Literature
Poetry is a delicate art. A copious number of persons classify themselves as poets. True poets, however, are not ubiquitous. They exist only in small numbers, and are frequently isolated from society. They work in solitude creating images of nature and shaping reality with words for distinct purposes. Sir Philip Sydney said, “the poet, … lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, dooth grow in effect, another nature, in making things either better than Nature bringeth forth, or quite a newe formes such as never were in Nature …, freely ranging within the Zodiac of his owne wit”. There are two things, according to Sydney, that make up a true poet. A true poet must first create a new or better form of nature, and second, use his imagination to do so. Authors Schiller and Wordsworth support these ideas in their writings about nature and poetry.
Friedrich Schiller was born in 1759. Writing was the most important thing in his life. As an adult he was educated in military school and served as a physician in the Stuttgart Grenadier Regiment. In 1782 he deserted the army because his superior, Duke Karl Eugan forbade him to write at all, threatening him with imprisonment (Schwaegermann). Schiller knew he was a poet at heart, but he longed to discover what it meant to be a poet. Though he was a poet first, he became a philosopher as well and spent much of his time seeking to understand the meaning of the creation of poetry.
Schiller believed that a poet was the fundamental human. A poet had a close connection to nature. Schiller defined nature as “…nothing but the voluntary presence, the subsistence of things on their own, their existence in accordance with their own immutable laws” (CP 129). He believed that nature exists in the unmovable laws it creates for itself and the poet can either be a part of nature or seeking nature. He took his conceptions of a poet and separated his ideas, forming two separate types. One type he labeled “Sentimental” and the other “Naïve”. He based his ideas on himself and on his good friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He considered himself a Sentimental Poet: reflexive, with distance between himself and nature, yet seeking nature with a passion. He is a representation of the ideal nature, and his representation of nature gives pleasure. A Naïve poet, Goethe, is in touch with nature and carries with him a sense of wonder and surprise, as a child. He is nature, an imitation of actuality. According to Schiller, these two traits are most effective when united within a poet: “we must concede that neither the naïve nor the sentimental character, each considered alone, quiet exhausts that ideal of beautiful humanity that can only arise out of the intimate union of both (CP 151).” To be nature and to seek nature gives a person the ability to experience both the existence and the journey simultaneously. This ultimate ideal, rarely, if ever, occurs within a human being.
Based on all of this, a poet who is a part of nature, takes his experience and expresses it to the best of his ability. He makes nature, which is already a part of himself, tangible in a new way to other human beings experiencing his work. He recreates, or “transition[s] from a constrained state to one which is natural…”, nature (CP 149). The experience of a poet, however, is sometimes radically different than the experiences of any other person, so the poet must create a new nature, a nature that all can comprehend. “Poetry … is nothing but giving mankind its most complete possible expression…” of nature (CP 136). Poetry embodies the ideas of nature so that others with less capacity for understanding nature can still experience it. This is not the main reason for writing poetry, however. Poets do not write poetry for others. Poets write poetry for themselves. It is a form of therapy, of relaxation, and a way to understand oneself and the world surrounding.
William Wordsworth, in his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”, says “the principal object, then … was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them … to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect” (CP 165). This is almost exactly the same as what Sydney said. Wordsworth believes that poetry is for other people. The human mind is able to be excited by things that are not vulgar and violent. Poetry should be a means by which humans increase their ability to appreciate beauty and human dignity (CP 166). This is “one of the best services in which, at any period, a Writer can be engaged” (CP 166). Poetry should throw an illusion over a commonplace object or activity, shining a new light on it so that others may perceive it from a different perspective. The poet recreates nature.
Wordsworth does not separate the talents of a poet into more than one type of poet as Schiller does, but he is very clear about the qualities that a poet should possess. A poet should be a “man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them” (CP 169). A poet gazes on nature through his passions and will and finds similar qualities all around him. When he cannot find these qualities around him, he creates them and shares them with others. Wordsworth, in his own writings, uses imagery to create and recreate the nature that he finds around him. For instance, he writes “In more than inland peace/ Left by the winds that overpass the vale,/ In that sequestered ruin trees and towers -/ Both silent and both motionless alike-/ Hear all day long the murmuring sea that beats/ Incessantly upon a craggy shore” (Wordsworth 24) to describe a place that he had experienced. Here he recreates nature in a manner so that others may experience it, too.
Schiller and Wordsworth were two great Romantic Poets. They wrote poetry and tried to understand the meaning of the act of writing poetry. They felt that poetry, nature and passion were essential pieces of all aspects of their lives, and they wanted to share their pleasure and fulfillment with others by way of creating and recreating nature and the passions of the human heart with poetry. It is a great and worthwhile endeavor, though if you ask any poet, it is a “Hard task to analyse a soul, in which/ Not only general habits and desires,/ But each most obvious and particular thought-/ Not in a mystical and idle sense,/ But in the words of reason deeply weighed-/ has no beginning” (Wordsworth 28).
Schwaegermann, Ingrid. Ludwig Van Beethoven the magnificent master. Joy, how the ode to it was written. http://www.raptusassociation.org/timetable.html
Wordsworth, William. The Prelude: The Four Texts. 1798, 1799,1805, 1850. New York, NY: Penguin Books,1995.
Coursepack. Romanticism, Jan Koelb. University of North Carolina, 2007.