Contrary to popular opinion, most learning takes place away from school, in nature. The importance of learning outdoors was explored during the romantic period. The romantic period was a time of rapid changes in industrialization; a time when productions of machinery and factories economically exploded. As a result, many people moved from the countryside to the city to work in factories. However, people became nostalgic for their previous lives in the countryside and tried to reject these changes by accepting a naturalistic mindset to escape reality.
As a result, William Wordsworth, an English writer during the Romantic period, was heavily influenced by nature. In the late eighteenth century, Wordsworth published the poem “The Tables Turned,” which supports the idea of nature being more proficient in teaching during the romantic period. This poem begins with the speaker encouraging his friend to take a break from reading books and go outdoors and enjoy nature. He also claims nature has more knowledge to share than books do, and the only way to gain this knowledge is to experience nature physically. Wordsworth uses contrast, imagery, and personification to support utilizing imagination as a way of prioritizing emotion over logic while sending a message concerning nature’s supremacy as a teacher compared to books.
In “The Tables Turned” there is a contrast between Wordsworth incorporates contrast to exemplify how nature is a more effective teacher than books. He compares books and nature directly, so readers have a clear understanding of how nature is a better teacher than books and how emotion has better use than logic. For instance, the speaker states: Books! ‘Tis a dull and endless strife. Come, here the woodland linnet.How sweet his music! On my life,There’s more of wisdom in it (Wordsworth 9–12).
By saying books are dull, the speaker suggests that the information in books takes away the reader’s imagination and emotion from learning. Books are dull and lifeless compared to the bird who can sing and make music. Also, since all the information is directly stated in books, readers do not practice the use of imagination making books lifeless. By showing how the use of imagination is not used in reading books as it is when learning from nature, nature proves to be a be a more efficient teacher.
Another example of contrast is when nature is said to have more wisdom than sages. In “The Tables Turned,” the speaker states, “One impulse from vernal wood / May teach you more of man, / … / Than all the sages can.” During the romantic period, sages were people well known for their abundant amount of wisdom, so for the speaker to state that nature has more wisdom than sages do, he must be very sure to make such a claim.
In addition, Joshua Gonsalves, an English professor at New York University, states, “To remove this limitation on rationality and the aesthetic theories extending reason into emotional, social and psychic life requires a curale or “‘teachable idiot,'” ” implying that people who do not take advantage of nature are “teachable idiots” because reading and studying from books incloses minds to certain ideas, and people should learn from the true source of knowledge: nature. However, this problem can easily be solved by introducing these people to learn from nature quote. Then, their minds will open up to not only books but also the wisdom nature has to share. Therefore, Wordsworth’s use of contrast aids to show how using emotion in nature is more exceptional than logic and books.
In addition, Wordsworth’s use of imagery of the beauty of nature so readers can understand how nature can be a more efficient teacher compared to books. He creates a clear image of a setting sun in the mountains and describes the scenery around the sun. Wordsworth writes: The sun, above the mountain’s head, A freshening lustre mellowthrough all the long green fields has spread,His first sweet evening yellow. (5–8)The adjectives “freshening” and “sweet” create a clear, peaceful image with soft colors. These adjectives also infer that nature is refreshing and sweet unlike books. The soothing, mellow colors in the sky from the setting sun create a peaceful, refreshing sense that can not be created when reading books. Another example of imagery that Wordsworth uses is, “Enough of Science and of Art; / Close up those barren leaves.” The barren leaves help the reader imagine books as dry, lifeless papers that have little meaning or worth to them. More specifically the speaker refers the barren leaves to science and art; therefore, science and art books are lifeless and have no valuable information.
In addition, Lowe, an English professor at the University of California states, “Wordsworth seems to disinherit himself in the Preface by deliberately cutting himself off from “a large portion of phrases and figures of speech which from father to son have long been regarded as the common inheritance of Poets” and turning rather toward “the incidents of common life” for his subjects.” Therefore, Wordsworth effectively uses imagery in “The Tables Turned” and other poems so readers can visualize his message of nature’s supremacy as a teacher.
By personifying nature as a teacher, Wordsworth elevates nature and invigorates it. When nature is presented as an actual physical teacher, readers are able to understand and relate more easily to what nature is trying to teach. For example, the speaker tells his friend, “Let Nature be your Teacher.” (Wordsworth 16) through “Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health, / Truth breathed by cheerfulness.” (Wordsworth 19–20) Here, the speaker’s claim clarifies Wordsworth idea that the knowledge that nature has to share can not be learned from books because the things nature teaches such as peace and harmony or beauty in simplicity can be described in books, but readers will never really understand the meaning unless they experience and see these ideas for themselves.
Another example of personification in the poem, Wordsworth refers to a song thrush as a preacher in “And hark! How blithe the throstle sings! / He, too, is no mean preacher:” (Wordsworth 13–14) As support, Paul Fry, an English professor at Yale, states, “The imagination is needed, as a “feeling,” to merge them with other objects even as, and precisely because, the linguistic aspect of imagination, in just this sense a “power,” makes their identity glow.” Fry implies imagination, an emotion, must combine with other objects because imagination is incorporated with language and becomes a power to reinforce self knowledge.
Therefore, nature is emotionally able to teach some topics books can not which shows emotions superiority over logic. Wordsworth’s use of tone, imagery, and personification effectively shows the romantic theme of using imagination to emphasize emotion’s use over logic by maintaining a direct tone in the poem, painting a beautiful scenery, and introducing nature as a teacher. The message of this poem is important to society today because books are prioritized significantly than nature in schools, and people have to be reminded that books can not teach everything. Books are not able to teach people about how generations of humans come and go but the Earth remains the same forever. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west, everyday, even long after humankind is present. People can only read it about this idea in books but will not fully how nature on Earth will always continue long after generations of humans are dead. Nature also takes a part in learning and should be incorporated in the school system. Although recess is currently being used widespread in schools, class materials are more dedicated to learning by the book, so students will not have an opportunity to be hands on and experience nature as it should be to fully understand how the world works. As a result, schools should incorporate learning from nature more often than they currently do. All in all, William Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned” is an important piece of literature that stands out during the Romantic period and has influenced the way people think about nature until today.