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“It seems to me that we all look at Nature too much, and live with her too little” This quote provides a philosophical insight into the main theme I will explore within my chosen poems. Nature is defined as the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations. However this simply states that nature and humans are opposites, and one opposes the other.
The poems I have chosen question this definition of nature and put it to humankind to answer the question, are we one with nature, or merely manipulating it to our own advantage, giving little back to our heritage? Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ explores our own humanity and how easily two conflicting emotions become each other; whilst Charlotte Mew’s ‘The Trees Are Down’ examines human ignorance and through use of language she unravels the ever changing connections with nature.
However it is Lawrence’s ‘The Snake’ that uses strong imagery to portray humankind in all its shapes and forms, forever changing. These three poems utilize a series of techniques that bring forth a common phrase we are what we hate, kill and love, which ultimately contributes to a universal relevance, the main idea I will be focusing on, ‘each man kills the thing he loves’. Oscar Wilde is considered a gifted author, playwright and poet of the nineteenth century.
He was intimately involved in the up rise of aestheticism, a philosophy of nature and expression of beauty; Wilde expanded the narrow-mindedness of the Victorian Era, ultimately bringing a new light to society. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, a semi autobiography, is considered the most seminal and serious of all Wilde’s works. However it is after being accused of homosexual offences, by his lover’s father, and further incarcerated at Reading Gaol that Wilde’s writing took a more melancholic approach.
After serving his two years of hard labour, Wilde then moved to France, and was in ‘penniless exile’ It was in his last remaining years that Wilde produced two extremely heart felt pieces of work; De Profundis, a Latin term for ‘from the depths’, was an epistle addressed to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and recounted his lifestyle of extravagance and love, within the first half. In the second part the text looks into his recent experiences, during his time at Reading Gaol, as he comes to terms with his spirituality.
The other, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’, a six ‘cantos’ poem, further subdivided into six lined stanzas, describes his experiences of loneliness and death, whilst incarcerated at Reading Gaol. The initial scene of the ballad, ‘He walked amongst the Trial Men, In a suit of shabby grey’, was inspired by the hanging of Charles Thomas Wooldridge, on Saturday 7th July 1896, a thirty year-old man convicted of cutting the throat of his wife. Charlotte Mew was an understated poet, whose works were less recognised, in comparison to Wilde, however she was highly praised by the likes of Siegfried Sassoon and Virginia Woolf.
Mew lived a traumatic life, from beginning to end; facing close family deaths and two of her siblings being diagnosed with mental illness. These early experiences affected her future and had major influences on her; beginning with her and her sister Anne making a pact never to marry, in fear of passing on her family’s madness. Additionally Mew had similar sexual orientations as Wilde, attracted to ones own sex, however due to the condemnation of homosexuality, in the nineteenth century, Mew was left with a strong sense of suppression.
Her life was extremely stifled by such experiences of death, loneliness and disillusionment and hence reflects these themes within her work. ‘The Trees are Down’ is a six stanza poem, that follows no structured form, merely ranging from one to nine lines, each stanza. The poem is based around the Revelation reference, at the beginning of poem: ‘-and he cries with a loud voice: hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees” and relates this to our society, past, present and future.
David Herbert Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence, was an extremely successful writer and artist. Publishing many plays, novels and volumes of poetry. He lived a very modest life, born in the small mining township of Eastwood, England, in 1885. Lawrence was an outcast, with few friends at school, who didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a miner. So Lawrence went on to study, gaining a scholarship at Nottingham High School and then becoming an elementary teacher. However it was after falling in love with his old professor, Earnest Weekely’s, wife, Frieda von Richthofen, that his life was altered.
Breaking off his engagement and ending his teaching career, Lawrence developed his writing into a career. ‘Sons and Lovers’ is a semi-autobiographical account of Lawrence’s experiences as a boy, under the name of Paul Morel, who loved his mother and full of hatred for his father. Lawrence wrote this novel after the death of his mother, in 1910, and explores the love of a mother “As her sons grow up she selects them as lovers–first the eldest, then the second. These sons are urged into life by their reciprocal love of their mother–urged on and on. ”
All three poets lived extremely different lifestyles, however the common thread between them is the literary period they lived in, the nineteenth century. Wilde’s work, pre-incarceration, was considered extremely lush and light, however post-incarceration it grew sad and he adapted Dark Romanticism into his works. Mew explored Naturalism where the environment controls people, especially in ‘The Trees are Down’, which is similar to the works of Lawrence who combines naturalism with Pre-Raphaelitism, combining literacy with the visual arts, which is seen through his strong imagery.
Comparing these three literary movements helps shape each poem, providing a purpose behind the theme of each text. The intent of these poems differ slightly from one another, however all three have embedded the allegory of killing our intimates within their texts. Wilde takes his own personal experiences of loss, and additionally the example of Wooldridge’s own act, to reveal how within love echoes hate and vice versa. Mew, who’s poem seems completely ahead of her time, exposes the ignorance of the human race.
This exposure of human’s prejudice towards nature is again echoed within Lawrence’s poem through the line ‘my education said… he must be killed’. The common purpose within these texts is the exposure of human’s ignorance and how inevitable it is. Lord Alfred Douglas’s father took Wilde to court for alleged homosexuality and this life altering moment in Wilde’s life is easily identified within the poem ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. However Wilde carefully entwines Wooldridge’s own attempt of ‘killing the thing he loved’ within his own story to expose the wider occurrence of this tragedy.
It is questioned whether or not Wilde came up with this statement or whether it is a nod to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice when Bassanio asks ‘Do all men kill the things they do not love? ’ Wilde is well known for his stimulating epigrams, yet this phrase seems to generate a metaphor for life and although not a question, like in Merchant of Venice, Wilde questions the similarities of love and hatred. When searching the word ‘love’ up on Thesaurus. com it provides a list of antonyms, including ‘hatred’, and vice-versa and yet here we see Wilde placing the two, opposing verbs, hand in hand.
Wilde’s underlying purpose within ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ is not to recount his experiences at Reading, but what Wilde is really looking for is the mode of interaction in which love and hatred are one and indivisible, in which the bitterness is an expression of the admiration. Written in the nineteenth century Mew’s poem, ‘The Trees are Down’, was completely ahead of its time and in today’s society is seen as an empowering demonstration of humanity’s destructive ignorance.
Using the line from the revelation Mew makes deep connections with the past and by examining her present looks into the future of what is to come, what is now extremely relevant. The purpose of this is to reveal society’s destructive nature and speak out against the destruction of our heritage as ‘half my life it has beat with’. Lawrence examines prejudices of the human race towards animals, within the poem, ‘The Snake’, and how we accept the words fed to us in an alleged ‘education’.
However the irony of it all is that we are one with the Snake and this is what Lawrence was trying to achieve. Describing the snake drinking from trough as if ‘he’ is a person, the same as the narrator, then ‘he’ looks up ‘just like cattle do’. Lawrence’s connections across the animal kingdom; man, snake and cattle alike, break down the barriers of humans vs. animals, generating a scene of equality. However it is once the narrator’s ‘voice of… education’ convinces him otherwise, his face becomes humanity; fearful and paranoid.
Each text focuses on humanity and from here branches off the love-hate, ignorance and prejudices of the human race. Wilde highlights the correlations between love and hatred we express towards one another, Mew exemplifies humanity losing touch with their heritage, whilst Lawrence’s reveals the irony within humankind’s prejudices. In all three cases the writer is attempting to exemplify how two effects, wildly different, grow closer together, reciprocating off one another, or how two objects, scientifically/emotionally tied together can push one another away.