Wordsworth’s “Nutting” and Accountability/Responsibility

In “Lines” (also known as Tintern Abbey), Wordsworth shies away from making any kind of political statements, hiding behind the physical beauty he describes. He is careful to avoid saying what one might need respite from that would cause them to seek it in nature, and he is careful to not say that people are doing harm to nature (even aesthetically). He does not mention societal inequity, preserving nature, or political/international conflicts (like the French Revolution).

In “Nutting,” however, he alludes to accountability. He begins by describing a scene much like how he did Tintern Abbey. Part of the beauty of the woods is its lack of human disruption: the ground is “pathless,” the thickets and fern are “matted” and “tangled,” the nook is both “dear” and “unvisited.” The area his younger self stands in he describes as virgin. It is supernaturally, beautifully, untouched by human hands. While in Tintern Abbey he attributed part of the scene’s beauty to Nature’s godliness, in the hazelnut grove he mentions “fairy water-breaks.” He is made joyful just like in Tintern Abbey–and then, overcome, he seeks to destroy it. 

When he comes to his senses again, and sees what he has done, the young narrator “[feels] a sense of pain” and describes his violence as mutilation. This is already more than any recorded reaction of his to the iron-works polluting Tintern Abbey. He appears to have learned a lesson, one that he tries to pass on to the silent interlocutor. He tells the maiden to exist in and move through the natural world “in gentleness of heart; with gentle hand” due to the “spirit in the woods.” Nature, he comes to decide, is owed respect. He condemns his own actions explicitly enough and gives advice, ostensibly to the maiden but likely also to his readers, about how to treat nature. I saw this as Wordsworth taking much more responsibility in his poetry and with his platform; this was far less cowardly than Lines/Tintern Abbey.

One thought on “Wordsworth’s “Nutting” and Accountability/Responsibility”

  1. I wonder if the narrator in “Nutting” is also hiding behind his address to the maiden in order to avert eyes away from his destruction of the natural world. He tells this woman to go into nature with a gentle hand and see this pleasure and beauty for herself; however, he never really acknowledges that he is on the same level as people/industries who were contributing to the destruction of nature at the time. He claims he felt a sense of guilt and pain at his destruction, then goes straight into his address to the maiden, telling her what he thinks she should do. I wonder if he really feels a sense of responsibility/accountability or if he is deflecting onto other people that he addresses in his poem.

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