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"Nutting"

Composed during a stay in Germany from 1798-9 and in recollection of boyhood days, Wordsworth's poem "Nutting" presents what at first appears to be a narrative poem concerning a leisurely romp through the woods. This wandering culminates in the excited apprehension of the recollecting speaker of "A virgin scene," but relaxes as "The heart luxuriates with indifferent things, / Wasting its kindliness on stocks and stones, / And on the vacant air." At this point, the poet suddenly turns to "merciless ravage," attacking the trees around him and rendering the woodland scene "Deform'd and sullied." The remembering poet posits a contradictory set of emotions arising on the completion of this ravaging, as his past self departs "Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings / I felt a sense of pain when I beheld / The silent trees and the intruding sky." The recollection of this violation causes the speaker to address a hitherto unintroduced listener, "Then, dearest Maiden! move along these shades / In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand / Touch, - for there is a spirit in the woods."

Unlike other Romantic poems we might find "ecological"- e.g., Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Blake's Jerusalem " this poem does not explicitly move us to a universalized message (the address is to an individual), and it does not use revelatory language or invoke a global stage. Neither does this poem aspire to confront the whole of nature or to express the whole mind of man in relation thereto. It does, however, powerfully communicate a sense of violation, powerful in part from the unexpected nature of the violence, and make the reader complicit in the poet's act. Taken on its own, the comment that "the heart wastes its kindliness on stocks and stones" might be taken as a casual lesson or remark. Immediately preceding the turn to violence, however, they become contaminated by what follows and the final turn to a call for "gentleness" is all the more potent given the speaker's previous carelessness towards this quality. Ralph Pite reads this poem as implicitly offering a positive ecological outlook, cautiously suggesting rather than dogmatically asserting connections between the human and the natural. Furthermore, the poet acknowledges the necessity of human contact with the natural - the poet and the maiden must touch the trees - but nonetheless calls us to be aware of fragility and avoid harm as much as possible. This perspective might be further complicated by taking note of the pervasive sexual imagery in this poem. Kevin Hutching proposes that this poem be read from an "ecofeminist" perspective, taking the language of sexuality and violation to have a double reference both to the literal scene before the past poet and a more general aggressive masculine orientation to feminine and natural others. This reading is reinforced by the partially obscured female figures that open and close the poem, who frame the scene of the hazel-grove and function as Wordsworth's lover and audience.

Andrew Lallier






Select Bibliography

Hutchings, Kevin. "Ecocriticism in British Romantic Studies." Literature Compass 4.1 (2007): 172-202. Web. 9      Feb. 2012.

Pite, Ralph. "How Green were the Romantics?" Studies in Romanticism 35.3 (Fall 1996): 357-73. Print.