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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

NATURE, by                 Poet's Biography

In "Nature," William Ellery Channing (1817-1901) articulates a transcendent affinity for the universe, employing nature as a lens to explore broader themes of joy, human emotions, strength, and personal agency. Known for his Transcendentalist sensibilities, Channing crafts a nuanced portrayal of nature's relationship with humanity, advancing the idea that nature is not merely an aesthetic pleasure but a moral and spiritual guidepost.

The poem begins with a bold declaration: "I love the universe,-I love the joy / Of every living thing." This love for the universe serves as an anchoring principle for the speaker, representing an existential "felicity" that remains constant amidst the emotional turbulence signified by "passion whirls the madmen, as they toy." Here, Channing contrasts the steadfast serenity provided by nature with the capricious and destructive emotions ("passion," "hate") that often consume humans.

The speaker desires to "warm / In the calm pouring sun," signaling a wish to draw sustenance and emotional equilibrium from nature. This sun is not just a physical entity; it is a metaphor for enlightenment, for a kind of clarity that is beyond the reach of those ensnared by their emotions. The "motionless silence" is where the speaker wants to "employ / My best true powers, without a thought's annoy." It is in this silence-a calm and emotionally stable mental state-that the speaker feels he can fully realize his potential.

Channing addresses humanity as a "high imperial race," suggesting an innate nobility or power in human beings. This power, however, is meaningless if one does not realize the "unshaken base" on which they stand. Channing seems to argue that this foundation is an understanding and appreciation of nature, which will enable humans to unlock their full potential, allowing their "powers" to "carry [them] to any length."

The poem closes with an exhortation: "Up! earnestly feel the gentle sunset beams; / Be glad in woods, o'er sands,-by marsh, or streams." This suggests an experiential communion with nature as essential for personal and spiritual growth. Nature is not just a concept but a living entity to be engaged with, felt, and, most importantly, enjoyed.

Stylistically, Channing employs a regular rhythmic scheme, embodying the order and balance he finds in nature. There's a measured calmness in his language and structure that mirrors the "motionless silence" he describes, a silence that is loaded with potential and vitality.

In summary, "Nature" is a significant contribution to the corpus of Transcendentalist literature, encapsulating key themes such as the spiritual dimensions of nature, the potential for human growth through natural communion, and the emotional grounding that nature provides. In this concise yet impactful poem, Channing delivers a timeless message, urging us to look beyond the superficial, to learn from nature, and to find both our joy and our strength in the beauty and wisdom it provides.


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