Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree

After reading “Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” I find that it contrasts the Enlightenment sensibility mostly in regards to privacy, self-reflection, and nature. In the poem the man flees from society feeling neglected and tries to embrace his solitude in nature. Yet he cannot forget his time and he has been changed by it and by his pride. The poem suggests that having privacy and inward reflection is healing, “True dignity abides with him alone/ Who, in the silent hour of inward thought,”  unlike the Enlightenment ideal that the way to happiness is through industriousness and working for the public good. This can also be seen in the beginning of the poem where the “Traveller” is beckoned to come and clear his mind, “if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves/ That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind.” Another significant contrast is view of harmony with nature being a source of wisdom. In the Enlightenment reason and religion are sources of wisdom but in the poem harmony with nature brings about “inward thought” and “true knowledge” which leads to love.


Solitude and Value in “Lines Left Upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree”

There are many instances where Lines contrasts the ideals of the Enlightenment. One such moment is found in lines 20 through 29. In these lines, starting with “And with the food of pride sustained is soul – In solitude,” there is more focus on the individual self than with his place in society. The subject “nourishe(s)” a “morbid pleasure” and  in this, we are drawn to his internal workings instead of whatever economic value he may have around him. This “morbid pleasure” would be ignored or cast out of attention by the ideals of the Enlightenment, but it is seen as a source of wisdom in this Romantic piece. The last lines are a direct attack against the Enlightenment teachings. The subject is said to have an “unfruitful life” and yet the subject is also seen as wise to have this life. This type of Romantic rhetoric attacks the Enlightenment idea of the self only having value as an economic unit. Instead, a contemplative, internal, and “unfruitful” life makes one valuable.

“Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree”, by William Wordsworth

This poem entitled “Left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” by William Wordsworth, is one of the first British romantic poems, a movement which was built in reaction against the Enlightenment. The first striking element which contrasts with the Enlightenment’s values is the emphasis on nature. Indeed, nature is in the center of the poem. First of all, the main character of this poem seems to be not a human being but a “yew-tree” on which the man is sitting. Moreover, the semantic field of nature is omnipresent in this text. We can actually notice that everytime a natural subject is mentioned, it is along with a meliorative adjective. We can quote, for instance : “No sparkling rivulet spread the verdant herb” (L3). The melioratives adjectives used here are “sparkling” and “verdant”. They are both used in order to underline the beauty of nature. But above all, nature appears as a supreme element with which humans are supposed to be unified to. Indeed, the final morality implies that humans are not supposed to be alone but to be in harmony with nature. In this poem, William Wordsworth condemns the man who saw nothing but himself, and who decided to live in his own lonely world, ignoring every other form of life : “Stranger ! Henceforth be warned ; and know, that pride […] is littleness” (L 46 and 48). The use of the noun “littleness” emphasises the greatness of nature, compared to humans. Thus, this general emphasis on nature contrasts with the Enlightenment’s values, which advocates the mastery of nature by human beings.

The second striking element which contrasts with the Enlightenment’s values is the emphasis on feelings. Indeed, many feelings are itemized, good ones or bad ones : “jealousy” (L16) ; “pride” (L20) ; “pleasure” (L28) ; “joy” (L39). But the supreme feeling, advocated by the author, is actually love. Indeed, it is the first feeling quoted, but also the last one. It is considered as the best feeling a man can have : “instructed that true knowledge leads to love” (L56). It is not only related to the good but also to the truth, as if William Wordsworth knew the truth about life. This is also a typical romantic point of view, which is that the writer is supposed to deliver a message to mankind and has to be a guide for the people. Plus, the feeling of love is seen here as a global feeling, that not only humans but also animals can have : “what if these barren boughs the bee not loves” (L4). Here, love as a universal feeling reinforcing the idea of a vital harmony between human beings, animals and nature. The flood of feelings created by the author clearly contrasts with the cold writing style of the Enlightenment writers, who advocates reason (brain, head, body), instead of feelings (heart, soul).

Lines left upon a seat in a yew-tree

In this poem, Wordsworth contrasts the Enlightenment sensibility by showing that Nature is a above men and a guide for peacefulness.

L.1 “Traveller! rest.”, shows the sense of adventure of the unknown by naming the man traveller. Nature is directly presented as something wise and calm by saying “rest”. L5-7 From the line “Yet, if the wing breathe soft, the curling waves, That break around the shore, shall lull my mind By one soft impulse saved from vacancy”, we understand that Nature saves us from vacancy, and then from industriousness in which you don’t notice your surroundings but rather focus on your work. Thus, we cannot see the beauty that surrounds us.

Another exemple would be L27-29 “Fixing his downward eye, he many an hour A morbid pleasure..An emblem of his own unfruitful life”, and L30-34 “And lifting up his head, he then would gaze On the more distant scene..Far lovelier, and his heart could not sustain The beauty still more beauteous”. By gazing at Nature, the traveller realizes that he can find much more in Nature than in himself. This could show that nature is superior to men and has more to offer than what we thought, as opposed to the Enlightenment in which we have the mastery of Nature, here we can talk about mastery of humanity. L51-53 “The man, whose eye is ever on himself, doth look on one, The least of nature’s works”, which means that men are stupid to think they are higher than anything and must become wiser to see what surrounds them so as to get value by being connected with Nature. L56 “True knowledge”, is Nature.

The traveller who felt sadness goes through all kinds of emotions thanks to Nature who guided him (“jealousy” “hate” l16, “love” l22, “pleasure” l28), he let them go and now has found peace. Nature and emotions are one, the man is in communion with Nature. As a conclusion, we can say that Nature helps us to see what is around us, the truth and acts like a guide, a source of knowledge which teaches us ; it opposes the Enlightenment since Nature was considered as useless and inferior. There is harmony between the man and Nature, and contrasts the fact of finding salvation through work ethic.

Commentary on “Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” contrasting the Enlightenment’s ideals

In William Woodsworth’s “Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree,”a narrator warns a traveler of a time when man and nature coexisted by telling the story of a man who lived under a yew tree. In the story, the Yew tree provides shelter for the man and in return, the man covers the ground with mossy sod and cultivates the area, “Who he was / That piled these stones, and with the mossy sod / First covered o’er, and taught this aged tree, / Now wild, to bend its arms in circling shade” (8-11). This shows a harmony between man and nature. This Romantic notion contrasts an ideal of The Enlightenment that man has to master nature. Additionally the man, described as having a pure heart in the narrator’s story, ventures into the city where he is immediately tainted by the world. The world symbolizes a big, industrious city and conveys that cities have turned into dark places that ruin the morale of aspiring young people. The man then lives out his life in loneliness under the Yew tree wishing for the warmth of other’s charity, “The world, and man himsef, appeared a scene / Of kindred loveliness: then he would sigh / With mournful joy, to think that others felt / What he must never feel” (37-39). The narrator finally urges the traveler to be humble and know that man is not greater than other living things, which contrasts an idea of The Enlightenment that man’s inventions outweigh the intricacy and beauty of nature.

“Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree”

I came to conclude that the presence of the idea of the self having value as connected to Nature in the text provided the greatest contrast to Enlightenment sensibility. According to this sensibility, the self is valuable as an economic unit; the work that one provides to a society is their value. However, in this text multiple references are made to the individual who designed the bench and his finding peace and purpose in his seat under the titular Yew tree. The man feels isolated and purposeless until he discovers this seat and immerses himself in nature. In lines 20-22, he “sustained his soul in solitude…these gloomy boughs had charms for him.” His time spent among nature–the trees, rocks, and thistles–gives him peace. Most persuasive are lines 42-43, in which “In this deep vale he died, this seat his only monument.” This can be interpreted as the only real value of his life being the seat he created to be more connected to or a part of the natural world. These passages also support the Romantic idea of finding salvation through harmony with Nature, which strongly contrasts the Enlightenment idea of finding salvation through work ethic as well.