Wordsworth's "The Haunted Tree" and the Sexual Politics of Landscape
Tim Fulford, Nottingham Trent University
In 1819 Wordsworth began to write a short poem that he published in 1820. He called it "The Haunted Tree." Unusual within his corpus in that it is fancifully mythological and playfully erotic, this poem is nevertheless an evocation of a particular oak-tree in the familiar landscape of Rydal Park, Grasmere.1
Wordsworth dwells upon the tree in a manner that links the poem to "The Thorn" and to the poems on the naming of places. The poem is part of a kind of arboreal sub-genre within Wordsworth's nature verse and continues the modification of the eighteenth-century Georgic he had previously made in "Yew-Trees" and The Excursion.
Here is the text of the poem:
That "The Haunted Tree" has been unjustly neglected by critics is surprising, since it alludes to a number of poems that have been regarded as icons of high Romanticismpoems by Coleridge as well as by Wordsworth himself. It continues the debate about nature, the feminine, love and inspiration begun in "Dejection" and the "Immortality" ode. And it introduces into that debate quiet topical reference to some of the most fundamental social issues and fashionable literary trends of Regency Britain. In this essay I shall try to rectify critical neglect of the poem by examining it in detail, arguing that we need to read itlike much of Wordsworth's later poetryas an intelligent and witty, if oblique, contribution to contemporary political and social debate, a contribution more and not less pertinent in its choice of a mythologized English nature as its setting.
In the nineteen eighties, a number of critics suggested that Wordsworth's nature poetry is a flight from political issues into the sublime area of his own subjectivitythat it reveals a loss of faith in political and social argument. For Marjorie Levinson it is an "evasion," for Alan Liu a "denial," of history.2
The concept of "displacement"originally Raymond Williams's but revived by David Simpsonis more subtle but still, I shall argue, not wholly adequate as a formulation of Wordsworth's poetic relationship with the political and social issues of the early nineteenth century since it presumes that landscape functions as a secondary stage on which issues that arose elsewhere can be depicted in controlled form (Simpson 15-20).
Answering these charges that Wordsworthian nature was an "evasion" or "denial" of history, Jonathan Bate argued that the depiction of nature in The Prelude amounted to a "green politics" and a Romantic ecology of particular relevance at the present historical moment of advanced despoliation of the earth's most vital elements. Bate's intervention reminded us that nature wasand ispolitical. But as an answer to Levinson, Liu and Simpson, and even as a reading of Wordsworth per se, it was itself open to accusations of nostalgia and pastoralism, for it placed the Romantics at the start of a tradition of nature conservancy in Britain that many see as class-bound and politically conservativea survival of the values of the country gentry and aristocracy by means of the institutionalized National Trust. Since the publication of Bate's Romantic Ecology, however, a number of scholars have presented a more historically detailed version of Wordsworth's involvement with and influence upon "green" politics, natural science and environmental movements (1-35). Michael Wiley has reconstructed the complex ways in which natural space was understood by early nineteenth-century geographers. He has suggested that Wordsworth's poetic organization of the prospect-view was shaped by surveyors who began to map the Lake District. Robin Jarvis, meanwhile, has restored to view the varied cultural and political significances of rural walking in the period. I myself have examined the ways in which nature-description advanced views about class and gender, and was understood to do so, as has Jacqueline Labbe (Fulford, "Landscape," and "Romanticism"). Most helpfully, the work of geographers Stephen Daniels and Charles Watkins has correlated the aesthetics of the picturesque with the practical management of nature on estate-farms. As a result, the landscape of Romantic-period Britain, and the views presented of that landscape, are better understood than before. Whatif anythingit meant to be "green" in Wordsworth's Britain is a question we are now much better placed to answer.
"The Haunted Tree" contains a vision of men and women living in harmony in an unspoilt nature. It is, to all appearances, a "green" poem, in Bate's sense, because it discovers social community in a landscape of peace. The ground is not raped, the soil not exploitedand neither are the people who live close to it. And this balance between humans and the natural environment that they have nurtured is explicitly opposed to other, exploitative, kinds of relationship both within human society and between humans and nature.
But Wordsworth's "green politics" were not, pacé Bate, to do with equality, liberty or commonwealth. Not by 1819, anyway. "The Haunted Tree" may endorse an ecological balance, but it conceives that balance in terms of traditionalist and hierarchical eighteenth-century modelsmodels that presume the continuing social and political inferiority of rural laborers and of women. Wordsworth's "green" England is a conservative and unequal place, a place in which order and continuity come before liberty and change. It is a place in which Edmund Burke's thought is deeply rooted.
In Wordsworth's Britain ownership of land was still a fundamental political issue: the gentry's and nobility's possession of it was used to justify their domination of parliament, whilst laborers" (and women's) lack of it was used to explain their poverty and disenfranchizement. The politics of landscape, in other words, were parliamentary politics too. They were also sexual politics: for Burkeian traditionalists it was the duty of those given authority by landownership to shelter vulnerable women. "The Haunted Tree" updates the (sexual) politics of landscape found in Burke and in the eighteenth-century tradition in which political arguments were advanced by use of nature imageryin particular by the iconographical use of trees. At the same time it intervenes in the debate (stimulated by Burke) about gender and sexual roles that reached fever pitch in 1819-20. That debate was fuelled by Byron's Orientalist poetry, in particular the newly published Don Juan, and by the attack upon him made by Wordsworth's friend the Poet Laureate Southey. The debate was accompanied by a political crisis, with revolution widely expected, when George IV caused Lord Liverpool's administration to have his wife, Caroline, "tried" before the House of Lords in an attempt to show that she was unfit, on the grounds of her sexual immorality, to become Queen.
I begin by examining the use made of landscape-imagery in political argument. Both radical opponents and conservative defenders of Britain's unreformed constitution employed nature-imagery to render their arguments appealing. Trees figured prominently in that imagery after John Locke had used the oak to illustrate organic unity.3 Oaks' longevity, rootedness and strength made them suitable emblems for writers who portrayed an ancient constitution secured in the heritable property of land and capable of gradual change as a growth of English soil.4 Edmund Burke depicted Britain's form of government as tree-like, of ancient growth: it "moves on through the varied tenour of perpetual decay, fall, renovation and progression" in "the method of nature" ("Reflections" 120). The people were "great cattle reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak" (181). Burke was opposed by Thomas Paine and other radicals who employed the political iconography of the French Revolution, in which the Liberty tree was an emblem of the new growth possible once ancient injustices had been uprooted. Like an oak Burke's constitution was rooted in the land, time honored, slow to change and grow, protective of the subjects who sheltered beneath it. Wordsworth characterized Burke himself as a tree, acknowledging the power of his symbolic oak as an anti-revolutionary naturalization of conservative politics:
I see him,old, but vigorous in age,Wordsworth wrote this tribute when a political supporter of his patron, the Tory landowner and political magnate Lord Lowther.
Landowners and conservative moralists exploited the political symbolism of trees in an attempt to show liberty to be more truly rooted in the British constitution than in the French Revolution. Uvedale Price, the Whig squire and theorist of the picturesque, put such ideas into practice. He designed his estate at Foxley as a display of paternalism. Cottagers were not cleared from his park but included within it, their rustic dwellings sheltered by the oak and ash woods which Price spent much of his time and income maintaining and planting. His tenants were visibly under his protection in a symbolic ordering of the real landscape which emphasized that order and liberty depended upon the mutual duties owed by rich and poor. Wordsworth corresponded with Price and visited Foxley, without entirely approving of the landscape park (William and Dorothy Wordsworth I: 506).
Price's fellow theorist Richard Payne Knight, also a Herefordshire Whig squire, both planted oaks and poeticized about their political significance. He portrayed the oak tree as a symbol of a constitutional British monarch paternally sheltering lesser trees grouped around it: "Then Britain's genius to thy aid invoke / And spread around the rich, high-clustering oak: / King of the woods!" The cedar by contrast was shown to be "like some great eastern king", destroying everything in its shade, "Secure and shelter'd, every subject lies; / But, robb'd of moisture, sickens, droops, and dies" (V.61-63; V.111-20).
Wordsworth's "The Haunted Tree" depicts the oak in a similar way. His tree is an image of the English gentry's authority, rooted, paternalist, like Burke's tree-like constitution. Like Knight, Wordsworth opposes his English tree to an Oriental monarchto a Sultana standard figure of political and sexual despotism:
Nor doth our human senseThe phrase "time-dismantled oak" alludes to Cowper's poem "Yardley Oak" in which the aged tree is made a symbol of Britain's ancient constitution, a constitution so deeply rooted in the past that, like the landed gentry on whose estates oaks grew, it should offer stability (III.77-83).5 Wordsworth had borrowed from Cowper's poem before, in "Yew-Trees" and The Excursion6: there as here Wordsworth's oaks, like Cowper's, are not just English trees but trees of Englishnessor rather icons of a conservative and anti-revolutionary identification of national unity with the landed gentry and the 1688 constitutional settlement. Similarly Southey, admirer of Burke and editor of Cowper, claimed the order of the nation to depend on men "whose names and families are older in the country than the old oaks upon their estates" (I.11-12).
The politics of "The Haunted Tree" are more complex than are Southey's Tory polemics. Wordsworth examines, when Southey does not, the power relations implicit in the Burkeian model of authority. He shows these power relations to be constructed upon sexual oppositions. His oak is a sublime male sheltering a beautiful female, whose presence tempers and mollifies his masculine authority: it "affords / Couch beautiful" for the Lady of the poem. Burke had understood political authority in these terms: Caesar, in Burke's discussion of the sublime, had achieved political power by combining the awe-inspiring masculinity of the warrior with attractive feminine qualities ("Philosophical Enquiry" 111). The man of sublime authority had, furthermore, a duty to protect the vulnerable and weak (170-71). Wordsworth's poem sexualizes nature in similar terms: masculinity is awe-inspiring and sublime, femininity tender and beautiful. It places this gendering of power, adapted from Burke, against a potentially aggressive masculinity whose power is that of unsocialized self-assertion, threatening rape. Burkeian paternal masculinity, tempered by the feminine, confronts the Oriental Sultan, a figure of Eastern political and sexual despotism. The paternal authority that the Burkeian oak symbolizes is "dismantled" by age and tempered by the beautiful. It is protective rather than subordinative, traditional and rooted rather than aggressive and despotic.
There was a political context for the poem, not immediately apparent today. In July 1819 the first two cantos of Byron's Don Juan were published. To Wordsworth their licentious wit and sexual theme were dangerously corrupting. In a letter of January 1820 he called Don Juan "that infamous publication" and referred to the "despicable quality of the powers requisite for [its] production," adding "I am persuaded that Don Juan will do more harm to the English character, than anything of our time; not so much as a Book;But thousands who would be afraid to have it in that shape, will batten upon choice bits of it in the shape of Extracts." He bemoaned the fact that the close association of its editor with Byron had prevented the Quarterly Review from defending the threatened "English character": "every true-born Englishman will regard the pretension of the Review to the character of a faithful defender of the Institutions of the country, as hollow" (William and Dorothy Wordsworth II: 579).
In Don Juan, as in the earlier Bride of Abydos, Byron was widely thought to have poeticized his own sexual history. He used Oriental figures to image himself as one who preferred sexual conquest to Wordsworthian solitude-in-nature: "By solitude I mean a Sultan's (not / A Hermit's), with a haram for a grot" ("Poetical Works," Don Juan I.87). He had also portrayed Orientalism as "the only poetical policy" guaranteed to achieve commercial success, as an undemanding literary trend ("Letters and Journals" II: 68):
Oh that I had the art of easy writingByron's Orientalist poetry portrayed English character and institutions as repressive and tame; similarly, the publication of his verses on his own failed marriage suggested that he saw poetry as a means of publicly declaring his own personal refusal to be bound by such restrictions. Wordsworth was disgusted by their publication as he was by Don Juan not only because their sexual theme threatened his conservative vision of character and society but because they corrupted poetry's rôle as the defender of true-born Englishness.
The second canto of Don Juan contains an Orientalist erotic fantasy in which the young Juan, washed ashore on an island governed by a pirate, meets the pirate's daughter Haidée "the greatest heiress of the Eastern Isles" "and like a lovely tree" (II.128). Dressed by Haidée in Turkish clothes, Juan becomes the object of her desire and, when her father leaves the island on a voyage:
Then came her freedom, for she had no mother,Byron mixed cynical wit about the sexual codes and marital practices of Christian countries with a vision of Juan's and Haidée's sexual encounter as an erotic escape from all paternal and social authority, an escape in which Haidée was also able, as Christian wives were not, openly to admit and act upon her sexual desires:
They feared no eyes nor ears on that lone beach;He also, in the first canto, attacked Wordsworth in person as "crazed beyond all hope" (I.205) and parodied his "unintelligible" nature poetry (I.90). And in the dedication verses, which were left unpublished (save as a broadside sold in the streets) Wordsworth was attacked along with Southey as a hireling of the aristocracy. Byron depicted Wordsworth as tedious and reactionary and the Laureate as sexually and poetically impotent, as a harem slave of George and his eunuch ministersone who would "adore a sultan" and "obey / The intellectual eunuch Castlereagh" (Dedication 11). Southey's knowledge of this Orientalist satire on his poetic and political manhood was probably responsible for his 1821 attack upon Byron's "Satanic School" of poetry in the Preface to his funeral ode for George III, the "Vision of Judgement."
Wordsworth, like his friend and fellow object of Byron's satire, felt the need to resist Byron's specific attacks and the general example of his Orientalist poetry. For both "Lake poets" Byron's popularity epitomized a worrying tendency in the nation to prefer sensual extravagance over obedience to proper (and usually paternal) authorities and to the poetry that defended them (including their own which continued to be far less popular than Byron's). In 1819 and 1820 this worrying tendency was more than usually evident in the very father of the nation, the monarch. The Prince Regent, who succeeded George III in 1820, had been notoriously extravagant, both sexually and financially, since 1795. In 1816 Wordsworth had declared that "the blame of unnecessary expenditure. . .rests with the Prince Regent" (William and Dorothy Wordsworth II: 334). In 1818 Wordsworth was worried that the Regent's request to Parliament for extra allowances for the other Princes would make it hard for the candidates of the Lowther family to be returned in the election.
The Regent's extravagance seemed truly Oriental: he spent £155,000 on adding pagodas, minarets, onion-shaped domes and Indian columns to Brighton Pavilion. Thousands more were spent on interior decoration which made the place resemble a seraglio. Rather than display the paternal restraint of his father, the Prince accrued debts of £335,000 and entertained a succession of mistresses, whilst his estranged wife, Caroline, toured Europe, dressed in fashionable Oriental costumes, having numerous affairs. She returned to England in 1820, and Lord Liverpool's Tory Ministry, acting on the King's instigation, had her "tried" before the House of Lords, attempting to produce enough evidence of her sexual misdemeanors to enable it to deny her the title of "Queen" and the accompanying rights and privileges. The trial caused widespread fears of revolution and caused street protestsa crowd gathered outside the house of the Duke of York viewed Caroline as a victim of George's "Oriental" despotism, shouting "We like princes who show themselves; we don't like Grand Turks who shut themselves up in their seraglio."7 Radical and labouring-class protest was accompanied by opposition from middle-class women, who clearly understood that the affair had implications for the sexual politics of the nation: an address to the Queen from the "Ladies of Edinburgh," printed in The Times on 4th September, noted
As your majesty has justly observed, the principles and doctrines now advanced by your accusers do not apply to your case alone, but, if made part of the law of this land, may hereafter be applied as a precedent by every careless and dissipated husband to rid himself of his wife, however good and innocent she may be; and to render his family, however, amiable, illegitimate; thereby destroying the sacred bond of matrimony, and rendering all domestic felicity very uncertainCartoonists portrayed the threat George's actions posed to the family and to the principle of heredity by turning George's penchant for Oriental decoration against him: one depicted him as a Chinese potentate surrounded by his concubines (his mistresses Lady Hertford, Lady Conyngham and Mrs. Quentin)8. The affair discredited Lord Liverpool's ministry, who were shown to have prostituted parliament's independence rather than lose their places: they had bribed witnesses against Caroline. Wordsworth attended the last day of the trial in November, having expressed some of the sympathy for her that was widely felt in the country.
In those contexts "The Haunted Tree" can be seen as an oblique answer to the Orientalist fashion, and the poetic, political and moral corruption which, for Wordsworth, that fashion manifested at the heart of Regency Britain. It revives and revises a rural rather than metropolitan, Burkeian rather than Byronic understanding of gender, sexuality and power. It attempts to govern desire by defining masculinity as a benevolent paternalism properly protecting women in particular and the land in general. It implicitly rejects Byron's depiction of the Lake poets as worshippers of the Sultan's eunuchs, whilst seeking to provide a more stable (and ostensibly native) model of masculine power than that provided by the "Sultans" George IV and Byron himself.
Having outlined the political and aesthetic debates which "The Haunted Tree" addresses I turn now to a detailed close reading of the poem. In the opening lines the threats that characterize the sublime are evoked as possibilities, but are soon banished by the actual scene:
Those silver clouds collected round the sunThe clouds multiply the sunbeams rather than overshade them, and even time's dismantling of the oak serves only to make it less powerful, more delightful in its provision of just shade enough for one. The "Couch beautiful" is rendered both exotic and erotic by the image of the Sultan diffusing "his limbs / In languor," an eroticism continued in the more "natural" (or rather Ovidian) image of the "panting Wood-nymph." Such eroticism is unusual for Wordsworth. And it is an eroticism based upon what Wordsworth claims to be the masculinity of English natureand the nature of English masculinityan oak-like strength that creates a safe sensual playground. It is contrasted with the predatory sexual violence upon which Greek nature is foundedApollo's pursuit of Daphne caused her to be turned into a tree. And it is capable of lulling the figure of Oriental despotism (political and sexual), the Sultan (a figure to whom the King had been compared often enough in 1819-20). Here, for Wordsworth, the threat of unrestrained monarchical power is lulled by a soft and sensual feminine "heath," itself protected by the shading oak (a tree of English masculinity, traditional, restrained, protective for Burke, Cowper, and Wordsworth himself in The Prelude).
The poem attacks the sexual politics of the Regent then, in that a Burkeian masculine sublime, an English sheltering tree defined against the possibly violent masculinity of Greek and Turk, makes a space for a feminine and erotic beautiful which can then flower under its protection. The beautiful both softens the tree's masculine authority (as Burke said the beautiful should soften the sublime ("Philosophical Enquiry" 111, 157)) and allows it an erotic satisfaction defined as looking. The feminine is still governed by and defined for the satisfaction of the masculine, but in an affectionate yet formal address: the narrator can offer the tree to the Lady as a place of peace and show himself doing so, subsuming troubling intimations in social generosity:
O Lady! fairer in thy Poet's sight
Yet those troubling intimations are present: the Burkeian tree is haunted
by the temptations attendant upon the equation of sublimity, masculinity,
and political authority. These are the temptations of masculine self-assertionthe
violent rapes committed by Greek gods. But the rootedness of the tree
allows these temptations to remain as ghosts, laid to rest or at least
confined within the tree by the poet-narrator, like Sycorax by Prospero.
Wordsworth raises and then confines the ghosts. He lays the demons of
male power by aligning that power (including his own as a male poet) with
the stable and safe ground of a known and little-changing English landscape/landscape
of Englishness. He does so by a carefully self-cancelling syntax: the
phrase "Nor is it unbelieved" establishes a disturbingly unattributed
half-belief in ghosts which taints the beautifulas is indicated
by the lines "lamenting deeds of which / The flowery ground is conscious."
Yet the phrase "no wind / Sweeps now along" then counters this. The repeated
negative forms a positive, cancelling the dangerous negative forces of
lament and thereby restoring the flowery ground for the Lady to approach.
Or, to put it another way, the poem raises the possibility of the defloration
of the ground (and of the Lady), only to allay fears by confidently asserting
that such violence is absent for the moment. It is a spot (and a poetry)
won back from sublime threat and from an intimation of the threatening
violence of male desire, in favor of an erotic but also decorous beautiful.
Desire will be expressed not as rape but by an entreaty to the Lady which
seeks her confidence by preparing the (peaceful) ground. And desire will
be satisfied by the voyeurism of the tree watching her "reclining form"
and of the narrator imagining them both. Since the whole scene is imagined
for the Lady it acts, at the same time, as a gift to her in which
offers for a more direct and intimate relationship are encoded, an encoding
which, if understood, might lead her actually to accept.
The difficulty of containing the violence traditionally inherent in masculine authority is apparent in the word "obnoxious." Meaning principally "vulnerable to harm," "subject to authority," the word also meant, then though more commonly now, "harmful."9
The vulnerable "time-dismantled" tree remains haunted by intimations of harm and violence: it may be "mute" but a silent ambiguity remains. What also remain, although the poem works hard to contain them, are allusions to other poems. These trouble the serenity that the poem seeks. The ancient and lone tree on "this elevated ridge" and the "Wanderer of the trackless hills" recall the bleak and disturbing pairing in "The Thorn" of the tree and the lone woman in a landscape haunted by violent death. Working against such allusions, however, are others which show that disturbance can lead to a greater harmony: "it sends forth a creaking sound / (Above the general roar of woods and crags) / Distinctly heard from fara doleful note" (lines 22-24) echoes Coleridge's "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," in which the senses "keep the heart / Awake to Love and Beauty" and the "last rook" "flew creeking o'er thy head, and had a charm / For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom / No sound is dissonant which tells of Life" (lines 63-4, 74-6). Further echoes, of Home at Grasmere's "sheltered vale" and of Coleridge's "Dejection: an Ode," in which solitary melancholy is overcome by appealing and dedicating the verse to a Lady, also help to incorporate disruptive intimations within a harmonious social community in nature. It is an allusive strategy designed to temper the visionary power of the solitary sublime, which Wordsworth had explored in 1802 in the "Immortality" ode in reaction and contradistinction to Coleridge's "Dejection", with "Dejection's" beautiful appeal to feminine sympathy.
The last eight lines of the poem replace the troubling sounds of the tree with the loving look of a male unbending his solitary uprightness, as Burke had declared he should, because entranced and completed by the female that he shelters in her appealingly available beauty: "in his silence, would look down. . ." This scene complements, rather than rejects, Coleridge's less paternal and more desperate appeal to female sympathy in "Dejection." This scene is more delightful for the male tree than arein the poem's very last linestheir own reflections for the "coeval" trees in the sheltered vale. Yet viewing those reflections is itself a powerful act, since it allows a momentary self-knowledge "vividly pictured" out of the flux of "the hurrying stream" of time and space:
...while they viewPowerful though it is, however, the privileged picture that these waterside trees together gain of themselves is potentially narcissistic (and Narcissus was changed into a waterside plant). It is less permanent than the reconciliation of sublime and beautiful, of male and female available to the poetic tree and Lady.
The narrator lays his sole and potentially violent possession of masculine authority to rest in a sexualized nature, making of the object world a mythical place in which the sublime violence of rape and metamorphosis is replaced by a beautiful viewing. This viewing completes and delights the independent male and offers the female secure sensual pleasure (no apples to pluck). She is, of course, in a subordinate position as were all women and most men in the oak-like paternalist constitution that Burke and Wordsworth supported.
The landscape of "The Haunted Tree" is not an evasion or denial of political and social issues. It is not a displacement of such issues into some secondary area of nature. On the contrary, it is a modification of an eighteenth-century tradition in which the landscape was treated as a testing ground for the moral and social health of the nation, as the place upon which proper authority could be measured. That tradition was itself founded on the fact that the politics of local landscapes were also national politics: it was the ownership of land which gave the nobility and gentry political power and which defined their duties in the state. The politics of nature in Regency Britain were not substitutes for some more fundamental level of politics but were vital in a nation in which reform of a parliament still dominated by the landed gentry was the most important issue. Burke, Cowper and Price had redefined and reasserted the authority of the gentry in their iconography of landscape. To this Wordsworth added an anti-Byronic anti-Regent redefinition of the sexual politics of the Burkeian sublime. In doing so he countered Orientalist fashions and the corruption they revealed in the contemporary aristocracy.
"The Haunted Tree" achieves what I think it is appropriate to call a
mythologization of nature. Like Greek myth it places issues of power and
desire at the heart of the national landscape. In a critique of Greek
myth, however, it founds English nature not on rape and metamorphosis,
but sensual playfulness (including the playful language of the poem itself)on
a looking but not touching. This playfulness flourishes when the ghosts
of male violence that haunt the scene have been confined within the oak
of masculine self-restraining strength. Narrator and Lady, poet and reader
can then meet in a land safe for loving play (or at least for voyeuristic
looking). It is a poetic land in which one encounters the human as if
it were natural and the natural as if it were humana dreamy and
langorous land of representation poised between self and other, subject
and object, power and love, violence and peace, sight and sound. It is
a land, Wordsworth suggests, in which poetry must make men live lest the
solitary man, like a despotic ruler or usurping poet, hear in all things
only his own violent desire, see only his own beloved self. It is a green
land and, Wordsworth would have us believe, a pleasant one too. But within
its greenness, within the ecological and social harmony it would teach
us, is a paternalism that should give us pause. To love nature, Wordsworth
shows, involves remaking it in our own imagean image in which traditional
hierarchies and inequalities not only persist but are desired. Wordsworth's
green England, by 1820 at least, is not Bate's but Burke's, not revolutionary
but conservative, not red but blue.
Romantic Circles - Home / Praxis Series / Romanticism and Ecology / Timothy Fulford, "Wordsworth's 'The Haunted Tree' and the Sexual Politics of Landscape"