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|Posted: Sun Sep 18, 2005 6:35 am Post subject: Wordsworth and Pantheism
Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
"Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood than to admit the
notion of death as a state applicable to my own being.... with a
feeling congenial to this, I was often unable to think of external
things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I
saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial
No one likes to think that there will come a time when they cease to
be. If we can project ourselves, meaning our spirit, our thoughts,
our emotions, into the beauty of Nature, then we may console
ourselves with some notion that our spirit shall persist within the
material world, after our physical body is gone. Perhaps this is in
part the origin of pantheistic thinking.
One might wonder why Wordsworth would find Christianity lacking in
consolation and assurance of eternal life and would feel compelled to
resort to artistic expressions of animism and pantheism.
I am interested in Pantheism and Panentheism.
I would like to learn more about Wordsworth's expressions of
It is important to realize that the term Pantheism was coined by a
Christian thinker to denote something considered heretical and wicked.
Pantheist (pan=all; theos=god) is a term coined in 1705 by John
Toland for someone who believes that everything is God. On this basis
in 1732, the Christian apologist Daniel Waterland used the
noun "pantheism" for the first time, condemning the belief
as "scandalously bad... scarce differing from... Atheism."
Panentheists believe that God is present in the sensible universe,
but also extends beyond it. These include the neo-Platonist Plotinus
and most Christian and Islamic pantheists such as Meister Eckhart,
Ibn Al'Arabi or Attar.
from "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal"
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
This verse has been the subject of a literary dispute centering on
Wordsworth's pantheism: is the death of the girl (Lucy) terrible
because she is as inanimate as the earth's inert objects, or
consoling because she is one with nature?
C. S. Lewis recounts the various stages of his conversion, which he
once described as follows: "My own progress had been from 'popular
realism' to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from
Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity"(Regress, 9).
Although he does not explicitly identify his own pantheism with
Wordsworth's, Lewis clearly indicates that it inspired or at least
influenced his own. This stage is the first in which Lewis really
accepts the idea of an active divine spirit: it is therefore crucial
to his conversion to Christianity. Moreover, this stage is powerfully
and long experienced by Lewis: according to Hooper, it lasted for
most of the 1920s and therefore Lewis' twenties (Lewis converted in
1929). In 1924, for example, Lewis gave a paper to the Philosophical
Society on "The Hegemony of Moral Values", in which "he accepted the
primacy of a spiritual reality, which was essentially one of divine
immanence rather than transcendence--the spirit within man and all
reality, rather than a personal Father above him". This is, of
course, pantheism in a nutshell and succinctly describes Wordsworth's
philosophy in The Prelude. Wordsworth identifies this spirit as one
which "rolls through all things" but is best perceived in solitude
and in nature ("Tintern Abbey").
The notions of immanence vs. transcendence become very import in all
these matters. A religion of transcendence sees a God with a
personality as a Father or Sovereign who is above and outside of the
world of matter and atoms. Immanence sees each and every particle and
atom as being a microcosm containing God or spirit.
Wordsworth's pantheism is a subtilized animism, but there are moments
when his feeling is like that of the child or savage when he is
convinced that the flower enjoys the air it breathe.
There is a passage in Isaiah, which has always troubled Sitaram,
where God says:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,
says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are
My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
What troubles Sitaram most about this is that God admits to having
thoughts which means that God shares something in common with human
beings, not different in kind but differing only in degree. God is
admitting to having consciousness.
For me this opens a whole can of worms. Some of the problems and
issues which arise from this have a bearing on pantheism.
By the way, in my searches, I have come across the following
questions on Wordsworth which look very useful:
Pantheism is classified by Christian theologians as a heresy.
In Coleridge's writings around the turn of the century, and in "The
Eolian Harp" particularly, the text "comes to close to the heresy of
pantheism" (Norton 326). In "The Eolian Harp," the narrator wonders,
"And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the soul of each, and God of all?" (44-4
These lines of Coleridge anticipate Rupert Sheldrake's theories on
I (Sitaram) like to think that I came up with one or two original
thoughts in my life. One of them is the recognition of a hint of
pantheism in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Perhaps someone
else beat me to the punch on this insight. Or, perhaps I am mistaken
in construing a certain passage of Revelation as pantheism.
from Wisdom, Number, Measure, Hunger, Thirst
The ninth occurance of the word "hunger" is 9.) Revelation 7:16 "They
shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun
light on them, nor any heat.". Here we see that time and space,
heaven and earth, pass away, and all souls dwell in the very fabric
of God, which now becomes their space, light, raiment, sustenance and
all things. These souls literally dwell in "the bosom of Abraham".
The verses 'The Kingdom of God is WITHIN' and 'in my Father's house
are many mansions' are thought provoking verses. I recently learned
that it may also be translated "the kingdom of heaven is AMONG you" ,
which has very different implications.
If we look at the Book of Revelation, in the chapters surrounding ch.
10.... (where it says...'God shall wipe away every tear').... we see
that THERE SHALL BE TIME NO LONGER (CH 10, verse 6), and "heavens and
earth shall be rolled up as a scroll" (no more SPACE).
So, time and space ceases, and God becomes raiment, light, air, food,
etc. An image which is faithful to St. Paul's words, "..in HIM we
live and move and have our being--Acts 17:28" and, Acts 17: 27 "That
they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and
find him, though he be not far from every one of us."
This passage, Ch. 10:6 in Revelation, depicts time and space itself
passing away, and all dwell WITHIN God, within the "fabric of God" so
We do see in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man that Lazarus
is "in the bosom of Abraham", which is metaphorical, but supports the
notion of what is described in Revelation
What is interesting is that Christianity condemns notions of
Pantheism, that God IS the universe; yet in the final analysis, based
on what the Book of Revelation describes, God literally BECOMES the
Universe, once the Universe passes away.
In light of the above understanding of Revelation, it would seem that
the "many mansions" are WITHIN God Himself.
In his short monograph, "On the Nature of the Psyche", Carl Jung
describes the "psychoid" aspect of matter, which strives to evolve
consciousness. In a sense, the human race is matter which
contemplates itself and the world around it. Just as matter strives
to evolve consciousness, so, conversely, conscious beings feel a
desire to return to that inert material state; an instinct which
Freud termed the death wish.
Nietzsche does warn us that whenever we stare into the Void, the Void
stares back into us. Once we begin to say that matter has a psychoid
aspect and strives to evolve consciousness, then we have a form of
pantheism on our hands. And we have the converse notion that
consciousness or psyche or spirit is of a material or biochemical
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