By Jenna Carey, College of the Ozarks freshman and 2018 graduate of School of the Ozarks
Coming from a classical education background, universal truth was ingrained in me as a foundational reality. When people ask if truth changes based on perspective, my initial reaction is to reply, “Of course reality doesn’t change. There’s only one truth and whether or not you accept it is up to you.” But recently I’ve been rethinking how I should respond to (seemingly) competing truths.
These thoughts arose largely as a result of an English course (British Literature II) in which I am currently enrolled. Recently we have been analyzing poets such as William Blake and William Wordsworth, and their approach to the world is, one might say, somewhat contrasting.
Blake has an interesting style that bridges the gap between the enlightenment and the romantic era by entwining the two periods together. His ideas connect with the reader and are extremely relevant. Whether it’s through the theme of always desiring more through his poem “Ah! Sunflower” or grappling with making the wrong decision through “My Pretty Rose Tree,” Blake has a way of always bringing in reality and touching the hearts of his audience. However, he also uses Romantic era language, especially nature imagery, in almost all of his poems.
Wordsworth, on the other hand, demonstrates a more optimistic approach. He uses nature imagery more frequently and happily. In his poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” Wordsworth paints a beautiful picture of human innocence as a single cloud in the sky. Through many of his poems, Wordsworth demonstrates a lack of reality. His answers to life’s questions are often simplistic and irrelevant. Nature seems to be his initial cure for loneliness or even pensiveness. Yes, nature reflects the beauty of God, but does it really answer life’s questions as easily as Wordsworth seems to think?
Wordsworth has an interesting way to look at the world. He seems to possess a sense of joy and innocence that people such as Blake neglect in their poetry. Some would say that this brings a refreshing point of view to the poetry realm, but I would argue that his perspective is naïve and inexperienced. Yes, there are advantages to his perspective. One could argue that his writing is beautifully innocent in a way that draws the reader into a sense of peace and tranquility. When reading his poetry, the reader is enrapt in the beauty of the natural world. It feeds off the child-like innocence implanted in every human being since the beginning of time. His writing is pleasant and pretty, which is why so many people enjoy reading it.
However, innocence is not always what people need. Poetry is meant to resonate with people, but in a messy world, happy and pretty poetry strike the reader as impractical and unrelatable. Wordsworth’s beautiful poetry would be more powerful if he would be more honest about how the world works. Poets such as William Blake, on the other hand, are more realistic and demonstrate a more experienced view of the world. The world’s answers are often messy, and Blake, unlike Wordsworth, isn’t afraid to show it.
Though their poetry styles differ, Blake and Wordsworth nonetheless both agree on the topic of universal truth, but they go about proving it differently. Wordsworth claims universal truth based upon the fact that reality doesn’t change. He would point the reader towards a beautiful sunset and tell him to reflect on God’s beauty instead of the impending doom of life. He would explain that every human being can discover universal truth if only they would look at the stars every once in a while. He would claim that though people find different “realties,” there is only one true reality, and it can only be found through nature. In contrast, Blake would explain that reality for a child bound to a life of chimney sweeping is the same as that of a little black boy enslaved in society’s discrimination. He would say that people are doomed to a world of enslavement and unfairness regardless of societal backgrounds. The truth that is universal in Blake’s poetry is that all people are screw ups, not that nature is the answer to all of those screw ups.
So the question remains. Is truth truly universal? In light of Blake and Wordsworth’s radically different portrayals of the world, must we choose one or the other? Are both wrong? Could both be correct? Although seemingly contradictory, both poets are right. But both poets are also lacking in some respect to the whole reality, and each lacks what the other possesses. Blake lacks a sense of innocence, whereas Wordsworth lacks a sense of experience. In conjunction, these two poets demonstrate the universal reality that God is revealed through nature as well as human nature. The universal truth is that God is present in a sunset, and He is present in child enslavement. Yes, His presence looks different in each case, but regardless of the details, God’s truth prevails.
What does this mean for the average person? Regardless of one’s circumstances, whether one is in a place of sunsets and daisies or in a place of roses with deadly thorns, the universal truth of God and His glory always remains. Though the world is a mess, it is also beautiful. Though life can look and feel like slavery, there is an offer of freedom. Regardless of circumstances or perspective, truth doesn’t change, because neither does God.