Pantheism and Poetry Autumn 2020

The Poetry Corner. October 2020.

Pantheism and Poetry Autumn 2020

The word Pantheism is derived from the Greek roots pan meaning “all ” and ” theos” meaning “God.” Definitions of Pantheism vary from a theological standpoint and a non religious philosophical position. From the religious viewpoint everything is part of an all encompassing God and therefore all forms of reality are either modes of the Being or identical with it. Those who consider Pantheism as a non religious philosophical position view the Universe and God as identical. The Universe with all its planets, suns and creatures is in fact what people and religions call “God.”

John Toland an Irish philosopher of the seventeenth century was the first to use the term Pantheism. He clarified the term ‘pantheism’ in a 1710 letter to philosopher Gottfried Leibniz when he referred to “the pantheistic opinion of those who believe in no other eternal being but the universe”. Toland described the doctrine of Pantheism: “The power and energy of All, which has created all and which governs all…is God, which you may call Spirit and Soul of the Universe.”

Although the term Pantheism did not exist before the seventeenth century various pre- Christian religions and philosophies can be regarded as pantheistic. The Catholic Church regarded Pantheism as heresy and in 1600 an Italian monk, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for his pantheistic beliefs. Seventy five years later the philosopher Baruch Spinoza completed his major work Ethics in 1675 and this work influenced the spread of Pantheism.

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
” God is not some goal-oriented planner who then judges things by how well they conform to his purposes. Things happen only because of Nature and its laws. “Nature has no end set before it … All things proceed by a certain eternal necessity of nature.” To believe otherwise is to fall prey to the same superstitions that lie at the heart of the organised religions.” Albert Einstein concurred with Spinoza’s philosophy of “a God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists,
not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.” It is a matter of controversy whether or not Einstein was in fact a true pantheist as he once stated that he preferred
“an attitude of humility” when considering God.

Pantheism came under attack by Pope Pius IX in 1862 as the Vatican saw its growth as a threat to Catholicism. As recently as 2009 and again in 2010 the Vatican criticised Pantheism for denying the superiority of humans over nature and for ” seeing the source of man’s salvation in nature.”

During the nineteenth century Pantheism attracted many poets,leading writers and philosophers such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in Britain and Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the United States of America. Emerson believed in the ” divine sufficiency of the individual.” He urged mankind towards self reliance and to “trust thyself.” Emerson was a philosopher as well as a poet and essayist. He became known for challenging traditional thought and was the chief spokesman for transcendentalism. His philosophy is characterised by its reliance on intuition as the only way to understand reality. Born in Boston Massachusetts In 1803 he studied at Harvard and taught for a time before becoming a church minister. He resigned his position in 1831 when his nineteen year old wife died from tuberculosis. His pantheism is evident in his belief that everything in the world is a microcosm of the universe. He urges that we examine our relationship with Nature and God and trust in our own judgement. He shocked the conservative clergymen of Boston when he spoke of the divinity of man and the humanity of Jesus. Emerson was deeply interested in the thought and cultures of the East and was a pioneering figure of what is now called “multiculturalism” who expanded the Eastern horizons of generations of American readers and writers, and he persuasively demonstrated how classical Indian, Chinese, and Persian works could be used as a means to bring the inquiring self into a fresh appreciation of its own profound powers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s beliefs are an important part of the history of American culture. Emerson died of pneumonia in 1882

Walt Whitman. (1819-1892)

Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Though the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent his entire life writing and re-writing Leaves of Grass,[1] revising it in several editions until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades—the first a small book of twelve poems and the last a compilation of over 400 poems.

Along with Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman is regarded as one of America’s most significant nineteenth century poets. He is America’s world poet, a successor of the great poets such as
Shakespeare and Dante. Whitman was born in Long Island in 1819 and had a limited amount of
formal education and went on to hold various jobs throughout his lifetime.
Whitman’s epic work, the self published Leaves of Grass was inspired by his travels through the American Frontier and his admiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson. Walt Whitman sent a copy of Leaves of Grass to Emerson, the man who had inspired its creation. In a letter to Whitman, Emerson said “I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed.”[11] ” I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy.”

In Leaves of Grass Whitman celebrated Democracy, Love and Nature. He celebrated the body as well as the soul. This subject matter, overtly sexual and a new style of writing in free verse unnerved the reader. This was a new direction for poetry and caused major problems for Whitman.
He was dismissed from his job with the Department of the Interior because of the content of Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s poetry failed to receive popular acclaim during his lifetime but 1000 people came to view his funeral. Walt Whitman’s legacy endures as the first writer of truly American poetry.

Wordsworth, Coleridge and Pantheism.

Wordsworth: nature is the source of inspiration, pantheism: divine presence in nature, imagination is subservient to the external

William Wordsworth (1770-1850): a turning point in literary history; 1798: the publication of the Lyrical Ballads (a joint project of Wordsworth and Coleridge): revolution in English poetic style; the mimetic and pragmatic element of poetry replaced by the expressive.

The second edition of Lyrical Ballads shows Wordsworth continuing to evolve as a special poet with a shift in style: less attention to rustic speech per se; in its stead: experiments with blank verse as a means of expressing the dignity and pathos of rustic life: “The principal object, then, which I proposed myself in these poems, was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or to describe them throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men, and at the same time to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way. And further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them … the primary laws of our nature [the workings of the mind], chiefly as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement [when we feel intensely].” “… poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotions recollected in tranquillity.”

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


This poem speaks of the mysterious unity of man and nature (man part of nature, nature depicted in terms of a human); everyday experience, realistic (English!) landscape yet endowed with some mystic, active spiritual life; joy, delight, rapture, company in unlimited nature versus vacant and pensive mood in an urban isolation; memory of the experience=source of inspiration, consolation, regeneration.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devon in 1772 the youngest of ten children. His place in the family gave him a lack of self esteem and a dependency on others throughout his life. Coleridge participated with William Wordsworth in the sea change of English verse in their collaboration for Lyrical Ballads. Coleridge was both a critic and poet and worked tirelessly with both words and form.


What is the poet’s signature style?
Pantheist…Is he, or isn’t he?

Welcome to the most famous nineteenth-century religious controversy you’ve never heard of. The great Pantheism debate! In one corner we have the Pantheists, who insist that “God is everything and everything is God” (source). In other words, God and Nature are the same thing. In the other corner we have the existing European religious establishment, which insists that God is the Creator of Nature but remains separate from it. For the establishment, Pantheism was no different from atheism. There has been much speculation about the extent to which Coleridge might have been a Pantheist, and this poem only complicates the question. Line 23 ever-so-gently suggests that the whole world is a big Church, which sounds Pantheist to our ears. Similarly, lines 40-44 claim that the natural landscape contains the “Almighty Spirit” of God, which could be Pantheistic, but then you’ve got the old Christian image of a “veil” suggesting that God is either in or behind nature. It appears as though this poem won’t resolve the debate over Coleridge, but it does provide plenty of food for thought.

To Nature
In this poem Coleridge speaks of how he loves nature,and because of this he has learned something about love and piety. He compares nature to God or a spirit or at the very least a church. He says that he will put his altar in the fields and compares himself to a priest.

This poem is written as one stanza with fourteen lines. It is written in iambic-pentameter and is considered a Shakespearean sonnet

To Nature
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

It may indeed be fantasy when I
Essay to draw from all created things
Deep, heartfelt, inward joy that closely clings;
And trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie
Lessons of love and earnest piety.
So let it be; and if the wide world rings
In mock of this belief, it brings
Nor fear, nor grief, nor vain perplexity.
So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to Thee,
Thee only God! and thou shalt not despise
Even me, the priest of this poor sacrifice.


My Autumn

It may be the ripening harvest
Or something in the air
A certain change in the ambience.
The light is not so strong
As the tilting earth changes things
And leaves accept as their green
Becomes the fire of red and yellow
Matching the juicy fruits of Autumn.
Morning sees pumpkins peep awake
Plump and round in brown fertile earth.
Butterflies flirt and swoop dining discreetly
On blackberries lush on the burgeoning bush.
Cats stretch their sinuous limbs carelessly
Oblivious to why they are content.
Autumn sun is welcome as was summer sun,
It is different. It eases the spirit into acceptance
As nature does the rearrangement
Of life. Birds sing a new song with
A softer rhythm building a bridge that will
Help us move from season to season.

(C)2014Sheighle Birdthistle

Sound of Trees.

I listen to trees.
There are sounds
Living within roots
Knowledge and knowing
Spreading like fingers.

My mortality hit me
As I awaited sleep
I made a prayer…
To see next morning
To see and hear
My tree of choice.

It grows in my garden.
A French tree
That unites me.
To the earth and sky.
I listen, laugh and cry
When my tree whispers.
Poetry allows me freedom

To vent my difference
I hate the chopping down
Of trees, it stills a voice.
A voice that I still crave
It is the call of a universe
I knew long ago
In the land of sighe
Dancing in circles.

Trees gilding silence
Of dance and Druids
As tresses guide the
Fairy longing for life.
Birds come for wisdom
Red squirrel exercises
Sun plays with shadows
As raindrops cry.
The French tree unites

With roots outstretched
To a myriad of forest.
The whispering continues
It transmits to home
It transmits from home
Scattering leaves
And nourishing earth
With longing, stretching
To the sky in jubilation
At being alive.

Sheighle Birdthistle

Bibliography: -einstein-a-pantheist/
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.
Leaves of Grass.

From Wikipedia. The free encyclopaedia. Samuel Taylor Coleridge