The industrial revolution is considered as one of the most important turning points in human history that affected every aspect of human life and was characterized by a shift in the means of production from the utilization of hand production methods to the use of machines more so in factories. The revolution itself begun in England from 1760 to around 1870 and was mainly driven by unprecedented technological changes like the improved efficiency of using water power and the enhancing of steam power.
Like any other rapid change in human history, the industrial revolution brought about positive changes like sustained growth that had never before been experienced and the rise of the middle class in these societies. However, with all its attendant benefits, the industrial revolution also had its dark side which was mainly shouldered by the unprivileged groups. As such, while there was widespread support for the technological advances that was being made, many intellectuals at this time begun to question the negative social and environmental effects of the revolution as can be seen through the lenses of five poems that were penned during this period.
The first poem A Descriptive Poem, addressed to two ladies at their return from viewing the mines near Whitehaven by John Dalton essentially explains the brilliance of the mine technology at the time which to him was instrumental in pushing forward commerce. What is most noticeable in this poem is the enthusiasm that the writer has for the new techniques of mining and this may be due to the fact that the effects of the new way of mining to society and to the environment is yet to be felt as this poem is written at the dawn of the industrial revolution.
The second poem the Botanic garden by Erasmus Darwin published in 1791 celebrates scientific discoveries and technological innovation was aimed at capturing the readers interest in science and at the same time educates them. Indeed our sections readings basically state what to the numerous potentials of steam power which to him is the arm of the industrial revolution. At this time, the achievements of the industrial revolution are still being freely celebrated.
By 1804, William Blake pens And did Those Feet in Ancient Time, which is a dramatic departure from the two points as it seems to critique the impact of the revolution. The poem itself is based on a narrative that was popular at the time which suggested that Joseph of Aramathea, a tin merchant visited England accompanied by Jesus of Nazareth during his unknown years. Therefore to him, a place where Jesus divine feet touched must have been ecologically beautiful and by labeling the mills as Satanic, Blake personifies the evil of the industrial revolution which has now disfigured the land and his poem is essentially a call to arms to fight the evils of the industrial revolution.
The World id Too Much with US is also a sonnet composed in 1807 that gives a fatalistic view of the world in the past and future as illustrated by the use of the words late and soon in the opening verse of the poem. To Wordsworth, humanitys power has unlimited potential but unfortunately to him it is clouded by getting and spending mentality that has become pervasive with the advent of the industrial revolution. Therefore the materialistic progress of mankind is nothing more than a sordid boon and since the world is too overwhelming for us to appreciate it, the deterioration of the environment by humans will proceed unchecked.
From Wordsworth, it becomes clear that as the world progresses and the revolution begins to gain steam, some people begin to notice that there is something fundamentally wrong with this new world especially societal neglect of the environment and he fears that this may lead to the total destruction of humanity.
Lastly there is Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Gods Grandeur is also a sonnet that describes the natural world that is full of Gods presence which runs like an electrical current and this presence can be tapped with a certain kind of patient pressure. On the contrary, the contemporary world to the writer lives little to be desired as it is filled with repetitive labor and the sordidness of toil and trade. To him, while the natural landscape reflects God as its creator, the prioritization of the economy and industry over a spiritual life has transformed the landscape and made it impossible for humans to enjoy the beauty of nature that is still left.
Like Wordsworth, Hopkins is also alarmed at the transformation that has moved humans away from the spiritual to the materialistic way of life and is afraid that it makes them alienated and thus unable to enjoy what is truly important.
The five select poems written between 1755 and 1877 show a clear transformation in the perception towards the industrial revolution in England beginning with an enthusiasm of the possibilities opened by the new technology but as time goes on and the full impacts begin to hit society, the optimism begins to turn to pessimism and a call to a return to the more tranquil life before the revolution.
Lucas, Robert E., Jr. (2002). Lectures on Economic Growth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 10910. ISBN 978-0-674-01601-9.
John Dalton. (1755). A Descriptive Poem.
Erasmus Darwin. (1791).The Botanical Garden.
William Blake. (1804). And did Those Feet in Ancient Time.
William Wordsworth. (1807).The World is too much With Us.
Gerard, Hopkins, M. (1877).Gods Grandeur.
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