This expression today is associated heavily with a sense of peace or wellbeing that is experienced through being in nature. I am curious to know its origins and other early uses.

Sites like Lexico date the verb commune back to Middle English, but give no indication of when it was first used with relation to nature.

If I had to guess, the term communion meaning to hold in common and has obvious connotations with a religious meaning i.e holy communion, being in communion with the church etc.

If anyone can point to early usage I would be very thankful.


4 Answers 4


The earliest I can see is from 1829:

The Casket, Or, Flowers of Literature, Wit & Sentiment
Volume 4. Anonymous. Printed and Published By Atkinson & Alexander.


"To rove at will through ether's wide domain,
And there commune with nature and with God."

But the expression seems to have been popular by the 1830s, appearing in the American Annals of Education and Instruction, in a poem by Edgar Allan Poe and in "The Excursion" by Wordsworth (1836). So it may well be older.

Wordsworth's poem says,

".......................................For the man
Who, in this spirit communes with the Forms
Of Nature, who with understanding heart...

(It's the index that refers to this passage as "communes with nature.")

Here it is in 1854, in The Churchman's Monthly Magazine - Volume 1 - P.113

He sat down on a rock and said, — "Here I will commune with nature."
I replied, "And I will go on a little further and commune with God!"
"Stay," he cried, "I would go with you."
"But you cannot see him," I said. "I see him in the mountain, and the glacier, and the flower. I hear him in the torrent and the still small voice of the rills and waterfalls."


Using Eighteenth Century Collections Online (paywalled, so I'll use Google Books links), I was able to find a result written in the dedication of the 1782 book The Beauties of Sterne (referring to author Laurence Sterne):

When your Majesty retires from the busy scenes of Royalty, to commune with nature and her eminent works, of which study your distinguished actions speak you an admirable proficient, this volume will prove itself an entertaining and excellent companion (p. iii-iv)

The date is unsurprising, since the Romantic period of the late 18th and early 19th century involved a revitalized interest in idealizing nature, often in contemplative or even transcendental terms (Wikipedia). An early example from a collection of poems by Peter Courtier (1796) illustrates this:

He looks within, / Survey's his innate strength, and thence derives / A happy confidence, before unfelt; / Communes with Nature, soars to Nature's God, / Receives from him an antidote for grief. ("Of Solitude," p. 99)

Incidentally, Old Brixtonian quoted Wordsworth's poem The Excursion, which is actually from 1814 (Google Books), showing some evidence of earlier circulation.


These are the oldest sources I found it in:

February 13, 1782:

When your Majesty retires from the busy scenes of Royalty to commune with nature and her eminent works of which study your distinguished actions speak you an admirable proficient this volume will prove itself an entertaining and excellent companion. — The Beauties of Sterne


He drops a soothing tear; each new born day
Bestows renewing peace. He looks within
Survey's his innate strength and thence derives
A happy confidence before unfelt
Communes with Nature, soars to Nature's God,
Receives from him an antidote for grief.
Nor tiresome are the hours he passes, thus
Retir'd if aught of former woe remains
It hangs not heavy on the chords of life
Poems. Consisting of elegies, sonnets, odes, canzonets, and the Pleasures of Solitude

December 1816:

The leading impressions here, are those of romantic seclusion, and primeval simplicity; lovers sequestered in these blissful solitudes "from towns and toils remote" and rustic poets and philosophers communing with nature, at a distance from the low pursuits and selfish malignity of ordinary mortals — Encyclopaedia Britannica

Looking further back at "commune with" I see a number of hits (in EEBO) for variations of "commune with your own heart", referencing the KJV Psalms 4:4. I can't help but think that this would have been a pretty big stepping stone in the evolution of the expression.


An early usage can be found in Experiences of a Backwoods Preacher Facts and Incidents culled from thirty years of Ministerial life by Rev. Joseph H. Hilts, Second Edition (1892):

If there is any place on this earth that is more like heaven than a good live camp-meeting, I should like to hear from it. I would be pleased to know where it is, and on what grounds the claim is made. To commune with nature, is, to a devout mind, a precious privilege. To commune with good people is a blessed means of grace. And to commune with God is a greater blessing than either or both of these. To hold converse with nature, tends to expand the intellect and quicken the sensibilities. To hold friendly intercourse with the good elevates, refines, and stimulates the social and moral elements of our being. And to commune with God purifies and exalts our whole nature, and inspires us to a holier life and loftier aims and a fuller consecration to the service of God.

(image of page via Google Books)

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