‘Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth is a well-loved poem that describes a speaker’s return to a specific spot along the banks of the River Wye and his understanding of nature.
William Wordsworth’s poem has qualities of both a dramatic monologue and a lyrical ballad. The speaker is not alone as he describes the world around him, but his is the only voice that the reader will hear.
‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey‘ is not written with a clear rhyme scheme, but rather, the poet has focused on meter. Throughout the poem can be found the pattern of iambic pentameter. This type of verse is made up of five sets of beats per line. The first beat is unstressed, followed by one stressed. The choice by the poet to avoid using any discernible rhyme scheme was due to the fact that he was addressing another person. This allows the poem to be read as one side of a conversation rather than a grand declaration.
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Summary of Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey
The poem begins with the speaker, Wordsworth himself, having returned to a spot on the banks of the river Wye that he has not seen for five long years. This place is very dear to him and is just as beautiful and mystical as it was when he left. The “beauteous forms’ of the landscape have not been lost from his mind though. They have stayed with him through his absence and supported him. Whenever there was a moment he felt trapped in the modern world or dragged down by “dreary” life he would cast his mind back to this specific spot. It is here he finds solace.
In fact, this landscape has taken him farther than one might expect. Due to it’s beauty and the importance that it holds in the speaker’s mind, it has allowed him to disregard his own body. He finds greater value in the soul and the “deep power of joy” that can be found in all things.
The speaker tells of how when he was here five years ago he ran like a child through the countryside. He was enthralled by everything he saw and desperate to take it all in. He was acting as a man escaping from something he dreaded, not relishing something he loves. Since this time he has matured now understands that Nature is more important than the base satisfaction it can provide. He feels within it a “presence” which will now support him for all time to come. This “presence” is the unity of all things.
In the final stanza of the poem it becomes clear that this entire time the poet was speaking to his sister, Dorothy. Dorothy is with him on the banks of the Wye and he has been attempting to explain to her why he is the way he is. He hopes that she will share in his joy and give her heart over to Nature as he has. The poet tells his sister that there is no risk in this choice and that she should allow the beauty of the world to move her. The poem concludes with Wordsworth telling his sister that Nature, and this moment that they have shared together, will always be there for her. Even when he is gone.
The final lines reiterate to the reader and the poet’s listener why this place is important to the writer. He values it for what it is worth on it’s own terms and what it has provided him, as well as what it might provide to his sister who is as of yet not as devoted as he is. He will remember this moment for it’s beauty as well as for whom he was with.
Analysis of Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey
Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.—Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
This piece begins with an twenty-two line stanza that introduces the setting, emotions, and main themes of the poem. In the first lines the speaker, Wordsworth himself, makes clear that he has returned a place he has not been for “Five years,” or “five summers,” the bank of the river Wye in Derbyshire, England. These years that he has been apart from the landscape felt excruciating long. As if they were made up entirely of “five long winters!”
Wordsworth has finally come back to where he can hear “again…These waters,” and see them “rolling” down from the “mountain-springs.” These sounds that the speaker is hearing again for the first time are romanticized and described as being a “soft inland murmur” as if whispering voices are coming from somewhere farther “inland” than the speaker can see or detect.
He continues on to reiterate that he is “Once again…behold[ing]” this place. He is looking around him and seeing steep cliffs. These cliffs are not just landmarks to admire but they force certain emotions to surface. They bring to his mind the “Thoughts of… deep seclusion.” This idea of finding peaceful seclusion in nature is not one at all unfamiliar to Wordsworth’s poetry. His status as one of the greatest poets of the Romantic period is solidified by poems such as “Lines Compoased a Few Miles above…”
The whole environment around the speaker is unified in it’s peace and solitude. From the land to the sky and everything in-between; he is permanent desiring a place within it.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
In the next section of this first long stanza, Wordsworth continues on to say that “The day” has come where he can once more “repose,” or relax, under a “dark sycamore” tree that is growing nearby. In this part of the landscape he currently is in, and is hoping to remain, there is a “plot” that contains a “cottage” as well as “orchard-tufts.”
He is looking around at the fruit orchards and seeing the they are filled with yet “unripe fruits” and all the leaves are composed of “one green hue.” Instead of standing out in contrast against the other foliage, they are camouflaged and “lose themselves” amongst the “groves and copses,” or small collections of trees. These orchards are a hint of what is to come. Change is always present and even though the land appears the same as it did to the speaker five years ago, nothing ever truly remains the same.
Wordsworth can see from his vantage point “hedge-rows,” lines and lines of small bushes that run through the landscape. Additionally there are farms surrounding the property that run right up to the door of the cottage. There are others that live in the surrounding areas and “wreaths of smoke” are visible rising from the forest floor.
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.
This stanza concludes with four additional lines that expand on who may live in the environs. It seems to Wordsworth that, although he is not certain, that “vagrant dwellers” or “hermits” live out in the “houseless woods.” These homeless men sit “alone” in the woods; a state that the speaker envies.
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
In the second stanza, consisting of twenty-eight lines, the speaker describes how the images he is now seeing anew have never truly left him.
Though the landscape has long been out of sight, he has not been separate from it. He describes it as having not been to him “As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye.” The speaker has not completely forgotten it or been blinded to it.
Often times, when he has been in “lonely rooms” in the middle of the “din / Of towns and cities,” the memories have come to him. He is able to revisit the landscape within his mind and find comfort in it. It has brought him pleasure in times of “weariness.” Replacing frustration with “sensations sweet” that penetrate to his “blood…and …heart.” These thoughts are even able to possess his “purer mind” and bring it to a state of “tranquil restoration.”
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
The stanza continues with Wordsworth describing how the memories bring him other “unremembered pleasure[s].” Their presence helps other happy memories to surface that have no “slight” or small, “influence / On…a good man’s life.” He needs these thoughts to continue on his path of goodness and continue to help others in anyway he can. They improve him as a human being.
The next lines tell the reader what these happy thoughts might be. They could contain the times in a “man’s life” that he committed acts of “kindness and of love.”
The speaker then turns to address nature itself. He says that he “may have owed” more to it than he has yet returned. It gave him a spiritual gift that he is never going to be able to return, his “blessed mood,” or aspect in which he lives. It helped, and helps, to alleviate the weight of the world.
Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
Nature is going to affect the speaker for the rest of his life and even allow him to value the world, and the spiritual peace he has found over his “corporeal frame.” When he is “laid asleep / In body” he is able, through his “living soul,” to find a “harmony” and experience a “deep power of joy.” This joy has allowed him to see deeper into life than others do. Because he is so deeply a part of the natural world he can see “into the life of things.”
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft—
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
The third stanza of “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” is shorter, consisting of only nine lines. In this short stanza the speaker addresses the possibility that the interior world in which he has been living could be “but a vain belief.” He could have been steadfast in his belief but, ignorant of the fact that he was wrong.
This thought is only fleeting and he immediately turns from it to say, “oh!” How can that possibly be the case when in “darkness” and surrounded by “joyless daylight,” or days that bring the speaker no joy even though they should, he has “turned to thee / O sylvan Wye!” He has depended on the memories of this “sylvan” or wooded paradise on the river Wye when he has been disturbed by the “fever of the world.” He is worshipful of this nature and contributes his peace and happiness to how it has changed him.
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope,
The fourth stanza of the poem, which runs for fifty-four lines, begins with Wordsworth professing to a hope he holds for his current visit to this landscape. He describes how his mind is now “gleam[ing]” with thoughts that are “dim” and “half-extinguished.” He is recalling how he felt when he was here previously and that picture of his own being is being “revive[d]” once more. The speaker is reentering the headspace that he was once existing in.
Additionally, he states that he hopes that from this visit he is able to gain “life and food / For future years.” This trip will, he thinks, provide him with memories that will sustain him in all the dull moments of life that are yet to come. He is re-nourishing his soul and inner paradise to which he will escape.
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led: more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.—I cannot paint
The speaker is “dar[ing] to hope” that even though he comes to this placed changed from when he was here last, that everything will still be to him as it once was.
He remembers how when he first visited this landscape and “came among the hills” he was like a “roe” in how he “bounded” over the rises and falls. He crossed “deep rivers” and followed nature wherever it “led” him.
These actions he took were less like those taken by someone enamored by a new love, but more like the wild, desperate decisions of a man escaping from something “he dreads.” When he was here last he knew immediately how important this place was going to be to him and fled into the hills in a futile attempt to completely escape from his own life.
At this time in his life, nature was to him, “all in all.” It was the end all and be all of his life. There was nothing of greater value or importance to the speaker. This is the state of mind he is once more seeking out.
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, not any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.—That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
He continues to attempt a description of how he was back them, but does not believe it will be possible. Instead of giving the reader a straight forward description, he uses metaphors and romanticized language to a paint a picture of the type of emotional and spiritual state he was in.
He was so consumed by the nature around him that he took it in like food. The narrator thrived on “the tall rock, / The mountain” and the dark woods around him. The feelings they created within the speaker were exacting and precise. He knew where they came from and was content to see the world as it was. He did not need fantasies or additions to the real world to make it more meaningful to him. He did not need “a remoter charm” to entrance him.
The speaker is aching for the time when nature was truly all that he needed. He remembers the joys, and how it created in him “dizzy rapture.” That time is sadly, “past.”
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompense. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Although the speaker is saddened by the change in his condition he is not depressed. He knows that other pleasures “Have followed” and that he should not really “mourn” for the loss of the past.
He has been able to look through his base emotions and thoughts and see Nature not as he did when he was a “thoughtless youth” but as something far more sustaining. He is older now, wiser, and understands how important moments of are peace are for a life lived amongst humanity.
This new wisdom was enshrined in him when he “felt / A presence that disturbs” him with joyful, “elevated thoughts.” He has felt the power of God, or Nature as God, in the world that surrounds him. The narrator can take the memory of this “presence” and carry it within him.
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
What the speaker feels of this new “presence” is much more powerful than what he held inside him in the past. Before, he only took memory away with him when he left, now he has a belief that is stronger than anything else. The “presence” that he feels is like “the light of setting suns” and as powerful as “the round ocean,” air, and sky to the “mind of a man.” It is beyond comprehension and therefore, unfading and undeterred by modernity.
The way in which he understands nature may have changed, but he is still a “lover” of it. He still worships the “meadows and the woods” and is thrilled in all “that we behold / From this green earth.”
He describes how nature fuels everything in the world, the world is entirely made of, and created by nature. It “impels / All thinking things.” The speaker’s tone is reverential filled with deep emotion. This tone will continue through the remaining lines of the poem as the speaker delves deeper into why exactly the natural world is so meaningful to him.
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
In the final lines of the fourth stanza the speaker describes how even though he, and others, are apt through their sense, to hear and see things differently than how they truly are, he is still “well pleased.” He thrills in the “language” of his own senses and considers nature to be the “guardian” of his “heart,” and the steadfast supporter of his “purest thoughts.” It has been to him a “guide” as well as a “nurse.” Finally, he states, it is the “soul” of his morality. Just as the Christian God helps determine what is right and wrong for many around the world, Nature serves this purpose for the narrator.
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
The emotion that the reader glimpsed at the end of the last stanza is sustained through the remainder of the poem.
The speaker begins this section by stating that he will never “Suffer [his] genial spirits to decay” due to the fact that he now understands Nature. The beliefs he harbors within him are permanent. They are there with him at this present moment as he stands “upon the banks” of a river looking out on this place he loves.
At this point in the poem the narration takes a turn as it becomes clear that there is someone else with the speaker. He has not been thinking allowed but explaining himself to someone near. He calls her, “thou my dearest Friend.” She is to him as close as another person can be and he felt the need to explain to her how he has come to be the way that he is.
He listens to her as she speaks and feels the catch of his “heart.” He sees how he used to be and remembers his “former pleasures” as he looks into her “wild eyes.” Wordsworth is able, through only a short glance, is able to see in her the person he once was.
It also becomes completely clear at this time, if the reader was not yet convinced, that the speaker is Wordsworth himself.
My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
He is, in this tender moment, directing his monologue to his sister, Dorothy. They are extraordinarily close and he wishes to share with her his adoration for Nature.
The next line of the poem is one of it’s most important and frequently quoted.
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her;
He is searching for a way to make his sister understand that placing your heart within the hands of Nature is without risk. It cannot break your heart or shatter your faith. Nature will, through the years of ones life, lead a devotee from “joy to joy” and “impress” upon one “quietness and beauty.” Her life, he states, will be full of “lofty thoughts” that carry one above the “sneers” of the modern world. One will no longer be bothered by the “dreary intercourse of daily life.” There will truly be nothing with the ability to disturb one’s peace. “We” will forever know that “our” life is “full of blessings”
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance—
At this point the poem is starting to conclude. Wordsworth wants to make sure that his sister knows that if this is the life that she desires, she should “let the moon” shine on her during her walks. She should feel the “mountain-winds” on her skin and not resist them.
When, Wordsworth says, one has lived this way for a long time, the natural world will become a part of one’s life, guiding all decisions and choices of morality. He states that she will never forget this place and it will become a paradise for “all sweet sounds and harmonies.” When all of this happens, and if she was to fall into “solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,” hopefully, he implores, “thou [will] remember me” and everything that has been said.
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence—wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal
If, Wordsworth says, “I” have died and moved somewhere where “I no more can hear / Thy voice” hopefully she will not forget that “We stood together” on the banks of the Wye. This place is important as it is where Nature came to both the speaker and his listener. This place, Wordsworth says, should fill the future with even “holier love.” The speaker says that nature will “create” in the listener a “far deeper zeal” for the goodness of life. His sister will not be run down my “dreary” normalcy.
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
The last five lines of the poem are spent in finalizing the speaker’s thoughts on how the future should go. He does not want his sister to every forget what he has told her, nor what she herself has felt by the river. He wants her to remember how important she and the landscape around them are to him and says that even though he has been gone from this place for so long, it is dear to him. It is valuable in it’s own right and because it is giving the same gift it gave to him to her.
About William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was born in Cumberland, England in 1770. He met with early tragedy in his young life as his mother died when he was only seven years old and he was orphaned at 13. Though he did not excel, he would eventually study at and graduate from Cambridge University in 1791. Wordsworth fell in love with a young French woman, Annette Vallon while visiting France and she became pregnant. The two were separated after England and France declared war in 1793 and Wordsworth began to develop his radical ideology. Soon after, Wordsworth became friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the two co-wrote, Lyrical Ballads, which contains some of the most well known poetry from both writers.
Wordsworth’s radical ideas did not last as he aged and by 1813, reunited with Vallon and their child, he moved to the Lake District. He continued to create poetry, although his most productive period had passed, until is death at 80 in April of 1850. He had held the position of England’s poet laureate for the last seven years of his life.