Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey

William Wordsworth is renowned for his appreciation of nature, which is apparent for incorporating the appeal of it in his poetry. All of Wordsworth’s poems contain a blatant perspective of having a unique relationship with his perceived prominence in nature except for one: “Tintern Abbey”. In this poem, the subject he presents is difficult to firmly grasp unlike his other works making many readers and critics apprehensive about its ultimate focus. Even so, critics appreciate it for its strong use of poetic elements and its comparison between the possible literal and figurative within the piece. Since the figurative meaning is rather confusing and vague, it contributes to many possible literal meanings, which are different interpretations of his use of nature to convey thoughts of human renewal and ideas of time. Most critics agree that this poem differs from most in that instead of focusing on a specific focus; he forms his ideas in a long stream of conscious thought, which is primarily the vacillation of conviction and doubt. This conviction and doubt ultimately symbolizes the figurative meaning behind entitling the poem “Tintern Abbey” for its many paths that can turn another direction.

“Tintern Abbey” was written in 1798, and is among the earlier works of William Wordsworth, first published in his debut Lyrical Ballads (1978). As it comes from the earlier period of Wordsworth’s work, critics use it as a study in the development of his work, in addition to using it as an example of the raw, natural element to his poetry, that existed even without Wordsworth’s signature style of refining his poems. “Tintern Abbey” was not revised from its original publication, however, when it was republished in his collection of works of 1849-50.  Critics and scholars view this lack of revision from Wordsworth as a sense of completion. In many of his other pieces, he has often revised his verses. The lack of doing so can be seen as a revelation of the perfection and finality of “Tintern Abbey”. This makes the poem truly stand out as it as a rarity that Wordsworth does not go back and rework a piece years later and change or even add lines. Additionally, Wordsworth spent 1973 to 1978 experiencing and connecting with nature, and “Tintern Abbey” is considered by many to be the pinnacle of his work during this time period, due to the refined and reflective elements of the piece, as well as the pure natural elements.

This poem is acclaimed because it is the most concentrated form of his thoughts–it presents them in a literarily sound way that conforms to the true definition of poetry, which is language concentrated in its purest form used to express an overarching idea. In this poem he isn’t just talking about beauty in nature but rather expressing not only his reverence for nature and how man should interact for it, but the frustration and acceptance for the reasons that man has rendered himself separate from it. The perception of nature is indirect. Critics have ventured through this poem time and time again to unearth Wordsworth’s original meaning. They still pore through this poem to gain said interpretation. Even so, popular belief is that Wordsworth is presenting his vacillation between conviction and doubt, which is symbolized through the many paths in Tintern Abbey. Therefore, this poem is thought to be more of a long thought of consciousness which is favored by critics since it is thought to unveil Wordsworth’s thought process on his esteemed faith in nature. Wordsworth in this poem is able to more effectively communicate this message of nature than in some of his other works. It is equally surprising once the reader understands that the dialogue, taking time due to the poem’s complexity, in the last part of the poem is thought to be Wordsworth’s denial or doubt in nature having that superior position which his poems usually portrayed.

Firstly, the persona’s sister is assumed to be Dorothy Wordsworth which in this respect is similar to his other many poems where he uses anonymous characters that are thought to represent people that he had relationships with. First path or turn is when he conveys that nature represents the strength and comfort of man. The first path of poem, which is located in the beginning, obviously shares many similarities to his other works since he is describing the greatness of nature. However, in the very beginning, this inability to understand an accurate meaning or even any firm interpretation is difficult from his plentiful use of description regarding nature and his various standpoints. Ultimately, this has a vague effect since the complexity of what Wordsworth is describing is difficult to be able to tie together to create a proper synopsis. In the second path, Wordsworth describes his love for the landscape in that it fosters nature’s universal identity that makes the individual feel a sense of unity with nature. In that way, nature has an immortal image where it is cyclical but also uniform and unchanging. For example, if a tree was to die and another was to grow in its place, most would unconsciously view it as the same tree. This idea contrasts when looking at humans since when they die they are viewed as being gone forever. There is then an external and internal world where nature serves as the external from being at a distance from humans and internal being the world of humans. Also, internal is the human world because it is being viewed by a human which is just Wordsworth. In all, this tends to separate humans from nature, which is more of an epiphanic thought since it goes against his original view. The final path serves as an ultimate divider between nature and man. Wordsworth describes a mind by conveying that it does not fulfill itself in a completely effective relationship with nature. Instead, man finds this relationship more effective with other humans. Derived from the more impassioned verses in the end of the poem, Wordsworth’s doubt of his faith of nature consists of being able to do what nature cannot. He has a progressive mind, which defeats mortal limitations from having a memory. Comfort and strength turn out to be mostly derived from human nature since they strive off of progression as opposed to nature itself.

Within this work there are many poetic devices that help to emphasize the author’s meaning and philosophy, making it a strong piece of literature that is often considered to be Wordsworth’s best. Throughout the piece, there are clear juxtapositions, allegories, and personifications that help the work to portray nature and society and the relationship between them. The literal and figurative juxtaposition present in the piece is between nature and society, and this serves to strengthen the clarity of Wordsworth’s meaning. Tintern Abbey is a large area of ruins, many which used to be large buildings, next to the River Wye. When Wordsworth wrote this he was just a few miles above Tintern Abbey, as can tell from the title, on the River Wye and he had recently seen the ruins. This was his inspiration for writing this piece, which represents humans and humanity as they decay, as first seen in the phrase “These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard tufts, / Which, at the season, with their unripe fruits / …. disturb / The wild green landscape,” (Tintern Abbey) juxtaposed against nature, taking the form of the River Wye, whose “waters roll” after “five summers and five winters” (Tintern Abbey). In addition to being a literal juxtaposition, the entire piece is an extended metaphor through the juxtaposition between where he was, and where he is now and also his coming to understand that Tintern Abbey is symbolic to man. In this way, he expresses that Tintern Abbey represents man in that it in ruins and separated from nature by the existence of its own being, and that the river, representing nature, will remain pure as a part of nature. His acceptance of this through his poetry lucidly adds to its acclaim, as it presents a naturally complex idea in a beautiful way that is consistent with the purpose and definition of poetry; that is to say that Wordsworth concentrates language in a way to render it effective as well as beautiful. Additionally, enjoy this piece as it is not an easy to read poem and takes some thinking to be able to fully comprehend the metaphors and juxtaposition between society and nature. To be able to fully understand the poem, one must be able to understand this and thus it in a way has many hidden meanings.

Within “Tintern Abbey”, Wordsworth uses figurative juxtaposition to contrast the differences of men and women to the differences of nature and society. It was the time period’s belief depicted in this piece that there was a natural hierarchy amongst men and women, making one gender superior to the other. He juxtaposes and contradicts this by making a natural hierarchy between society and nature within “Tintern Abbey”. Using the corruption of the city, Wordsworth writes of a united partnership between man and nature. At the same time, he is showing the role of women in society by portraying her as nature- an extremely powerful force that becomes united with man in the piece. During the time period, women had restricted rights, and Wordsworth wrote of nature as a strong force that reflected not only women, but in particular his sister, Dorothy. Wordsworth also uses heavy amounts of both allegory and personification in “Tintern Abbey” to enhance the effects of the piece. Nature, representing women, is also an allegory for life in this piece. As the work progresses, the man in the poem’s relationship with nature also changes to reflect the changes he goes through in life. The allegory is shown through personification. Wordsworth uses terms such as “gloomy wood” in order to describe the loneliness and disparity the man in the work felt.

The unique nature of William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” left critics in awe of this work due to its various poetic elements, the figurative and literal meanings, along with his natural descriptions that convey ideas of human renewal and time. His ideas are gracefully formed into one stream of elegant thought as he graces symbolism with great meaning. To summarize the findings of this paper, “Between 1793 and 1798 Wordsworth lost the world merely to gain his own immortal soul.” This quote shows the true nature of “Tintern Abbey” as Wordsworth lost himself within the piece as he wrote it only to find that he leaves his legacy in such a memorable piece such as this.

References

Essick, R. N. (1994). Gender, Transgression, and the Two Wordsworths in “Tintern

Abbey” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 36(3), 291-305.

Hadley, K. (2002). The Commodification of Time in Wordsworth’s “Tintern    Abbey”.

SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 42(4), 693-706. doi: 10.1353/sel.2002.0037

Kramer, L. (1986). Victorian Sexuality and Tintern Abbey. Victorian Poetry, 24(4), 399-410.

Miall, D. S. (2000, September 12). Miall — Tintern Located. Miall — Tintern Located.

Retrieved December 15, 2013, from http://www.ualberta.ca/~dmiall/tinternl.htm

Nabholtz, J. R. (1974). The Integrity of Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey. The Journal of

English and Germanic Philology, 73(2), 227-228.

Weele, M. V. (1995). The Contest of Memory in “Tintern Abbey” Nineteenth-Century

Literature, 50(1), 6-26. doi: 10.1525/ncl.1995.50.1.99p0131v

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