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An Analysis of Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey

Neha B Deshpande
Nature can be one of the biggest sources of inspiration to any artist. It is where we can seek solace and respite from our mundane lives. In this poem, Wordsworth has described his experience on 'revisiting' the banks of the river Wye, near Tintern Abbey. This story provides an analysis of this romantic ode by Wordsworth.

What's in a name?

The poem's actual name is Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798. Though an unusual name, it clearly indicates that the poet wants to emphasize on the location and time of the poetry.
Nature's tranquility and peace is unmatched. In the lap of Mother Nature, Wordsworth's thoughts bloom, take-off towards the sky, and give birth to a beautiful poetry 'Tintern Abbey'. In one of his tours to Tintern Abbey, with his sister, Dorothy, he recounts his first visit and feels similar ecstasy. 
Though the poem is referred to as 'Tintern Abbey', more than the abbey, it is the nature surrounding it, against the gushing water of river Wye, that forms the central theme of the poem.
He worships nature and believes in its strength, and is content for staying away from a superficial and money-centered world that revolves around the city life. Though unusual, sans the typical rhyming stanzas, this poetry simply goes with the flow of his thoughts.

Line by Line Analysis

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.
The poet says that five years have passed since the passage of his visit to Tintern Abbey. His emphasis on five years conveys that it has been long since he has visited this place. His mind begins to paint the landscape which he had seen five years back, and experiences the same thrill which he had in the past after listening to the resonance of the waters. The mountains kissing the sky, invokes a feeling of serenity in his heart. They stand tall and proud, and with their height, his thoughts dig even more deeper, in the awe of nature.
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!
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.
While enjoying the scenery, he is constantly comparing it with the visits during those times by using the words 'again'. The fruits are yet to ripen, and hence, still bear a greenish raw hue, and are surrounded by the groves. He witnesses the pastoral life of the countryside and reminisces a similar picture he had seen five years back. While comparing silence and solitude of the hermit, he mentions the tranquility of country life as opposed to city life.
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
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.
His tryst with nature is enchanting, uncanny, and peaceful, unlike the harsh life in a city. The picture of his previous visit is still very fresh in his mind, as if he can simply put the two pieces of past and present together.
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,
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.
The mystery of bewitching nature lessens the burdens of urbane life in his mind, as his heart slowly quilts itself with the thoughts of fresh air, peace, serenity, and the murmur of water against the backdrop of huge mountains. Rising a level above, he says, he has even forgotten his physical existence, and his thoughts have blended harmoniously with nature. He has entered a deep level of meditation under the magic of nature's spell.
If this
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!
These lines express his anxiety of whether his idea of seeing life in nature is all in vain. However, he calls out to the river Wye and states that in times of despair and sorrow, he turns to her for inspiration and to move ahead. He doesn't question himself about the sanity of his idea, what matters is that it provides relief to 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.
After having his moment of apprehension, he comes back to the present, and again in the pleasurable company of nature. Every line reiterates how he enjoys the company of nature, and how he stands witness to pure joy in the warmth of nature.
And so I dare to hope,
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
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, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye...
...-That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures.
From the present moment, the poet suddenly revisits his past, right to his childhood, and feels melancholic about the fact that he is no longer as passionate as he used to be―the waterfalls, colors and hues of nature inspired him to be passionate about life. He enjoyed the little pleasures of life as a kid, and now has lost the ability to be content and cheery.
Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. 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
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
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....
However, he claims, nature is the biggest teacher who has taught him to go with the flow and move on with life positively. He says he does not fume and fret about his lost childhood days, and says that he has been bestowed upon by other gifts in life, mentioning again, that he is pleased to be in the lap of Mother Nature. His heart feels elated with the lush green meadows and admits that nature has nursed and guided him, and all his morals are a manifestation of the teachings from nature.
Nor perchance,
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,
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...
In these lines, the poet acknowledges the presence of Dorothy, his sister, along with him at the banks of the river. In her eyes and voice, he sees his younger version, bubbling with the same excitement and passion, which he once had. He seems to tell his sister, again, how nature has blessed humankind, and amid all this dreary world of selfish people, nature will prevail and maintain its supremacy over mortals like us. He reiterates how nature tells us to be selfless and enjoy the tranquility.
Therefore let the moon
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-
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
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!
Further, he expresses his wish for nature to bless his sister as much as he has been, and let her believe in its power like he does. He asks the moon to be with her when she walks alone, and shower her with the same wonderful thoughts which he has. He asks her that if he goes to a place from where he can never return, would she, like him, embrace nature and experience the same delight at the banks of the river. He dreams of a future where Dorothy visits the place again, to feel enchanted with the cliffs and green woods, despite his absence.

Figure of speech

Apostrophe : The poet has addressed his sister, in the midst of his thoughts.

Alliteration : 'The still, sad music of humanity' uses repetition of words.

Metaphor : 'My former pleasures in the shooting lights of thy wild eyes'

Simile : 'Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock'.
The poetry is written in 'blank verse' form, where the reader can experience the flow of thoughts in the poet's mind. Wordsworth's love for nature is well-known, and this poetry delves deeper into his thoughts, with every line expressing his romance and love with nature.
For him, nature is a place of worship, where his heart resides. The inclusion of his sister's name 'Dorothy' in the poem exhibits her importance to him. His sudden gush of emotions at the very sight of this place exhibits his love for the abbey.
However, more than the Tintern Abbey or its surroundings, the poem portrays more of his feelings associated with the calmness of nature.  Though it is completely based on his own personal experience, we might have experienced such a feeling when we visited our home town, adorned and swamped with scenic beauty.
Such is the power of nature―even a young sprout from a tiny seed makes us realize that we are so small and powerless before nature.