Tintern Abbey as a Romantic Poem
William Wordsworth is the greatest poet of nature that English literature has produced. His love of nature was boundless and his knowledge of nature was equal to his love. He gives an accurate and faithful representation of the various aspects of nature. Nothing is too small for him to escape his attention. As William J. Long says, “there is hardly a sight or a sound, from a violet to a mountain, and from a bird note to the thunder of the cataract, that is not reflected in some beautiful way in Wordsworth’s poetry.”
Tintern Abbey is a fine poetic statement of Wordsworth’s attitude to nature. It is, as Myers says, “the consecrated formulary of the Wordsworthian creed.” And his approach is essentially romantic. Tintern Abbey shows that as a romantic Wordsworth has not only sight, but insight; that is, he not only sees clearly and describes accurately, but penetrates to the heart of things and finds some exquisite meaning that is not written on the surface. He reads moral and spiritual meaning into the objects of nature. He finds in nature:
“The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.”
He thinks that the beauty of Nature has the power to lead us from joy to joy, to comfort us in our distress, to mould our character and so to feed our mind with lofty thoughts “that neither evil tongues, rash judgements, nor the sneers of selfish men……nor all the dreary intercourse of daily life” shall ever prevail against us or disturb our cheerful faith that all which we behold is full of blessings. In other words, nature ministers to our spiritual and moral needs and drowns all our sorrows and heartaches in a wave of beauty. Thus it brings us power, peace and happiness.
Tintern Abbey reveals Wordsworth’s pantheistic and mystic approach which is romantic. Like a pantheist Wordsworth believes that nature is permeated by the living God (i.e. the divine spirit). This spirit gives life to all objects of nature. The following lines show his awareness of this omnipresent spirit:
“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 living air,
And the blue sky and in the mind of man.”
This spirit rolls through all things and the mind of man. “Cowper, Burns, Keats, Tennyson-all these poets give you the outward aspects of nature in varying degrees; but Wordsworth gives you her very life, and the impression of some personal living spirit that meets and accompanies the man who goes alone through the woods and fields.” (Long)
Wordsworth approach to nature, though primarily romantic, is individualistic to some extent (i.e. apart from romantic approach). To Wordsworth, as to the romantics nature is permeated by a living spirit. But while the latter find this spirit rolling through all the objects of nature Wordsworth feels its presence in the mind of man as well as in the objects of nature. The belief that it was because of the presence of this universal spirit in nature and man that the communion between both is possible is Wordsworth’s own. Again, Wordsworth views this spirit as thought:
“A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought.”
No other romantic poet views it so. Shelley, for example, conceives of it as Love. Unlike other romantic poets Wordsworth seems to awaken rather than create the impression of living nature:
“well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts……….”
“He stirs our memory deeply, so that in reading him we live once more in the vague, beautiful wonderland of our childhood.”
The romantics like Burns, Gray, Shelley, etc. view nature as the mere image of their feelings, the creature of their moods. They are each apt to read his own emotions into natural objects, so that there is more of the poet than of nature in his poems. But Wordsworth gives us the bird, the flower, the wind, the tree, the river and the mountain, just as they are, and is content to let them speak their own language. While other romantics identify themselves with nature, Wordsworth distinguishes between himself and nature. Take the lines,
“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.”
They have nothing of Wordsworth in them.
Wordsworth’s conception of the serene and blessed mood is peculiarly his own. We do not find it’s like in other romantic poets. In Tintern Abbey the poet says that the contemplation of the calm and beautiful aspects of nature that once charmed him by a direct appeal to the senses, induces in him “that serene and blessed mood” which leads to the complete suspension of “the breath of this corporeal frame and even the motion of our blood.” In this blessed mood (i.e. the mood of mystical rapture) we come to have the vision of “the life of natural and other things.” “Once seen this vision changes for us the whole of life; it reveals unity in what to our everyday sight appears to be diversity, harmony where ordinarily we hear but discord and joy instead of sorrow.” (Spurgeon) In short, this vision gives us an access into the transcendental world.
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