In the Tintern Abbey , a poem by William Wordsworth we see a romantic poet at his best. The poet goes beyond the common romantic themes of ‘far away and long ago’ and looks deeper into himself by reflecting on his own relationship with nature and that of his sister’s. He argues that the pleasure derived from being in the presence of nature is more sublime than other everyday pleasures and that such a pleasure goes beyond sensual pleasures. For Wordsworth, poetry was the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility. Most of his poems on nature are recordings of his reflections on visits to landscapes he had done much after the actual visit.
Tintern Abbey even more so, since it was written after his second visit to the beautiful landscapes around the river Wye beside which there is an old place of worship called the Tintern Abbey. The abbey is now deserted and it suggests how religion has failed to console the poet during his most disturbed days and how nature took its place and successfully kept him happy and contended.
The poem begins with a graphically rich description of nature. Using beautiful images and melodious expressions the poet conjures up a beautiful image about the river.
These waters rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur
He looks higher up and sees the mountains that set forth the springs.
I behold these steep and lofty hills
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of a more deep seclusion;
The lines that follow appeal to our senses so much that they could be easily mistaken for those written by John Keats. The poet speaks of orchard-tufts which, with their unripe fruits, are clad in one great hue and lose themselves among other trees. He continues in the same mellifluous tone
These hedge rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild:
and then about movements and silence,
wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees
Having displayed his skills to describe nature, he starts to explore his own being and share his thoughts with us. He had seen that same landscape five years ago and it has changed very little. During all those years, it lingered in his memory and continued to please him.
I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensation sweet
and gave him ‘tranquil restoration’. It also gave him a serene and blessed mood in which his existence and ‘even the motion of his human blood’ were ‘almost suspended’ and he became nothing more than a pure ‘living soul’. His thoughts were settled and by the power of harmony he was able to see into the life of things. He often recalled the memory of this landscape when he was troubled by the fretful stir and the unprofitable fever of the world.
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit tuned to thee!
The poet recalls and compares how he behaved and felt during his first visit when he was much younger and less insightful and rather inexperienced. Then ‘like a roe’ he ‘bounded over the mountains by the side /Of the deep rivers’ and ‘wherever nature led’ him. Those were the ‘boyish days’ and he derived ‘coarser pleasures’ from his immediate experiences. The physical sensation and pleasure he enjoyed in the lap of nature from the ‘colours and forms’ did not make him think about or look for anything beyond the ‘here and now’.
But ‘that time is past’. During his second visit after five long years he feels ‘a pleasure that disturbs’ him,
with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
with his being. He is still,
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And the mountains; and of all we behold
But now, nature has risen from that which speaks ‘the language of the senses’ in order to please the human mind to the level of,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being
Paganism or acknowledging and worshipping God in everything around us is not a philosophy favoured in the west. The monotheistic concept of the western religions does not allow the worship of any other God. So, nature poems in English, unlike those in the eastern languages, remained for long as description of nature’s beauty. Wordsworth, along with S. T. Coleridge, risked being called ‘a pagan’ and dared to call himself
A worshipper of nature …
Unwearied in that service…
making a personification of nature leading to its deification by using the word worship along with it.
The poet says that in the recent years when his life has been one of ‘sad perplexity’ and disillusionment he has learned to look on nature,
Not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity
Nor harsh or grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
He has seen how nature can stay in one’s mind and continue to guide, help and raise one above the common din of life. Here the poet is referring to his disillusionment in his private life as well has the hope and despair that the French revolution gave him.
Now that he is aware of the immediate and long term benefits of being in the presence of nature, the poet wants to initiate into such a life his sister Dorothy who is accompanying him on this second visit. He sees in her, an image of what he used to be long ago. He assures her that no evil shall prevail on them, no rash thoughts shall come to them, no sneer of selfish men shall ever touch them and no unkind men can hurt them if they have faith in the powers of nature. It is her privilege to help men like that.
Knowing that nature never did betray
The heart that loved her
He hopes that his sister will take heed to remember this lesson that he is teaching him now.
If solitude , or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
She asks her whether she will ever forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; ………….
With warmer love – oh! With far deeper zeal
Of holier love.
He tells his sister that this second visit is dearer to him, both because of the beauty of nature and also because of his sister’s companionship. Thus we see how Wordsworth creates an atmosphere of affection, beauty, nostalgia, scenic beauty, and divinity to convey to us the embalming power of nature that raised man to sublime levels.