Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” is a shortened version of the poem’s full title, “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798.” This full title more accurately locates the situation of the poem and anchors the experience of the poem in a particular place and time. In 160 lines of blank verse, the poet describes what he hears and sees again five years after he last visited this scene along the Wye River in Wales, near the ruins of an ancient abbey.
The poet first notices cliffs, trees, hedges, and farmhouses. Then, he imagines that someone might be camping amid the woods. What he cannot see becomes important, and he lets his imagination go. Then, he recalls how he has recently left a city, where he lived during some of the time since visiting the Wye River. He believes that his spirit was sustained by his memories of this natural scenery through a time of difficulty while in the city. The feelings attached to remembered scenes of nature became sources of imaginative power when detached from actual observation of those scenes.
The poet recalls his attention to the immediate scene before him again, and he compares his present feelings with those that he had when first visiting this spot. At that time, he was young and thoughtless, unaware of his differences from other animal life; now, however, he feels more burdened by the responsibilities of being human, of having a heart that sympathizes with the sufferings of other human beings. The feelings of youth have been revived by this revisit, and those feelings have energized his moral imagination to universal proportions.
Suddenly, the poet addresses his sister. She seems to be standing beside him, observing this same scene with him. This visit, however, is her first, and he imagines the future, when her memories of this scene will work for her as his do for him at this time. He utters a prayer that nature will supply his sister with the same restorative power of feeling in the future. In this way, each will be a “worshipper of Nature.”