As part of the Romantic movement, Wordsworth’s definition of nature involves more than the strict pastoral landscape. For Wordsworth, nature is always social. In other words, nature offers a mode to relate to individuals and the larger world. For Wordsworth, the relationship between nature and the human consciousness is dependent on location. In Wordsworth’s poem, “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, 13 July 1798” (hereafter referred to as “Tintern Abbey”), the title itself provides specific circumstances of time and space that are essential to Wordsworth’s project. The poem, “Tintern Abbey,” suggests that individuals need a period of maturation that precedes reflection and consciousness. The poem analyzes the speaker’s transformation, over a period of five years, from thoughtless youth to reflecting adult. To illustrate, the poem opens with the movement of time.
Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain springs
With a sweet inland murmur. Once again (ll. 1-4)
These lines evoke a specific location that the speaker visited five years ago and is revisiting in the present moment. The speaker expresses his reflection on this scene through the repetition of the word “again,” which appears four times in the first 23 lines.
Remembering his previous visit, the speaker compares his youthful experience to a small deer, overcome by sensory experience and subject to “dizzy raptures” of confusion (ll. 88). In his maturity, the speaker relates that that experience teaches him “to look on nature not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth…/ …and I have felt /A presence that disturbs me with the joy / …a sense sublime” (ll. 90-92, 96-98). In this passage, the speaker contrasts his “dizzy” boyhood with the stillness that pervades his adult reflection. The speaker acknowledges that, while nature remains stable, his relationship to the natural world has somehow shifted (ll. 68-69). Specifically, engaging in sublime reflection has “made quiet” the speaker’s eye and allowed him to undergo the transformation from unthinking youth to reflective adult (ll. 47).
Interestingly, the poetic form mirrors the speaker’s movement from “dizzy” boyhood to adult reflection. For the greater part of the poem, the speaker engages in quiet reflection of his past. When this happens, the free verse of the poem is ordered and regular. The poem works, like the Wye, as a “delightful stream” that transports the reader along this journey of reflection (ll. 153). However, in moments where the speaker describes his past self, such as that referred to above, the lines suffer enjambment and the meter is skewed, further illustrating the boy’s inability to thoughtfully consider his environment.
Reflection is essential for Wordsworth because it provides a sense of tranquility amongst the “fever of the world” (ll. 55). This may be a response to the industrial advancements of London, which Wordsworth disliked, and the advancing corruption of the French Revolution. Wordsworth sees the “tranquil restoration” of nature as a benevolent force that reestablishes a “lightened state” in the human mind (ll. 30, 41).