What are the Romantic elements in Wordsworth's relationship with nature, as depicted in"Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Three elements of "Tintern Abbey" are especially Romantic in a way particularly characteristic of Wordsworth, though also typically Romantic. First, nature is a redemptive force, a place where we feed our souls and commune with the divine. Second, it is a place of memory. Third, it arouses our emotions.

Wordsworth...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Three elements of "Tintern Abbey" are especially Romantic in a way particularly characteristic of Wordsworth, though also typically Romantic. First, nature is a redemptive force, a place where we feed our souls and commune with the divine. Second, it is a place of memory. Third, it arouses our emotions.

Wordsworth speaks to the powerful spiritual effects of nature on his soul when he writes that in the environs of the ruined abbey, the body:

become[s] 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.

He calls nature, this "green world,"

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

Next, nature is a place that can nurture us through memory. Not only is the initial encounter with nature a pleasure and a spiritual experience, the memory of it can feed us over and over again. For example, Wordsworth says that when he is away from nature:

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!

He wishes, too, for his sister to store up similar her memories for herself. He states:

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

Finally, the poem is deeply lyrical, reflecting the way nature elicits an emotional response from the poet. Exclamations, such as "oh" and "dear, dear," as well as exclamation points underscore the deep emotions he is feeling from returning to the abbey ruins and the surrounding countryside:

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 ...
We feel the ecstasies that Wordsworth feels, and this deep feeling is what Romantic poetry wants us to experience.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Romantic writers thrived predominately between 1800-1837. Three of the movement's most well-known writers—Byron, Shelley and Keats—all died tragically before they were forty. However, the amount of writing produced by these men is amazing, as is the wealth and quality of writing from the earliest Romantic writers: William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

There is a great deal of controversy regarding the characteristics of Romantic writing. A few examples include the "idealization of women and children," "champions of personal freedom," and especially a return to valuing nature. (For instance, in the famous epic poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge called The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, many of the characteristics of Romantic writing are included.) The story deals with a mariner's (sailor's) wanton destruction of a sea bird and the punishment visited upon all the members of the sea vessel on which he travels—punishment which only stops when the mariner learns to deeply appreciate nature and realize what a horrible thing he did in destroying a beautiful piece of nature.

In "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth spends a great deal of time describing the beauty of nature, and speaking even of its power over him when he is away from this place he so loves, and how much better he feels just thinking about it.

We learn at the beginning that it has been five years since Wordsworth visited the area, but he has had it in his mind on many occasions during that time. To make his imagery effective, Wordsworth uses literary devices. For example, as the poem begins, the author describes the water that he hears:

...and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a sweet inland murmur.

"Murmur" is a human characteristic, so the device used is personification, allowing us to imagine the gentle rumbling of the water as it moves, almost like the murmuring of a voice.

 

Another aspect of Romanticism is that of the supernatural or the occult. In Wordsworth's descriptions, the ability of nature to "speak" to him across the years and miles takes on a magical element. He even speaks to the effects of nature on the body and the soul:

…And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul...

In this case, it is only the communion with nature—putting away the activities and distractions of the world—when one's soul truly comes alive. A reference to, or interest in, the past (another of the Romantic elements) speaks of days when he was a young man...

...my boyish days,

And their glad animal movements...

...I cannot paint

What then I was.

Melancholy is also an aspect of Romantic writing. Here Wordsworth speaks about how sadness sometimes comes to him when he thinks of the "music of humanity."

...hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

Not harsh nor grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue.

There are a number of Romantic characteristics in the poem, and they are all tied to having an appreciation for nature.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team