With Wordsworth, "Nature" is not simply the external furnishing of the universe but a sort of dynamism that permeates into the whole of creation. Discuss with reference to "Tintern Abbey."

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theyellowbookworm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poets of the Romantic period performed a fundamental role in shaping the way individuals conceived the changing world. Often thought of as “nature” poets, these artists affected relationships between the natural world and the human consciousness to show the interconnectedness of all living things. For Wordsworth, human consciousness comes from reflecting on nature’s beauty. This reflection provides restorative power for the soul in times of need.

In order to understand Wordsworth’s connection between the human consciousness and nature, it is first essential to define what it means to be a nature poet. Scholar Ralph Pite suggests that, when categorizing Wordsworth in this discourse, “it is easy to assume he is no more than a spokesperson for rural values…It is easy, in other words, to forget that in Wordsworth’s day…Nature could be seen as brutal or as a harmonious system reflecting the perfect order of its creator or as the world of the heart not the head –.” Pite’s discussion locates Wordsworth in the shifting ideologies of the time and suggests that, as part of the Romantic movement, Wordsworth’s definition of nature involves more than the strict pastoral landscape.

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.

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.

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).


accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The text of "Tintern Abbey" certainly supports this understanding of nature. In this poem, Wordsworth reflects on how his own understanding of nature has grown and developed as he has aged, and how he has a very different kind of relationship with nature now that he is older from the visceral, immediate relationship he describes when he was younger and first visited Tintern Abbey. Note how he characterises nature now he has developed and changed his understanding:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things.

Nature is definitely in this quote presented as a kind of dynamic force that permeates into all of creation, as it "rolls through all things." It is a force that is described as both a "motion and a spirit" that is able to drive all of creation in its power and intensity. Nature is thus presented as a force that lies at the very heart of the created order rather than being simply something external.

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