The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 496

This 160-line poem is autobiographical, written in the first person and in the poet’s own persona. The poem is subtitled “On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour.” It is set at Tintern, a ruined abbey next to the River Wye in the West of England.

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The poet opens with the observation that five years have passed since he was last there. He continues with a description of the peaceful landscape. Line 23 marks a transition in time and place. He recalls that in moments of weariness in noisy towns, the memory of this landscape has calmed and restored him in body and mind. These pleasant feelings promote kind and loving actions in life. They also bring with them a more sublime gift: transcendental experiences, beyond the everyday state of consciousness, which William Wordsworth was to refer to in his later poem The Prelude (1850) as “spots of time.”

The poet describes such an experience as a serene and blessed mood capable of lightening life’s burdens. The awareness leads into a state of such deep rest that the breath and heartbeat are suspended, though the mind is wide awake—“we become a living soul.” In this joyful and harmonious state, the poet says, sense perception is directed inward. There are no objects of perception for the eye to see. Instead, the perception is opened to the inner spiritual life that informs creation.

At line 66, the poet shifts his attention to comparing his passionate, unthinking, animal-like enjoyment of the landscape five years ago with his more philosophical response now—underscored by “the still, sad music of humanity.” Now, he is also aware of a spiritual presence imbuing nature’s many forms and the mind of man, impelling both the perceiving consciousness and the objects of perception. This awareness inspires his mature love for nature, which fosters and nourishes his finest thoughts and feelings.

The final section of the poem centers on the poet’s sister Dorothy, who accompanies him. In her “wild eyes,” he recaptures the passion of his youth. He says a prayer for Dorothy, confident that Nature never betrayed the “heart that loved her.” Nature’s sublimating effect on the mind is proof against evil, unkindness, and world-weariness, and preserves one’s faith that the world is full of blessings.

A prayer for Dorothy’s old age begins at line 135. The poet asks that her mind might be a dwelling-place for beautiful forms and sounds, just as in the past he has been restored and uplifted by memories of this landscape. If her life should then be tainted with fear or pain, then the memory of his prayer will bring healing thoughts. If they are separated by then, she will not forget that they stood together on the banks of the Wye. Nor will she forget that on his second visit, this place was dearer to him, both because it had grown in significance in his mind and because Dorothy was with him.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

The imagery of the poem in many cases brings out contrasts between opposites. For example, the “blessed mood” (line 38) is introduced, then defined in terms of its opposite value: In the lines that follow, the key words are “burthen,” “mystery,” “heavy,” “weary weight,” and “unintelligible.” Then, in line 42, the burden built up over three lines is suddenly lifted in the resolution “Is lightened.” The line rests in a momentary pause in which all tension is released.

The poet goes on to build an experience of an opposite kind—an account of the transcendental experience that nullifies the burden. The opposites within this description take the reader into the realms of the paradoxes of spiritual experience: The expected motion of the blood and breath is set against their state of suspension; the deep rest of the body is set against the alertness of the spirit. Also noteworthy is the “presence” (line 95) that “disturbs” him with “joy”—an apparent contradiction that makes intuitive sense.

A similar process of juxtaposition of opposite values is at work in the poet’s tribute to nature. In rhetorical style and over several lines, the poet builds a sense of the power of nature to fortify the human spirit, in such words as “joy to joy,” “inform,” “impress,” “quietness and beauty,” and “feed with lofty thoughts.” Then, in symmetrical structure, the negative influences are detailed. Evocative use of alliteration is made in “the sneers of selfish men,” and “greetings” set against “no kindness” is a telling paradox. Yet the passage does not rest on the negative side: The reader is moved along to the resolution (lines 133-135), a moving affirmation of life’s joys and fullness.

The poem is in the blank verse form of iambic pentameter, with five feet per line, each foot consisting of a weak and a strong stress. Though this metrical form closely approximates natural spoken English, it is capable of evoking immense grandeur, as one sees in the passage describing the “presence” of nature (lines 94-103). The music of this passage can be fully appreciated only when it is read aloud. The rhetorical device of repeating the introductory phrase “and the . . .” creates an ecstatic effect of an accumulation of blessings. The spondees (two consecutive strong stresses) combined with long vowel sounds add particular emphasis to certain images: The first two syllables of “round ocean,” and “blue sky” are examples. The imagery also adds to the sense of the “presence” pervading nature as a vital being: A “dwelling” normally refers to something belonging to a person; the air is “living”; the spirit “rolls through all things.”

Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 281

Composed of 159 lines of blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), this poem is narrated by a man who has returned after a five year absence to a ruined abbey on the banks of the Wye River. The tranquil scene prompts a meditation on the speaker’s lifelong relationship with nature. As an adult, he must now come to terms with what nature has meant to him during the various stages of his life.

The speaker divides human life into three phases, each characterized by a distinct relationship to nature. A young child is at one with nature, bounding through the countryside like an animal. An adolescent feels a spiritual kinship, but this union is not yet affected by the intellect. An adult, however, has forever lost both these earlier stages of his life and must find recompense in remembering them.

The most significant portion of the poem deals with one fundamental question. Is the adult perspective on nature (and on life in general) a triumph or a loss? The poet refuses to give a pat answer, and much of the poem’s greatness derives from its humane and serious analysis of the cycles of gain and loss that make up human life.

Important to the poem is the presence of the poet’s dear friend (most likely Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy), whom he addresses in the moving final stanzas. He wishes for her a feeling of unity with nature, and hopes that her memories of Tintern Abbey will be the richer for his presence. A difficult but rewarding poem, “Tintern Abbey” is one of the central documents of the English Romantic poets, exhibiting their preoccupations with nature, memory, and the human mind.

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