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.
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
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...
(The entire section is 1,210 words.)