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Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

by William Wordsworth

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Does the appeal of 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' lie more in its poetic quality than its philosophical content?

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Wordsworth's clever use of seeming contradiction and even paradox in presenting Lines Composed A Few Miles above Tintern Abbey lends itself towards an appreciation of the poetic quality of the poem. Whilst it can be interpreted as being philosophical due to the fact that the narrator, Wordsworth himself, reflects on the past and the future, it is the images created that bring the poem to life. The natural flow of the poem, due to the blank verse in iambic pentameter, allows Wordsworth to "lose" himself in the moment rather than dwell on other possibilities.

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William Wordsworth is well- known for his affinity with nature and his ability to recognize the soothing effects of self-reflection. This would infer a philosophical edge to Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey as Wordsworth, the narrator is able to recognize the "bigger picture" and his own part in it. Man's ability to "see into the life of things" is contemplative but Wordsworth is encouraging the reader to, in fact, distinguish between remembering and the value of experience whilst at the same time enjoying the knowledge of "life and food For future years" without over- analyzing the situation allowing him, and the reader, to retain a "serene and blessed mood." 

The undeniably wistful sensation created by the tone of the poem with feelings of "sensations sweet, Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart," allow Wordsworth to dwell in a state of blissful unawareness without any need to worry about things of "no trivial influence" which obviously would otherwise weigh heavily on him. Any thoughts of becoming too involved in the past are removed as the poem transports him to a place where he can dwell in "the light of setting suns, And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky, and..." There is no need to deliberate and cause "my genial spirits to decay." 

Just by her presence, Dorothy, Wordsworth's sister, is able to ensure that he is not affected by "the dreary intercourse of daily life," which allows him to concentrate on "sweet sounds and harmonies" preventing "the sneers of selfish men" from "disturb(ing) Our cheerful faith that all which we behold Is full of blessings." Again, the tendency may be to analyze his words but it is unnecessary as Nature ensures that he is "Unwearied in that service," enjoying the memories for what they are, an opportunity to think fondly of the past rather than worrying about any missed opportunities; thereby allowing him to enjoy the moments, "both for themselves, and for thy sake," rather than for any other purpose, removing the temptation to look for more and being content to enjoy the moment. 

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"The appeal of the poem lies more in its poetic quality than in its philosophical content." How can this statement be defended with reference to 'Tintern Abbey' by Wordsworth?  

Wordsworth's clever use of seeming contradiction and even paradox in presenting Lines Composed A Few Miles above Tintern Abbey lends itself towards an appreciation of the poetic quality of the poem.  Whilst it can be interpreted as being philosophical due to the fact that the narrator, Wordsworth himself, reflects on the past and the future, it is the images created that bring the poem to life. The natural flow of the poem, due to the blank verse in iambic pentameter, allows Wordsworth to "lose" himself in the  moment rather than dwell on other possibilities.

On a few occasions, Wordsworth uses a negative connotation to emphasize the intensity of his feelings such as when describing how he remembers Tintern Abbey and "These forms of beauty have not been to me, As is a landscape to a blind man's eye." He appreciates that he has been able to recall the memory and envision the landscape; also he has been able to experience "sensations sweet" which otherwise may have been overlooked "'mid the din Of towns and cities" where matters which  "May have had no trivial influence On that best portion of a good man's life," would otherwise have prevented him from enjoying "tranquil restoration." What would otherwise be " the heavy and the weary weight Of all this unintelligible world" is uplifted allowing him to sense "that serene and blessed mood." This all supports the poetic quality.

Using repetition, such as "and," allows the vision to continue without interruption so there is apparently no real time for deeper reflection which might detract from the poetic quality and reinforce any philosophical value. This flow and the alliteration also adds to the poetic quality of the poem ensuring that Wordsworth does not become bogged down in his current affairs. Examples such as, "O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the woods," carry the poem and its optimistic outlook. Wordsworth has "felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime..." Note the use of "disturbs me with joy," certainly a conflicting impression but one that allows "Nature...the anchor of my purest thoughts" to guarantee an endless supply of memories. The "green pastoral landscape," allows Wordsworth to appreciate his surroundings at Tintern Abbey which are "to me More dear, both for themselves, and for thy sake." His pleasure is intensified as now his memory includes his sister. A fitting conclusion that does not require any interpretation only an appreciation for the simple things, such as natural beauty, thus providing a poem appreciated for its poetic quality rather than its philosophical content. 

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"The appeal of the poem lies more in its poetic quality than in its philosophical content." How can this statement be defended with reference to 'Tintern Abbey' by Wordsworth?  

Arguably the most delightfully Romantic of the Romantic poets, Wordsworth is one of the Romantic movement's foremost practitioners For, Wordsworth urged poets to explore their innermost feelings and become attuned to the sensations of their souls. Thus, much of his poetry has a spiritual and almost mystical quality. In his verse, Wordsworth embraces life and experiences what is Classically termed the Sublime (Longinus), a realm of experience beyond rational thought in his worship of Nature." Another aspect of Romanticism that figures into this poem is that of subjectivity. Clearly, Wordsworth's personal reveries and his connection of "[T]he landscape with the quiet of the sky" along with his own feelings of solace and restoration in Nature are evinced repeatedly through his poem. Indeed,"Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" abounds with beautiful ideas awash with imagery and lyricism. so lovely is the verse itself, flowing like the stream of the Wye, as the reader hears and sees that much of the philosophical import is subordinated to the experience of the shifting boundaries between the outer world and the poet's inner reality.

  • Poet's connection to outer world and inner reality 

As the poet gazes at the "beauteous forms," mountain springs, the woods, and the farms that abound in the valley of the River Wye, near the great ruins of a medieval church, he is emotionally moved and senses the restorative power of feeling:

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure;

Further, Nature becomes for the poet a source of solace as he becomes attuned to his 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.

  • Experience of the sublime

As the poet recalls his youth, he compares himself to a "roe," or young deer, overcome by sensory experience and subject to "dizzy raptures" (l.85), but now he feels a stronger connection and has learned from nature and no longer perceives it as "thoughtless youth." 

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,

Interestingly, the poetic form of the lines reflect the poet's youth "like a roe" as they are enjambed while as a mature man, the lines flow in free verse as he engages in reflection and the experience of the sublime, or experience beyond rational thought--"these wild ecstasies." Sense perception is directed inward and deeper knowledge attained. In line 94, Wordsworth writes of "A presence that disturbs me with joy," a paradoxical phrase that points to the contradictions existing in spiritual experience. In the following lines, this use of paradox is reflected in the blank verse that has its iambic pentameter, the short and long pattern of stresses as a symmetrical match for the poet's thoughts.

  • Spiritual, almost mystical quality

Repeatedly, Wordsworth employs the words soul, heart, and spirit. Near the end of the poem, in line 153, he is "A worshipper of Nature."

With warmer love--oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love.

Nature’s sublimating effect on his mind preserves and strengthens the poet's faith that the world holds spiritual values and blessings. The poetic form, imagery, and metaphor all serve to reflect the experiences of the poet.

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