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Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

by William Wordsworth

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How does Tintern Abbey reflect characteristics of romanticism?

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"Tintern Abbey" reflects Romanticism by linking nature to holiness and moral goodness, emphasizing the redemptive qualities of nature, simple living, and memory. Wordsworth's poem highlights how nature elevates the spirit and provides inspiration, aligning with Romantic themes of individualism and the sublime. He discusses the profound impact of nature on his thoughts and emotions, demonstrating the Romantic belief in nature's power.

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Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" is Romantic in the way it links nature to holiness and moral goodness. Being in nature elevates the poet. For instance, Wordsworth calls the woods and meadows that he sees around Tintern Abbey:

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse

The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul

Of all my moral being

In his long autobiographical poem "The Prelude," Wordsworth discusses feeling that poetry is a holy calling, and often invokes Milton as a mentor. After his disillusion and depression at the way the French Revolution turned into a bloodbath, Wordsworth returned to the Lake District. There, he came to believe he could make a difference by writing poems that revealed God's presence in nature as well as the goodness of the simple life. In Tintern Abbey, he dwells on the way seemingly small things, such as kind acts or the pleasure derived from being in nature, can have a deep influence ("no trivial influence") on our souls. As he writes:

feelings too
Of unremembered pleasures; such, perhaps,
As have made no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.

The role of memory was also important to Wordsworth as a Romantic poet, and he highlights memory from the start of this poem, noting that it has been five years since he last visited Tintern Abbey. In "The Prelude," Wordsworth discusses how returning to the same places in nature as we get older helps us to understand the changes in ourselves. As we mark the changes in how we react to the same spot, we gain self understanding. In Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth notes that he was more passionate as a younger self:

I cannot paint

What then I was.

The sounding cataract

Haunted me like a passion

Now, however, in the same place, he realizes he has become more spiritual:

For I have learned

To look on nature, not as in the hour

Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

. . . And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts

Wordsworth, the emblem of the Romantic poet, in this poem expresses his strong faith in three Romantic themes: the holy, redemptive qualities of nature, simple living, and memory.

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"Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," by William Wordsworth, is sometimes considered the archetypal Romantic poem for a number of reasons. Essentially, in this poem, Wordsworth is discussing the "aspect most sublime" that is revealed to him by the natural setting of Tintern Abbey, whose beauty has lived in his memory for five years since he was last there. In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth stated that poetry arises from "emotion recollected in tranquility," and we see this at work in this poem, as the poet describes how the "tranquil" beauty of Tintern Abbey gives him strength and inspiration when he is not there. Both of these are tenets of Romantic poetry that show the influence of Edmund Burke's ideas on the sublime which appear in most Romantic works. Wordsworth states that

I have owed to them [the views of Tintern Abbey],
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind

On the most basic level, there are two key Romantic traits exhibited in this poem:

1. It focuses on Nature and the power of Nature to inspire the muse

2. It focuses on individualism and the impact a particular place or feeling may have on one person.

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