Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The central theme of the poem is typically Wordsworthian: the interactive relationship between the perceiving awareness, “the mind of man,” and nature. In the poet’s view, perception is as much active and creative as passive and receptive. Reality depends upon the quality of the onlooker’s perception, and this changes with time. The poet’s youthful perception of the area around Tintern Abbey was different from that of his mature view. Five years later, his mature perceptions are less passionate and more thoughtful. He no longer sees nature as divorced from the human condition (lines 91-94).

He has developed the ability to see a level of reality beyond sensory impressions—the spirit underlying the myriad forms of nature, which animates and unites perceiver and objects of perception. For example, the description of the Tintern landscape (lines 4-23) is noteworthy for the blurring of distinctions between objects: the orchards that melt into the woods, the farms green to the door, the smoke among the trees—all bespeak a synthesizing, unifying perception.

Central to Wordsworth’s vision are “spots of time” (The Prelude)—profound spiritual experiences that he describes as having a renovating, uplifting, and nourishing virtue. In “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” worldly cares are twice referred to in terms of heaviness or burdens (lines 39-40, 55). Set against them is the ability of the “serene and...

(The entire section is 549 words.)