Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549

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).

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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 blessed mood” to lighten their weight (line 42). More important, these experiences culture joy and harmony in the poet’s awareness, allowing him to “see into the life of things.” This theme is expanded in the extraordinary vision of the one spirit pervading nature and human consciousness in lines 94-103. The poet’s moments of communion with nature endure, independent of inhospitable surroundings. Amid the noise of towns and cities, his spirit would turn to this landscape for regeneration—emphasizing the power of the human spirit to create its own reality.

Yet a tension runs through the poem that pulls against this affirmative theme. In Dorothy’s “wild eyes,” he recaptures his youthful passion, but one senses an underlying yearning for “what [the poet] was once”—and is no longer. Similarly, he prays that her memories will render her mind “a mansion for all lovely forms” in her later years, but he is preoccupied with the pain and grief she may suffer. He anticipates separation from her and his consequent inability to “catch from [her] wild eyes these gleams of past existence.” Such thoughts reveal a deep anxiety about the passing of time and the decline and loss it may bring.

Many readers identify a lack of conviction behind Wordsworth’s protest (lines 86-89) that he does not mourn the passing of the “dizzy raptures” of his youth and note a wistfulness in his references to that time being past (lines 84-86). In his assertion that maturity brings “Abundant recompence,” he seems to be trying to convince himself that the gain is worth the loss. In this respect, this poem invites comparison with “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (published in 1807). The “Ode” was inspired by Wordsworth’s “sense of the indomitableness of the spirit within me” (annotation by Wordsworth, compiled in 1843 by Isabella Fenwick) yet at the same time is an elegy to the “visionary gleam” of his youthful perception of nature.

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