William Wordsworth

Tintern Abbey

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Tintern Abbey Summary

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“Tintern Abbey,” or “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798,” is a poem by William Wordsworth published in 1798. In the poem, Wordsworth remembers a walk he took with his sister to the site of the abbey ruins, and the power that communing with nature has to change our spirits and protect our moral center.

It begins with the speaker explaining that it has been five years since he last took a walk to the location. He remembers its tranquility and the sound the water made when it ran by. He describes the objects as he remembers them, the lofty cliffs that inspire a sense of deep seclusion and the sycamore tree that he leaned against. He imagines the smoke rising in the forest belongs to passing vagrants and their campfires or from a hermit deep in the woods.

The memories of this place stay with him as he walks down crowded, noisy city streets. These memories offer a fond sensation of peace. They affect his future deeds even when he doesn’t realize it. He feels that his experience in this secluded place made him a kinder, more loving person.

He further attributes his lightness of soul to these memories, calling them his access to a spiritual state in which he becomes “a living soul” with a view into “the life of things.”  Although he admits that this may be a vain supposition, he has still turned to the memory in times of trouble.

Even now, the memory presides over him, and he recalls the experience with bittersweet emotion. He is not the same person he was when he first visited, no longer a young boy when nature made up his whole world. However, it has shaped his appetites and passions. He does not mourn the passing of these times because these gifts of nature allow him to look at things from a wider perspective. They have returned their gifts to him.

He loves nature, and considers it the purest part of himself. It has given him the tools to protect his moral center from outside influences, and for that he is grateful. Even if he did not feel this way, he is in high spirits because today he is in the company of his beloved sister who can share nature and inspire new memories.

He asks that all the natural elements shine on her favorably so that in future years when she is sad or fretful, she may return again and again to this moment and be healed. Even if he is dead, she might recall their time together on this day fondly. The power of nature renders the mind impervious to any evil or frightful influence.

The woods are all the more dear to him because of these memories and now because of his sister’s presence in them. The memory of pure communion with nature works on the mind even when a child turns into an adult, and this theme is an important one that runs through most of Wordsworth’s work.

The poem is the first to lay out his belief in this. The subject of memory and its influence on our later life is one that Wordsworth revisited often. The major theme of the benefits of nature is one examined throughout the period of Romanticism, a period known for a fascination with major themes of life, existence, and experience.

For Wordsworth, humans are innately noble of spirit, and this is corrupted the further away we are from the powerful influence of nature. Artificial conditions and the pain of city life cause people to become selfish and immoral compared to the experiences of those who spend regular time in the quiet seclusion of nature.

Another theme is the power of memory. Wordsworth believed in the transformative powers of the human mind and that humans are equally capable of healing their suffering through the power of their thoughts.

Childhood is also an important idea in this and many other Wordsworth poems. For him, childhood is a magical time full of light and innocence. It is our experiences in this stage of our lives that give us the tools we need to live moral lives as adults. Children develop a deep bond with nature, so much so that they seem to be part of it. He believed that children had access to a secret divine world that allowed them to reap the full benefit of their time with nature.

In contrast, the harshness of the adult world, described in lines about the fretful, noisy nature of cities, can have no mark on the adult experiencing them if he or she has adequate memory of time spent in nature in childhood.

His transformation from child to adult would not have happened as well without these memories. As he recalls each part of his walk there, and now recognizes the presence of his beloved sister in making new memories in nature, we are reminded that nature is a powerful force that can shape our spiritual life into one that easily communes with the divine.