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Themes in Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

Finding Consolation through Memories of Nature: In The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind, an autobiographical blank verse poem published posthumously in 1850, Wordsworth describes “spots of time,” a theme that pervades much of his poetry. With this phrase, Wordsworth defines a spiritual experience someone can recall later during solitary moments in order to renew and revive their spirits. In this poem, Wordsworth recalls standing over Tintern Abbey and looking down into the valley below. The scenes of nature provide profound relief because they allow him to glimpse these numinous “spots of time.” These moments provide such lucidity and clarity that, even in times of grief or discomfort, he is able to recall them—like “mansions” in the mind—for restoration and fond reminiscences.

Effects of Maturity on Perspective: On July 13, 1798, Wordsworth returns to the same spot overlooking Tintern Abbey that he visited while on a walking tour five years prior. As he peers down into the abbey from a bird’s-eye perspective, he is able to look back on his life with the same heightened perspective. With newfound maturity, he contemplates how growing older has impacted his relationship with nature. As a child and adolescent, he leapt through nature with animalistic passion; now, as an adult, he finds profound spiritual refuge in nature’s beauty. Near the end of the poem, he returns again to this theme as he imagines what nature might look like through the youthful “wild eyes” of his walking companion and younger sister, Dorothy. Although Wordsworth does not wish to return to his youth, he is able to live vicariously through the passions of his younger sister. He prays that as Dorothy inevitably grows older and her perspective changes, she may retain memories of this shared experience in order to restore her spirit during challenging times.

Themes Examples in Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey:

Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798

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"wilt thou then forget That on the banks of this delightful stream We stood together; and that I, so long A worshipper of Nature, hither came,..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

The poem ends on an encouraging note as Wordsworth contemplates his experience on the River Wye with his sister. He understands that with time, she will mature and her youthful passions will diminish. Nevertheless, he prays that she may fondly recall this moment together and draw inspiration from nature’s capacity to physically, emotionally, and mentally enliven and uplift her.

"Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

In his prayer, Wordsworth further connects nature to memory. He hopes that Dorothy’s mind might be a “mansion” to hold all her memories of nature so that she might be able to remember its beauty for consolation during difficult times. Similarly to how he recalls nature while in the city, Wordsworth imagines Dorothy’s memory as a “dwelling-place” where all the beautiful forms and colors of nature might reside and resurface when called on.

"ecstasies..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

The word “ecstasies” describes a state of overwhelming delight. Here, Wordsworth returns to the theme of maturation, elucidating how age can transform one’s perception of nature. With maturity, youthful passions—“wild ecstasies”—transform into “sober pleasure.”

"Of thy wild eyes. ..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

The speaker contrasts his decaying “genial spirits” to “thy wild eyes” of a new character in the poem, his younger sister Dorothy. Wordsworth and his sister, also a writer and poet, were very close throughout their lives. Through Dorothy, Wordsworth is able to live vicariously and recapture a sense of his more youthful days, intimated in the line when Wordsworth exclaims, “Oh!... May I behold in thee what I was once.” Although he does not mourn the passage of his youth, Wordsworth recalls his memories fondly and nostalgically.

"The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse, The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul Of all my moral being...."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

While nature provided the speaker’s younger self an outlet for his animalistic energies, nature now serves a different, more profound purpose. Through metaphor, the speaker likens nature to a variety of roles, including anchor, nurse, guide, and guardian. As these lines indicate, the speaker imagines a kindred, overarching spirit that moves like a guiding force through nature and into the human consciousness.

"Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man, A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things. ..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

With his newfound appreciation of nature, the speaker recognizes something he failed to recognize in his youth: a presence that pervades all of nature. With this more philosophical understanding of nature, the speaker imagines that this seemingly divine force inhabits and passes through the ocean, the air, the sky, and “the mind of man.” With various literary devices—the repetition of the word “and,” as well as the use of spondees, specifically the two consecutive strong stresses on the words “round ocean” and “blue sky”—the speaker accentuates his reverence for the enormity and grandeur of nature.

"To chasten and subdue. ..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

Instead of looking to nature to provide a source of release, the speaker now looks to it for its “ample power / to chasten and subdue.” The verb “to chasten” means to restrain while the verb “to subdue” means to bring under control. Both verbs suggest that over time nature has afforded the speaker the maturity to think inwardly.

"The still, sad music of humanity,..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

The poem undergoes another shift as the speaker considers his current relationship with nature. Instead of finding the chaos and passion within nature, he hears “the still, sad music of humanity.” This phrase intimates a more nuanced and mature appreciation for nature. Wordsworth can find pleasure in its stillness rather than its movement; its melancholy rather than its joyfulness.

"And all its dizzy raptures. ..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

The phrase “dizzy raptures” aptly illustrates the speaker’s previous relationship with nature. The former word “dizzy” describes a whirling sensation in the head, while the latter word “rapture” describes an experience of overwhelming emotion. With the power of hindsight, the speaker is able to look back on his passionate, emotional connection with nature. However, as he suggests in the following line, he does not yearn to return to that stage in his life.

"cataract..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

The noun “cataract” refers to a large, powerful waterfall that runs over a precipice. As a child, nature was awe-inspiring for the speaker—the cataract, the mountains, and the woods “haunted [him] like a passion.” The overwhelming colors and shapes were like “a feeling and a love,” suggesting that he and nature were connected on an instinctive level.

"like a roe I bounded o'er the mountains,..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

The speaker romanticizes his childhood, when he possessed a different appreciation of nature. He says, through the use of simile, that he was “like a roe,” or a small deer. He once “bounded” through the mountains and rivers with relentless, youthful energy, yet he never stopped to appreciate it.

"And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought, With many recognitions dim and faint, And somewhat of a sad perplexity, The picture of the mind revives again:..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

In this stanza, the poem shifts tone as the speaker, enlivened by nature, awakens out of his reverie and realizes where he is. Nature has several effects on the speaker: it helps to stir his memory, as well as jolt him out of “dim and faint” thought into the sensuous reality of the present moment.

"How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

Through repetition of the phrase “how oft” and its variant “how often” throughout this stanza, the speaker highlights how frequently he has turned to the thought of nature for consolation.

"In body, and become a living soul:..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

Here, Wordsworth suggests how imagining nature can leave one in a state of reverie—with the death of the body or “corporeal frame,” the mind comes alive as “a living soul.” The “blessed mood”—that state of euphoria and joy the speaker describes above—transcends the corporeal and informs the inner spiritual life instead. In this way, the mind is able to “see into the life of things.”

"Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood, In which the burthen of the mystery, In which the heavy and the weary weight Of all this unintelligible world Is lightened:..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

According to Wordsworth, imagining nature allows readers to cope with our complex and incomprehensible world. By reminiscing on the beauty of nature, readers can reach a “sublime” state—the “blessed mood”—where the burdens of life and all its mysteries are alleviated. Wordsworth employs juxtaposition to demonstrate what the “blessed mood” can achieve. Set against negative terms such as “burthen,” “heavy and weary weight,” and “unintelligible,” the blessed mood instead lightens.

"His little, nameless, unremembered acts Of kindness and of love. ..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

In these lines, Wordsworth’s speaker explains how the best parts of his life were not moments of great heroism. Instead, they were the small, seemingly insignificant actions barely remembered, characterized by “kindness and[...] love.” Wordsworth’s attunements to the subtleties of human experience, memory, and perception were among his great strengths as a poet; it is little surprise that his speaker expresses these qualities.

"Of towns and cities, I have owed to them, In hours of weariness, sensations sweet, Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

Since his last visit to the Wye River, Wordsworth’s speaker has spent time living in the city—likely London—where he remembered nature’s “forms of beauty” fondly. His memories of this landscape provided him the necessary “sensations” to sustain him during his weariness “‘mid the din,” the loud urban noises. Unlike “a landscape to a blind man’s eye,” Wordsworth could vividly imagine and recall on nature. Doing so provided “tranquil restoration” that calmed both his mind and body, “felt in the blood, and felt along the heart.”

"hardly hedge-rows, little lines Of sportive wood run wild;..."   (Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)

Here, the speaker’s bird’s-eye view skews his vision. As he looks down at the man-made hedges, he sees that they are “hardly hedge-rows” and more like “little lines / or sportive wood run wild.” His physical view of nature changes depending on his perspective, just as his philosophical view of nature changes depending on his age and stature—a theme Wordsworth touches on later in the poem.

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