Nature—with its uncontainable power, unpredictability, and potential for dreadful extremes—offered an alternative to the balanced and ordered world of Enlightenment thought. Romanticism was not a defined movement, extremely sporadic in its formation, William Wordsworth’s (1770-1850) Lyrical Ballads (1798) is generally considered to have marked the beginning of The English Romantic Movement in literature. The Romantics sought everything that had to be subdued in order to ensure balance and order: imagination, appreciation of nature, interaction between human mind and nature and the response of the alert human mind to the beauty of nature. Imagination and nature were seen as weapons of cultural and social revolution. According to the Romantic ideology man and nature are inseparable, they form a whole together. Wordsworth’s emphasis on the role of poetry as a nonviolent stimulation and one of pleasure, as well as the various roles of imagination in nature, are exemplified throughout “Tintern Abbey.” Where the 18th century poets used to put emphasis much on ‘wit’, the Romantic poets used to put emphasis on ‘imagination’. Romanticism also argues that to really express ourselves, we have to look at nature which heals us, inspires a creative imagination and connects us to the world outside, we find the poet exhorting his sister to let nature heal her like it did him.
“My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her” (l. 121-123)
While composing “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour. July 13, 1798”, (simply known as “Tintern Abbey”) Wordsworth was in full control of his genius, had an evolved poetic conscious, was at his best as a mystic poet and the poem therefore presents a fulcrum of Wordsworthian thought. Finest flower of 18th century meditative poetry, it links reflection to sensation in a new organic way and is also the most important landscape poetry of its time. From the very first line, we find a sensitive brooding over the objects of nature.
“FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters!” (l. 1-2)
“The day is come when I again repose
Here,” (l. 9-10)
The profoundly heavy tone tells us how utterly difficult it was for the poet to spend five long years away from the calm wilderness of nature in the “din of towns and cities”; the day was long coveted. Nature is then described so elaborately and intricately, it is almost like a picture is painted right in front of our very eyes. The description is graphic, perfectly geometric and instantly calms the mind. The scene is arranged as a pattern of vertical and horizontal, river carries the mind inward into the valley and “steep and lofty cliffs” towards depth and up towards the heavens. Botanic, aquatic and ethereal merge to give us a sense of all inclusiveness, which is a main feature of Romanticism. The unbroken sequence of “green” is a powerful suggestion of peace and hence of the protection that nature provides -mental and physical- the Romantics sought protection and care from nature as a believer does from his god.
After a detailed picture of nature and its effects on the poet’s mind, “wreaths of smoke/ Sent up, in silence…” put an end to the man-nature conflict prevalent in the industrial England and both are integrated in the scene. Intimation of a human presence brings the landscape description to its climax. Nature here involves community; man lives not outside nature but as an active participant in it. Wordsworth does not look away from or exclude human presence when depicting nature, high attention paid to these nuances establishes this as one of the best poems of the Romantic period.
Indebtedness to “These beauteous forms” of nature would not be realized to their full capacity if the imagination did not have power enough to transfer a human being to a peaceful zone in hours of distress. The imagination is seen very active in these lines through memory, perception and projection. Through a process of meditation influenced by elements of the environment, the Imagination succumbs to deeper thoughts of a spiritual nature. A glimpse of Wordsworth’s pantheistic beliefs as a poet.
“While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.” (l. 47-49)
The eye that perceived and gave us utmost sensory pleasure is quieted by the power of harmony, outward things are now giving way to inner worth of things as the poet matures, and we see things for themselves and not their value. An insight, that grows from a peace of mind based upon the steadying of pulse and slowing of pulse. Mind is freed from man-made factors and is influenced to look beyond corporeal reality and unite with the omnipresent spirit of the world that dwells in all animate and in-animate objects of nature.
Like a true rustic soul, the poet gets tormented by the unprofitable fretful stir, the meaningless excitement and feverish preoccupation with the worldly affairs and turns to The Wye-in spirit-for peace. If the “blessed mood” is just a figment of imagination, there is no doubt that the contemplation of nature soothed his mind when he was pressed with struggles and turmoil of city life, hence imagination plays a central role in the poem. It can transport the weary poet to the banks of The Wye when life becomes unbearable. A way in which “Tintern Abbey” constitutes Romantic lyrics is by portraying the ability of the imagination to perceive without “external excitement.”
Wordsworth maintains a very careful balance between the emotional and lyrical notes in the poem. He uses verse paragraphs to signal shifts among his present experience of the scene, memories of his earlier visits to the Wye and memories from the intervening years. Nature is never in the backdrop; it is in direct relationship with man and leaves a deep impact on his psyche. Gradually, a frantic past makes way for a contemplative present. Nature that was food for senses becomes food for soul that will sustain him for the years to come. Now that the “aching joys” and “dizzy raptures” are a thing of past, he views nature in direct relationship with human beings and becomes conscious of the human suffering. The love for nature is now a love for all that is nature-all its organisms and beings. Human life with all its sufferings and afflictions is seen in tune with a higher order of nature; in a musical harmony.
“To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity…” (l. 89-91)
The worshipper of nature reaffirms his belief in nature…
“The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.” (l. 109-111)
The last part of poem is a destination of poet’s strong faith in the healing power of nature. It is all-inclusive Romantic poem where nature, human love, past, present, and future are all fused together. The poet, not for one moment, digresses from what we today know as key features of a good Romantic poetry. The poem skillfully employs imagination and gives a sense of pleasure and joy to the reader, a sense of calmness and security. Subjectivity remains a key feature throughout and the poet expresses his own emotions through nature; the stanzas are designed according to the current mental state of the poet. The lyrics throughout confirm that poet’s joy stems from contemplating nature, and not merely from experiencing it; hence establishing ‘Tintern Abbey” as a gem of the Romantic Period.