“Written a few miles above Tintern Abbey” was written by William Wordsworth during a walking tour on revisiting the banks of the Wye on July 13, 1798. The poet opens the poem with “Five years have passed; five summers, with the length of five long winters!” He hears the water “Rolling from their mountain-springs.” He beholds these “Steep and lofty cliffs” which “connect the landscape with the quiet of the sky.” Specifically, the poet describes the pastoral scene, “These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts.” “Once again I see these hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms green to the very door.” The poet makes reference to a “Hermit’s cave, where by his fire the hermit sits alone.” The hermit sitting alone in a cave ponders the picture in the reader’s mind of a religious recluse.
The poet uses a simile to describe how the beautiful forms of nature has worked upon his mind during time away from this landscape like a “Landscape to a blind man’s eye.” The poet, While in “Lonely rooms,” “towns and cities,” and “in hours of weariness,” recalled the “tranquil restoration” of the landscape. The influence of the landscape caused the poet to perform “Little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” When the poet refers to his mood as sublime; “That blessed mood, in which the burthen of the mystery,” Keats thought that phrase the core of Wordsworth’s “genius.” See his letter of 3 May 1818 (pages 954-56). As well, the recollection of the landscape caused the “Heavy and weary weight of all this unintelligible world” to be lightened. The landscape causes “Human blood” to be nearly suspended, as the poet lay asleep in body, “and become a living soul.” The landscape causes “An eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.”
The poet ponders whether or not he has become vain. However, the poet “In darkness, and amid the many shapes of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir unprofitable, and the fever of the world, have hung upon the beatings of my heart, how oft, inspirit, have I turned to thee O sylvan Wye!” That last phrase echoes Macbeth’s sense of life’s fitful fever (3.2.23) and Hamlet’s view of life as “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable (1.2.133).
Although the poet claims the “Gleams are half-extinguish’d thought, with many recognition dim and faint, … the picture of the mind revives again.” The poet exclaims that he is happy for now upon his view of this landscape “There is life and food for future years.” “For nature then, the coarser pleasures of my boyish days, and their glad animal movements all gone by, to me was all in all. I cannot paint what then I was.” The poet explains that his “Appetite” has past, “and all its aching joys are now no more.” The poet does not mourn that lose for there are more that followed. The poet has “Learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes the still, sad music of humanity, not harsh nor grating, though of ample power to chasten and subdue.” The poet senses something much more sublime “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.” The poet is a lover of the nature, and he recognizes in nature the language of sense; “The anchor of [his] purest thought, the nurse, the guide, the guardian of [his] heart, and soul of all my moral being.”
Even if the poet did not feel that way, the poet would still be in good spirits for by his side is his “Dearest friend, … my dear, dear Sister!” William Wordsworth’s sister is Dorothy Wordsworth, and they had an unusually close relationship. The poet makes a prayer, “Knowing that Nature never did betray the heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege, through all the years of this our life, to lead from joy to joy: for she can so inform the mind that is within us, so impress with quietness and beauty, and so feed with lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues, rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men, nor greeting where no kindness is, nor all the dreary intercourse of daily life, shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb our chearful faith that all which we behold is full of blessings.” The poet calls for the moon to shine on his sister, and winds to freely blow upon his sister, and in years to come when she is sad or fearful, may his sisters memories be a place “For all sweet sounds and harmonies. The poet continues his prayer for his sister, “Oh! Then, if solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief, should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts of tender joy wilt thou remember me, and these my exhortations!” The poet asks his sister to not forget that on the “Banks of this delightful stream we stood together; and that I, so long a worshipper of Nature, hither came, unwearied in that service: rather say with warmer love, oh! With far deeper zeal of holier love. The poet compares his love of nature with his love of his sister, “Now wilt thou then forget, that after many wanderings many years of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs, and this green pastoral landscape, were to me more dear, both for themselves, and for thy sake.”
“Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey” is written in iambic pentameter in blank verse. There are a few variations to the meter in lines such as “Here, under this dark sycamore, and view.” The dividing lines are used to indicate a change in idea and paragraph break. This poem consciously links the ideas of God in nature, which is a reoccurring theme throughout all of William Wordsworth work.
William Wordsworth writes, “No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this. I began it upon leaving Tintern, after crossing the Wye, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of 4 or 5 days, with my sister. Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol.” So Wordsworth recalled in 1843, but he had been practicing the gestures of the poem for some time: a manuscript fragment of 1796-1797 underlies the seemingly spontaneous opening and one of its central formulations: “Yet once again do I behold the forms / Of these huge mountains, and yet once again, / Standing beneath these elms, I hear thy voice, / Beloved Derwent, that peculiar voice / Heard in the stillness of the evening air, / Half-heard and half-created.” Wordsworth first visited the Wye valley in August 1793, on a solo walking tour; the return with his sister in July 1798 prompted this spacious meditation on time and memory, in which the ruined Abbey, a famous picturesque destination, does not appear. It is replaced by the inward “fluxes and refluxes of the mind” that shape the poem, which concludes the 1798 “Lyrical Ballads.” In 1800, Wordsworth added a note on the elevated manner: “I have not ventured to call this Poem an Ode; but it was written with a hope that in the transitions, and the impassioned music of the versification, would be found the principal requisites of that species of composition.”
“The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Fourth Edition,” Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar, General Editors, Volume 2A, “The Romantics and their Contemporaries,” Wolfson, Susan and Peter Manning, Long Man, New York, New York, 2010.