An Analysis of Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey
Generally speaking, Wordsworth’s "Tintern Abbey" has been seen in relation to many an aspect of his poetic career. First of all, it is said to be a historical record of the different stages of the growth of his poetic imagination, and that is why some view it as a miniature epic that anticipates his epical endeavour with "The Prelude", in both thematic and artistic designs. Tintern Abbey contains and expounds many of Wordsworth’s poetic and philosophical beliefs, which were intended to be the themes of his other poems like, “Recluse”, “The Excursion” and, of course, “The Prelude”. Again the poem is unusual in examining the composition of the landscape, like his contemporary artist of his country Constable, rather than expressing the spirit of the landscape—its topography, its arrangement of vegetation, its placement of the works of men and its colours and light and shade have been scrupulously described. These scenes ultimately become the “objective correlative” for his philosophy of that period. The procedure and kind of poem were determined by Coleridge’s influence, for “The Eolian Harp” and “Frost at Midnight” were its immediate successors, with the 18th century sublime odes in the farther background. But it must be admitted that "Tintern Abbey" has greater dimension and intricacy and a more various verbal conversation than Coleridge’s poems.
Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey inaugurated wonderfully the functional device, which he later called “two consciousness”: a scene is revisited, and the remembered landscape, “the picture of the mind” is superimposed on the picture before the eye. As the two landscapes fail to match, they set a problem, “a sad perplexity”, which compels the poet to the meditation. As Wordsworth now stands on the bank of the river Wye, he comes to the final realization of his relation to Nature and of his concept of the relation between man and Nature, in general, and above all of his ontological standing, both as a human being and as a poet. That is why he is found here thinking of nature not only as a painter, but as a philosopher too. In his scheme of thought the human world is connected with the divine world by the way of the world of Nature. In his Romantic vision the world of man—pastoral forms and plots of cottage ground—merges and becomes one in the spatial expansion with the world of Nature, which is finally connected with the inorganic quite of the sky. The suggestion is made through an intensification of the dominant aspect of the given landscape, its seclusion, which also implies a deepening of the mood of seclusion in the poet’s mind. To Wordsworth, the landscape of the Wye declares the unity of the universe. In this it appears that his philosophy is essentially quietistic and almost like that propounded in the Upanishdas . Again, in his indirect reference to the three planes of being—the natural, the human and the divine—Wordsworth adumbrates the great Romantic vision of cosmic unity. Thus Wordsworth also prepares the reader for the similar progression of his attitudes to and understanding of Nature in his own life.
Wordsworth traces in this poem the history of his evolving attitude to Nature basically for two reasons: on the surface, this is an autobiographical confession, and on the higher level of thought he wants to give validity of experience to the kind philosophical truths he seems to have found. This is, however, inextricably related to the growth of his poetic career. It is found that in his earlier poetry, Nature had no exotic significance. A humanitarian phase had followed ‘exemplified’ at its best in The Ruined Cottage. After a brief period of disillusionment, he became convinced that the universal human malady in mind and heart could be cured only by Nature’s “holy plan”. So this poem may be said to illustrate a love, which is almost religious in conception; “the sentiment of being spread over all that moves and all that seemeth still”; the experience of communion with the universal spirit; the moral influence of Nature even in absence. Furthermore, Wordsworth’s philosophy is almost pantheistic as he alludes to the link a pantheist sees between Nature and the lot of mankind, which he tries to ameliorate.
Wordsworth expounds these views not in isolation from experience but as organically related to his own experience in the lap of Nature. When he had visited the Wye as a mere boy, he enjoyed the abundance of Nature instinctively. A fuller commentary on this stage can be found in the Book I and Book II of The Prelude. At that stage of life, enjoyment of Nature was coarse and animalistc:
I came along these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains…”
Wordsworth then describes his impressions he got during his second visit in 1793. At this period of life his appreciation of Nature had been largely emotional. At that time he ahd been
“…more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads than one
Who sought the thing he loved.”
Here speaks simultaneously of vision and emotion because his perception of the natural objects brought immediate joy to him. It had then for him no appeal that was “unborrowed from the eye”.
In the third stage Wordsworth find that the “aching joys” and “dizzy raptures” are no more, but their place has been taken by other gifts of Nature. As he looks on Nature now, he hears in it
“…the still and sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.”
He is satisfied now because he feels the presence of the divine power in everything,
“Whose dwelling is the light of the setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.”
Wordworth seems to have emerged here as a mystic in his all-pervading pantheism. But he differs from the conventional mysticism because unlike a mystic he can communicate his experiences in Nature to the readers. Now he understands that he is the lover of Nature, “Of all the mighty world/ Of eye, and ear”. Now his soul is relieved
“ …to recognise
In nature …
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral.”