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Naturalism in Tintern Abbey

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William Wordsworth was a Romatic English poet with a vast body of work, and Naturalism abounds in nearly all of his poetry. Nature is a major theme in Wordsworth’s famous works such as, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” and “It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free.” However, perhaps his most Naturalist piece is, “Tintern Abbey.” Wordsworth treats nature as a good or even necessary influence that can ultimately shape a person’s behavior and personality and even help them to learn from past mistakes. Such is the case in “Tintern Abbey,” in which the speaker recounts the beautiful and natural sights of this locale. “Tintern Abbey” expresses Wordsworth’s naturalism through vivid description of natural scenes, and his explanation of the refuge these sights have provided and the personal growth they have stimulated.

Wordsworth’s poem is divided into four long stanzas. In the first stanza, Wordsworth dives right into his description of this place near Tintern Abbey, but not before he emphasizes how long it has been since his last visit. Evidently, “Five years have past; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters!” (Wordsworth 1-2). This is significant because it demonstrates and emphasizes Wordsworth’s fondness of this place from the very beginning. Wordsworth then proceeds to recount every detail as if he had been there yesterday. It is “nature this” and “nature that” for much of the first 22 lines as he sets the stage for the rest of the poem. Wordsworth describes, “These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs / With a soft inland murmur,” (Wordsworth 3-4). He is quite excited to be here again, and it is almost as if he cannot decide what to see first. He feels like he is once again just a boy, visiting this place for the first time and feeling entirely overwhelmed by the amazing sights. “The day is come when I again repose / Here, under this dark sycamore, and view / These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,” (Wordsworth 9-11). “Once again I see / These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines / Of sportive wood run wild,” (Wordsworth 14-16). This place must have had a profound effect on Wordsworth for him to remember it so clearly. He does not miss a single detail of this natural wonderland.

Perhaps, these details stayed with him because they were frequently in the front of his mind. Wordsworth says, “But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din / Of towns and cities, I have owed to them / In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,” (Wordsworth 26-28). The beauty of nature acted as a refuge to him in hours of weariness, and helped him to live in the hustle and bustle of the city. In his youth, these sights amazed him and fascinated him, but in adulthood he is able to view them with a more mature perspective. “These beauteous forms, / To them I may have owed another gift, Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood, / In which the heavy and the weary weight / Of all this unintelligible world, / Is lightened,” (Wordsworth 23, 37-38, 40-42). Wordsworth owes a great deal to the natural beauty of this place. These sights of nature have comforted him throughout the past five years, and allowed him to overcome a world-weary attitude. In Wordsworth’s mind, and poetry for that matter, nature is a symbol of hope. This place near Tintern Abbey is his refuge because he remembers it as a place full of wonder and hopefulness.

Further, Wordsworth describes this mood as an almost meditative state. The weary weight of the world is lightened and is replaced by a “serene and blessed mood,” (Wordsworth 41). The concept of meditation is taken further as he goes into more detail about this sort of trance, “the breath of this corporeal frame / And even the motion of our human blood / Almost suspended, we are laid asleep / In body, and become a living soul,” (Wordsworth 43-46). The body becomes irrelevant and the soul takes over. Nature interacts directly with the soul, and leads to a type of enlightenment which Wordsworth describes as the power to “see into the life of things,” (Wordsworth 49). Seeing into the life of things would seem to mean, being able to see and interpret things as they actually are. This scene of meditation certainly fits into Wordsworth’s naturalist outlook.

However, in the third stanza Wordsworth has a moment of doubt regarding his naturalist beliefs. He wonders if his “meditation” and insights into the “life of things” are legitimate or real at all. He recalls the times that nature had been a refuge to him, and is nearly devastated by the idea that it was never genuine. Before he could come to such a rash conclusion, however, he considers whether its validity is relevant. After all, the meditation had worked for him. He says, “How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee, / O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods, / How often has my spirit turned to thee!” (Wordsworth 55-57). Wordsworth is comforted in the fact that his memories had served him well, and realizes that it is better not to doubt.

Wordsworth then remembers his previous visit once again, but this time he focuses on himself rather than the nature surrounding him. He recalls that “For nature then / To me was all in all,” (Wordsworth 72, 75). Nature was literally everything to young Wordsworth. Nature took the place of his human desire and completed him as a person. He says that nature was to him, “a passion,” (Wordsworth 77) “An appetite; a feeling and a love,” (Wordsworth 80). He was like a boy who has fallen head over heels for a pretty girl. Nature is the first thing he thinks of when he wakes up, and the first thing he thinks of at night. Nature is in his every thought, it quenches his thirst, and it sates his appetite. However, as he grows older, this love becomes more mature. “That time is past, / And all its aching joys are now no more,” (Wordsworth 83-84). He no longer feels the same excitement as he did in his youth, but that rush has been replaced with a new sensation. He has learned to, “To look on nature, not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth,” (Wordsworth 88-90). Instead of viewing nature with a blind affection, he has felt, “A presence that disturbs me with the joy / Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused,” (Wordsworth 94-96). He has experienced a kind of enlightenment since his previous visit. Sometime while taking refuge in the recesses of his mind, he discovered a new point of view; one of elevated thoughts and a sense of something more deeply connected to true implications about the “life of things.”

“Tintern Abbey” is the prime example of naturalism in Wordsworth’s poetry because his beliefs are on full display. Wordsworth’s love of nature evolved from a fondness at the start of the poem into a practice that bears a striking resemblance to worship. “Tintern Abbey” demonstrates how Wordsworth’s opinions and feelings toward the beauty of nature transformed from an infatuated love affair into a wise and well-informed reverence.

Works Cited

Wordsworth, William. “Tintern Abbey.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.

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