William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”

William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” is written mostly in iambic pentameter and is unrhymed. As you go through the poem, you don’t notice the meter. It reads like a story rather than a poem. Overall, the diction of the poem is informal. The short-story-like quality of “Tintern Abbey” and informal language give the poem a personal feel.  These qualities make it easier to envision the grand landscape he describes and allow you to relate to the feelings and emotions Wordsworth shares throughout the poem.

Wordsworth breaks up the sentences over several lines. No one line is a written as a whole sentence. This structure emphasizes certain portions of sentences and changes the meaning of the words (I think this is the syntax). For example, the first stanza ends with, “The Hermit sits alone.” If you read the complete sentence without the line breaks it would be easy to gloss over two important words. The word hermit already implies alone, including alone with hermit on the same line underscores the detachment. This made me second-guess the meaning of previous sentences.

Wordsworth opens the poem by describing the scenery around the Tintern Abbey during his return “after five long winter!”  As he paints a picture of the landscape he subtly draws attention to feelings created by his return. For example:

“Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion.”

These lines are characteristic of the way he uses nature to understate feelings of melancholy, although the poem is generally optimistic. Wordsworth writes about how memories of the Tintern Abbey helped him through “hours of weariness.” He acknowledges, “That time is past, And all its aching joys are now no more,” but remains hopeful for the future.

The poem focuses on the happiness nature has brought him and how his relationship with it has changed since, “The coarser pleasures of his boyish days…” After reading the poem for the first time it seemed like a nature poem. But after reading it again several times more carefully I believe it is about so much more. I think nature is an allegory for life. The changes in his relationship with nature describe the changes he went through in life.

The allegory can be seen in the way he personifies nature. For example, when writing about his first trip to the Tintern Abbey he uses the phrases “lonely streams” and “gloomy wood.” I think these two phrases describe the loneliness and despair he felt the last he was at Tintern Abbey.
In the fourth stanza he writes:

To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating though of ample power
To chasten and subdue

(This was my favorite part of the poem). The meaning behind these lines is much too profound to be a new perspective on nature. I read this as being the loss of innocence that occurred when he transitioned to adulthood.

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~ by adamcalica on April 4, 2011.

6 Responses to “William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey””

  1. I agree with your statements in that once reading the poem over again, the geographical features represent more than just his experience with nature. The repetition of the use of mountains and hills may represent the obstacles in his life. He also uses dark and light, which could symbolize day and night in nature and the positive and negative events that occurred in his life. The overall theme of nature could symbolize that even though things can unexpectedly happen in nature, there is still joy and beauty that it brings, just like life.

  2. When I first read the poem, I also thought that the poem was about nature. But upon further inquiry, I came to the conclusion that this poem does indeed reflect a man’s experience of a certain place in his childhood and the comparison that he gives now that he is an adult. However, I do not see the theme of nature in this poem to be an allegory for life. I believe that he is just reminiscing about the beauty of this place and even though he has not come back to this place in a while, he still thought about it in “lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din//Of towns and cities” and how “In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,//Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;”. Life is still continuing for him when he is away from nature. I believe that nature has helped him become the person he is as he was writing this passage.

  3. I had a similar acknowledgment as yours when the five lines you posted from the poem from the fourth stanza, that this poem may indeed be a poem about nature. Then, before reading the last paragraph of your interpretation, I came to the conclusion similar to yours. Perhaps this poem is not simply a reflection on the beauty of nature, but instead, the transition of the author from childhood to adulthood. “The sad song of humanity…” does paint a melancholy picture about age, and how nature remains timeless while our days our limited.

  4. It feels to me that the author is revisiting his homeland after many long years and much of it has unchanged because of the repetition of the statement “once again”. Throughout this work I realized the personification he used to describe the setting makes it much more lively then it really is. He really has missed the land he comes from and the time he has been away from it has cause him to be very emotional upon his return. I do like the response to the line presented “To look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes The still, sad music of humanity, Nor harsh nor grating though of ample power To chasten and subdue” because it seems as if the world around the author has scarred him, but the nature around him stays the same.

  5. After reading the poem several times, I thought he was reminiscing about his life in Tintern Abbey. He finally returns to the familiar place and he recollects his experiences there. But after reading your post, I see more to the poem. I agree with you that it seems like he is talking about life and the obstacles one encounters. In the end, lines 135-150, I can not help but think that he is talking about the future. He does not want to be forgotten and he will not forget Tintern Abbey.

  6. Just going off of the title, I thought this was a poem about drinking in an abbey or a pub. But after reading the poem I realized that is not what the author is talking about. In lines 135-150, I think the hermit is making a plea to nature. He speaks to nature as if it were a person that has a memory. He tells it to remember him then he asks if it will forget him. But by the end of the poem he orders nature to not forget him. This nature is to him almost a god like creature and he embraces it as a worshiper.

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