William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”. A Poem Analysis

Essay, 2015

11 Pages, Grade: sob


Identification and literary historical context

The aim of this essay is that of delving into the symbols hidden in William Wordsworth’s poem composed in July 1798: “Tintern Abbey”, at the same time biographical data will support such research. The original title was quite longer and consolidates crucial information in relation to the places and date of composition: “Lines Composed a Few Mines Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798”. Once said this, let us identify this poem in depth:

“Tintern Abbey” is considered as a kind of monologue in verse as Wordsworth confessed that he composed it in his mind while walking through the river Wye. It belongs, along with other 19 poems by this author and four by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to Lyrical Ballads, which is considered to be the inaugural book of the Romantic English Poetry. The main focus of these poems was that of looking for common life situations and depicting them in an unusual manner by means of the power of imagination. Wordsworth defined poetry as[1] “[…] the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and this consists on a breaking up with the 18th century concept of Classicist Canon which looked for poetical perfection. On the contrary, Wordsworth is influenced by the new 19th century ideas of “individualism” and seeks for the use of imagination and true feelings, not being so worried about poetical structural conventions. That is the reason why he writes in blank verse. Therefore, he takes advantage of his emotions in given moments of inspiration just like he did during his walk from Tintern to the river Wye, which resulted into the poem we are going to analyse later on.

The previous years to the composition of this poem are of crucial importance since some historical facts are going to influence on his perception of reality: As he had been living in France from a couple of years, he realized how a period of freedom after “The Fall of the Bastille” one year ago was about to end again when the Girondins (who believed, as Wordsworth did, in freedom and social reforms) were removed from power by Robespierre in 1793. Thus, Wordsworth feels the necessity of warning society of future possible mistakes through his poems and basing on his own experience and with the aim of reforming the world before problems came out. Such task reminds us to the one of a prophet, just like Milton did, being one of the most influential poets for Wordsworth. Both Wordsworth and Milton had seen how a society had sought freedom by means of revolution for falling again at the end with oppression and restriction of those past achieved rights. Wordsworth will take nature as his defence mechanism, as a powerful tool in contrast with an industrial, decadent society:[2] “Wordsworth […] is similar to Blake and Byron as a critic of society, though with his own individual poetic expression; like them he sees the need for a radical change of heart, a complete rejection of contemporary assumptions […]

Relevant biographical data

William Wordsworth was one of the most prominent English Romantic poets. Born on April 7th 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland, which was part of the Lake District. His parents had five children all together. He had a close relationship with his sister Dorothy. His father was an attorney to James Lowder, the first Earl Londsdale. He was taught how to read by his mother and later his father inspired him to read the works of Milton, Shakespeare and Spencer. He first attended the Penrith school for upper-class families and after his mother death his father enrolled him in the Hawkshead Grammar School. He later studied St. Johns College. In 1787, the same year he started college, he began writing in the European Magazine. He earned a BA degree in 1791.

The year 1793 was the turning point for Wordsworth, because this year he began his career as a poet and a writer. His first publication was the collections named An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. In 1795 he received 900 pounds from Raisley Calvert, who helped him to officially start his course as a poet and a writer. The same year he met Samuel T. Coleridge and an immediate friendship began. Their friendship was so close that they even wrote a collection together which was named Lyrical Ballads. Neither Coleridge nor Wordsworth’s name were on the cover. This work was a significant one in the Romantic movement. The Lyrical Ballads had two editions: The first edition had included Wordsworth and Coleridge most famous poems; Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and Coleridge’s “The Rime of Ancient Mariner”. The second edition had only Wordsworth’s name.

The Romantic period, which began in the late 18th century and peaked in the 19th century, was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the political situation. It based on the idea of nature as the most solemn and innocent place on Earth. It was manifested mostly in music, art and literature. The Romantic writers and artists wanted to show the horror and terror of Industrial Revolution and what it was doing to Mother Nature. They returned to the Ancient and Medieval Times immersed in a sense of nostalgia towards those past non-Industrial times.

William Wordsworth’s main collections include: An Evening Walk (1793), Descriptive Sketches (1793), Lyrical Ballads (1798), Poems in Two Volumes (1807), The Excursion (1814), The Prelude (1850). William wrote his only play named The Borders between the years of 1795 and 1797, but the play was not published until 1842 due to Thomas Harry refusal. In 1843 William became the Poet Laureate after the death of Robert Southey. He died on April 23rd, 1850 of high infection in his lungs.

Analysis of the poem (from lines 1st-79th)

William Wordsworth’s style of writing was blank verse. “Tintern Abbey” was written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. The poem opens up with the speaker telling us how much time has passed since he has been to Tintern Abbey. He is so descriptive that he tells us that it has been five summers and five winters. From the next two lines he tells us that he is there again and the landscape is still the same like the last time he has seen it even though he himself is not the same anymore. He goes on describing what he sees: “These waters, rolling from their mountain –springs/ With a soft inland murmur” (Lines 2nd-4th) .

Then he describes the scenery around him and again he tells us that it is just like the way he remembers. He also describes that the cliffs and landscape seems to be connected to his spirit. In the next lines he remembers being under the sycamore tree and was looking at the cottage-ground, orchard-fruits, which in the present time he is there again are unripe. This means probably that it is summer and the last time he visited the place it was spring when fruits were ripening and they could be picked. The speaker goes on telling us the views in front of him: “These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines” (Line 14th) . In this line we can also find that the speaker mentions that this part of the country is not just wild, he says that there are pastoral farms and smoke coming from them, which usually comes from the chimneys. So he is not alone. But in the next lines we see that the speaker refers to the smoke coming from a wandering person who camps out in the woods or to a “Hermit” who is a religious person who chooses to live alone. (I will talk about this later in the paper). Next we have the speaker portraying his feeling for having been gone for so long. Nonetheless, it would not be the same if he tried to describe this marvelous view to a blind person and his description is only an attempt at representing what he has in front of his eyes.

In the next line the speaker goes on telling us that when he was in the city, thinking about this place made it easier for him to survive in such an Industrial landscape. Here we can see Wordsworth’s description of the city. Like all the other Romantic poets his thoughts about the city were negative ones. In contrast, Nature is pure and nothing can be compared to it. The speaker goes on saying that the sight he saw when he was for the first time at the Abbey was more than a feeling. It somewhat changed him spiritually and even changed his point of view on the city life. In the next eight lines, the author praises the beautiful things in his life, he is referring to Nature and how wonderful it is even though the speaker seems to be talking in past tense. Continuing his thought we come back to the present time and he says to feel confused about what he is seeing at the moment. Even though he is still confused, he thinks that Nature is still wonderful and this “pleasure” (Line 62nd) will be here forever and it will never change. On the contrary, he has changed since he has last visit to that place. Though it seems that the author is not talking about himself, he describes how much he has changed. That he seems to be running away from something rather than looking for something. For the speaker nature is everything, that when he was younger he did not seem to understand and appreciate nothing but now that he is older he sees things in a different way.

William Wordsworth is talking mainly about his deep relationship with Nature. Like many other poets in his time, he idolizes Nature. We know that the poem takes place on the River Wye. The author has described it many times. The next important part of the poem is the speaker going in deep description of what he sees. The beautiful hills, the landscape and how untouched it is. Senses are also very important. The speaker seems to have lost his senses and it is due to the fact that Nature is so powerful. The last important part is the one in which the Hermit appears since it is about a person who chooses to live separately, on his own, for religious reasons: “of vagrant dwellers in the houseless words/ Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire/ The Hermit sits alone. The hermit supposes the ideal representation of someone who leaves apart social life in order to find with himself in a spiritual way and this is a very Romantic idea. The author seems to sympathize with the Hermit and maybe is even jealous, because the Hermit gets to live in this beautiful part of his country, away from the stressful, smoky city life.


[1] https://sites.google.com/site/nmeictproject/collections/3-2-3-definition-of-poetry. Barad, D. (Accessed on 15th April 2015)

[2] J.R Watson, 1985

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William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”. A Poem Analysis
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Grado en Estudios Ingleses Ana María Leiva Aguilera (Author), 2015, William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”. A Poem Analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/302355


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