Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey
by William Wordsworth
Complete explanation for the poem by William Wordsworth
The full name of the poem is ‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798o. Wordsworth had a keen eye for Nature’s beauty from his childhood days. He remained so till his death. This passion for sauntering in the quiet wilderness of the woods, rivers, streams, and lakes lofted his spirits to great heights enabling him to write poems of timeless charm. The appeal of his poems transcend barriers of country, culture, and language. Literature lovers have adored Wordsworth through the ages.
Tintern Abbey is a poem of reminiscence, reflection, and loving remembrance. It shows how Wordsworth began to see Nature through a different prism as he matured from his carefree early twenties for the next twenty years. In his poetic journey, he had by his side his sister Dorothy, whom he loved very dearly. She was engaged to a scholar under Wordsworth’s tutelage. Sadly, the young man died suddenly leaving Dorothy and his sensitive brother Wordsworth shattered. The scar the tragedy left in the poet’s mind was deep and hurtful. The distress of Dorothy haunted Wordsworth often. The poignant memories get reflected in this poem.
The poem also shows the spiritual streak of Wordsworth’s mind. As he feasts his eyes in the natural beauty of his surroundings around Tintern Abbey after a lapse of five years, he begins to see the metaphysical aspects of observing the Nature. He feels how a discerning eye and a matured mind can discover the subtle attractions of Nature which he had failed to see in his young youthful days. On the whole, Tinetern Abbey is a poem that brings to the fore the joys of deep communion with Nature. An abiding passion for Nature gripped Wordsworth’s mind in his second visit to the same area along the river Wye after a gap of five years.
Line by Line Explanation
Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a sweet inland murmur.*—Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
Which on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Explanation ….Wordsworth visits the same place –Tintern Abbey along the bank of the river Wye after a gap of five years. He sees the same streams cascading down the cliffs of rocks making a mild incessant sound so pleasing to the ears. The steep slopes of the rocks look as majestic as before. The tranquility of the place resonates in his mind in an intriguing manner. The sky is as calm as before. Together, the solitude and serenity of the surroundings embalms his mind.
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which, at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Among the woods and copses lose themselves,
Nor, with their green and simple hue, disturb
The wild green landscape. 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; and wreathes of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees,
Explanation …. The speaker pauses under the sycamore tress and scans the cottages and the orchards that dot the place. There are the fruit-laden trees which stand hidden in the midst of rich vegetation around them. With their abundant green leaves, these trees mingle with the vast greenery of the surroundings. He sees the erratic, barely visible green fences that run through the landscape randomly. Needless to say that the speaker finds the landscape has hardly changed in the five years gone by. This strikes the speaker as intriguing and all the more charming. There are the chimneys giving out plumes of smoke apparently from the cottages. It seems as if the smoke is coming out from the midst of tall trees as the cottages stand hidden among them. The vast grazing grounds are there, just as before. This gives the place an aura of quaint charm. The huge pall of silence seems to shroud the entire area.
With some uncertain notice, as might seem,
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The hermit sits alone.
Though absent long,
These forms of beauty have not been to me,
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
Explanation …. There are the nomadic herdsmen who graze their animals among the forests. They move from place to place with their animals, so they have no houses. Then, there are the hermits who lead reclusive lives in their desolate caves. Only candles light up to dispel the darkness of night.
The speaker is pleasantly surprised to discover that the features that made the place so strikingly beautiful five years ago are all there in tact. So enduring was the impression of the imagery that he continued to recollect them after he moved to a city. The din and bustle of the urban surroundings could not erase the memory of the places. When weighed down by the cares of the hectic city life, the speaker drew upon his impressions liberally for relief and delight. The memory of the scenic places soothed his troubled mind.
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As may have had no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
Explanation … The lapse of five years has transformed the speaker’s mind. He is now more capable to look inwards and reflect. He can now see Nature through a different prism. He can feast his eyes by the quiet picturesque landscapes that lie dispersed on earth. In his younger days, he, no doubt, derived immense pleasure by viewing Nature, but such viewing was narrow and uni-dimensional. The bond between Nature and his soul had not unraveled itself to the speaker’s immature mind. Now the different facets of Nature have begun to influence him in a benign and intrusive manner, healing the scars and banishing the anguish from his burdened mind. The convergence of his soul and Nature has brought solace, succor, and peace to his troubled mind as he wades through his life.
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lighten’d:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until, 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:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
Explanation … The confluence of Nature’s sublime face and its soothing features banish the cares and anxieties from the mind of the person who feasts his eyes in the beauty of the landscape around him. Slowly, he calms his frayed nerves till he reaches a state of absolute rest. This is the state of tranquility and peace that a person engrossed in worldly affairs can not attain. The inner self experiences real harmony and joy.
We see into the life of things.
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft,
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, in spirit, have I turned to thee
O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the wood
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
And now, with gleams of half-extinguish’d though[t,]
With many recognitions dim and faint,
Explanation … The speaker refers to the rough and tumble of daily life where humans struggle to earn their livelihood, and try to acquire possessions that supposedly bring them happiness and joy. But, the travails of such existence becomes a grinding experience that weighs down on his heart. In such moments, the speaker seeks refuge in the lap of Nature. He goes to the banks of the river Wye where the surroundings are so quiet and serene. He saunters through the nearby woods. The effect on his weary soul was as healing as it was enduring. Its memory has lingered in his mind. Later, whenever he found the cares and anxieties of the world unbearable, he reminisced about the river Wye for solace. Many of the imagery have faded with time, but whatever has remained act like a balm for his burdened soul.
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Explanation … Now after so many years, the speaker is well-established in life. He recollects his earlier years as a youngster when he wandered around the hills, wood and the river enjoying the beauty. But, he had failed to appreciate the hidden benefits of Nature-gazing then. In retrospection, he realizes what an opportunity he had lost then.
Wherever nature led; more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. 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 sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Explanation … In his younger days, the speaker just breezed through the landscape
like an aimless wanderer. He was not sensitive then. He simply enjoyed the brooks, the rivers, rocks and woods. No doubt, the sights gave him a lot of pleasure, but the experience was not in a higher plane. Just as an animal’s existence on earth lacks the refinements of human existence, similarly, the speaker’s walk through the Nature was bereft of the finer elements of mind and intellect.
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite: a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, or any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.—That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Explanation …. Observing Nature in the author’s younger days was devoid
of any effort towards enjoying her bounty more holistically. As a result, the experience, although extremely pleasant, was shallow. The hidden charms of Nature had remained un-explored then. Happily for the speaker, those immature days are over. He sees Nature through a wider prism now that enables him to see the vastness of her beauty, charm and the capacity to soothe.
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
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,
Explanation … The speaker has comprehended the power of Nature. He feels the enormous power of Nature, and its gigantic manifestations. It can chasten or subdue an arrogant human quite effortlessly, but it seldom does so. Yet there is nothing raw or unpleasant about it. Nature is benign and soothing. It suffuses joy and inspires lofty thoughts in the mind of the viewer. When the sun sets, and in the vast expanse of the blue sky and the ocean, it unveils itself. In fact Nature is embedded in these splendors of Nature. By observing Nature, one can get to feast one’s eyes in the setting Sun and in the gigantic blue sky and ocean.
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,*
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
Explanation …. The speaker talks about the pervasiveness of the beauty of Nature.
The many faces of Nature like the setting Sun, the wind, the meadows, and the woods inspire the observer to be thoughtful about the underlying attraction of Nature. The speaker has no hesitation to state that his inner self remains anchored to the myriad charms of Nature, despite the fact that he has grown up in age.
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
For thou art with me, here, upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou, my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend, and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
Explanation …. The speaker states that Nature remains the ‘friend, philosopher and guide’ of his life on earth. Nature provides the inspiration and sustenance for his existence.
The speaker states that his life would have decayed and wasted away if he had not come under, and benefited from the invigorating influence of Nature. All the lasting lofty pleasures of his life came by gazing at the Nature around him. Here the author brings in his sister Dorothy. He should have done it at the beginning of the poem, but waited till now to mention her. It becomes clear that he has been wandering around with his dear sister Dorothy as his companion. He addresses her as his ‘dearest friend’. He speaks about Dorothy’s voice and expressive eyes that exude the same charm as they did five years ago. The speaker reminisces about the way he looked at Nature then. He says that he can see his former self in her sister.
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,
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,
Explanation … The author reiterates his love for his sister quite eloquently. He yearns to see his own self in his sister, and prays Nature to let him have this joy. He says that the benign Nature does not betray its lovers. He feels his sister mirrors all that is good in Nature. He feels that Dorothy has changed little in the last five years and retains her old charm. He implores Nature to save him from the myriad pernicious experiences in life such as sarcasms of selfish people, vile men, unsavory words, bad judgments.
Nor greetings 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. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain winds be free
To blow against thee: and in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind
Explanation … The speaker affirms his faith in Nature’s capacity to shield us against the corrosive influences of life. This is a benefit which accrues to those who seek refuge in it. The speaker knows how corrosive and dull life’s day-to-day existence might be. To save Dorothy from such hum drum existence, he beseeches Nature to shower its bounty on his sister. He wants the moon to light her solitary path, the misty winds from the mountains to blow against her face etc. He knows these ecstatic experiences will bring bliss and joy to her.
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; 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! Nor, perchance,
If I should be, where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Explanation … The speaker’s mind overflows with love for his sister Dorothy. He wants Nature to bequeath all its beauty and bounty to Dorothy, so that her mind becomes a repository of all its sublime sights and sounds. She could, then, use these memories to tide over all the difficulties of life like solitude, fear, pain and suffering. When death takes him away from her, he wants her to remember him with the help of all the reminiscences about their joyful quest of Nature.
Of past existence–wilt thou then 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. Nor 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!
Explanation … The speaker becomes emotional about the possibility of his separation from her due to his death. He wants her to remember their common love for Nature. With a sense of deep appreciation of his love for Nature and his sister, he wants to dedicate his memories of the woods, stream, grazing fields, rocks etc. to Dorothy, so that she could remember him when she gazed at Nature.