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Prompt 5: Describe Wordsworth’s romantic view of nature in your own
words. Is that vision relevant for twenty-first century readers? Why
or why not?
Wordsworth
“Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”
As
I write about this poem, I’ll use a shortened version of the title,
“Tintern Abbey.” Please feel free to do the same in any discussion
posting or essay you may write. I’ll use that shortened form on the
test, too.
And
a reminder: although I’m only lecturing about a few of the poems here,
you’ll be responsible for knowing and understanding all of the poems
you’ve been assigned to read. They are all fair game for the test and
may be subjects of your essays.
Let’s
start with the title and the subtitle. Don’t get too excited about
Tintern Abbey itself. The building itself isn’t actually described in
the poem and probably isn’t thematically all that important. Basically,
it’s a monastery built in the 12th century, the ruins of which are
quite beautiful today, as they would have been in Wordsworth’s time.
But keep in mind that Wordsworth is looking at the ruins of this lovely
place.
The
Wye is a river forming the border of England and Wales. You can easily
find a map online to get a sense of where, approximately, this would
be. But basically, Wales is to the west of England, about halfway down
the island.
And
the date given for Wordsworth’s visitation (or revisitation) of this
beautiful scenery is July 13, 1798. That is the day before the
beginning of the French Revolution. Wordsworth would have been
twenty-eight years old, then, when he saw the scene he describes.
Wordsworth said, later, that he began composing the poem in his head on
that day, and it was written down and perfected four or five days
later.
And
look: when we talk and write about poetry, it is customary to
differentiate “the speaker” from “the poet.” That seems a little silly
to me here. The speaker clearly IS Wordsworth. The poem is
autobiographical, and to insist upon the diference between speaker and
author, in this case, seems an exercise in pedantry.
Here
are a few ideas that show up, to one degree or another, in “Tintern
Abbey” and also in many of the other Wordsworth poems you’ll be reading:
Feelings and intuitions give us a better grasp than reason on important parts of our world.
Poetry is the proper place for exploring and describing these feelings, intuitions, insights.
Everyday
life, especially urban life, dulls our emotions and intuitive power.
But there are moments when some of us have transcendent experiences that
can sharpen our feelings and intuitive powers again.
Children
have the sharpest feelings, insights, and and intuitions, but these
dull as we age. So really, when as adults we have these transcendent
experiences, we are touching precious parts of our childhood selves.
These
moments of transcendence usually but not always come about through
experiences in nature. And these moments happen during introspective
times. These moments, too, are the most important part of our human
experience.
True poetry happens when a person of imagination thinks about these experiences and writes about them in verse.
And
this is where Wordsworth’s famous quotation comes in: poetry is “the
spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from
emotion recollected in tranquility.”
In
his day, Wordsworth was accused of being anti-Christian. Maybe, as we
read his poetry, we can figure out why. He sees nature as spiritual, or
at least endowed with spiritual qualities. Detractors said he made
nature into a God, an idea called “pantheism.” He even believed that
nature had a natural sympathy and connection with mankind, and even
reacted in an emotional way in response to the situation of people.
This idea of nature actually reacting to mankind is now sometimes
called “the pathetic fallacy.” The “pathetic fallacy” is the attribution
to natural objects of human qualities. That term is often used in a
derogatory way now, and readers who are less than crazy about
Wordsworth’s ideas and poetry might use “pathetic fallacy” in an
pejorative way against the poet and his followers.