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Illiam Wordsworth

Illiam Wordsworth

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Published by: SAna ريتا Missaoui on May 22, 2013
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illiam Wordsworth’s
 
 (
 NAEL
8, 2.258
62) has been described as a
 
tourist poem in which the center of attraction, the famous ruined abbey, is out of 
sight ―a few miles‖ downstream; a nature
poem in which, after the openingparagraph, there are almost no images of nature; a political poem in which most of 
the speaker’s political, social, and economic beliefs lie unexpressed between the lines;
a religious poem in which what seems to be unmediated contact with a pantheistic
deity (for example, ―we are laid asleep / In body, and become a living soul .
. . [and]
see into the life of things,‖ lines 45–
49) is soberly, even logically, explained in terms
of tourist postcard chitchat (―How oft, in spiri
t, have I turned to thee, / O sylvan
 Wye,‖ 55–56; ―Therefore am I still / A lover of the meadows and the woods,‖ 102–
3).Like all great poems (certainly all those of the Romantic period),
Tintern Abbey
is atexture of contradictions from beginning to end: simultaneously a celebration of and
a lament over the speaker’s maturing, a depiction of both the harmony and the
disharmony of humans and nature, an alternately successful and unsuccessful
attempt to reconcile the ―two consciousnesses‖ of the opening lines
of book 2 of 
The Prelude
(
 NAEL
 
8, 2.338), and a view of the speaker’s and his sister’s future that is at
once tenderly optimistic and funereal. Several decades ago a critic remarked that it issometimes difficult, even after many readings, to decide what the poem is primarily about. Wordsworth criticism in the intervening years has not simplified the business. We know that
Tintern Abbey
is about nature, time, mortality, memory, imagination,society, the city, humanity, and God (to list a few of the more frequently mentioned
possibilities). But, just as in Wordsworth’s own time, it remains the task of the
individual reader to sort out the combinations and emphases among these
and thisstill leaves innumerable problems concerning specific details (as in lines 95
–96, ―asense sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused,‖ where the question ―moredeeply than what?‖ has no apparent answer).
 
 Wordsworth’s contemporaries, whatever else they saw in
 
Tintern Abbey,
would haveimmediately placed it in a genre of poems written on tour. The abbey was thecenterpiece of the most frequently made British tour of the 1790s (the Wye River valley, the historical border between England and Wales); thousands of travelers, with Gilpin or another guidebook in hand, visited and revisited the picturesque ruinand responded with feeling to the beauties and sublimities of the surrounding nature.Modern tourism was relatively new at this time. Neoclassic writers who urged that
poets and others should ―follow nature‖ were talking a
 bout universal law and order,the system of things, or human nature; they were decidedly not thinking aboutoutdoors nature, which was generally condemned as something opposed to civilizedlife
in the forms of mountains, oceans, and great rivers, a deviation from theregularity of creation and, for people faced with crossing them, a serious impediment
 
to travel. Mainstream eighteenth-century poets did occasionally write about nature,
 but almost always for purposes of moral allegory: the ―nature‖ of Pope’s
 
Windsor Forest 
symbolizes order and harmony in the universe, and wise readers are enjoinedto regulate their lives accordingly.The mid- and late-eighteenth-century development of sensitiveness to nature and
one’s physical surroundings was at least partly 
owing not to the attractiveness of nature itself but to the rise of interest in landscape painting, specifically the works of two seventeenth-century schools, Dutch and Italian, that favored wide and deepprospects, rugged scenery, a blurring mistiness in the distance, classical and medievalruins, and frequently, in the foreground, the presence of shepherds and other rusticfigures. The best-known painters of the Italian school
Claude Lorrain, NicolasPoussin, and Salvator Rosa
were collected by the wealthy but also were madepopularly available in sets of engravings with titles like
 Beauties of Claude Lorrain
.The eighteenth-century vogue for these artists caused a revolution in landscapegardening, whereby formal arrays of trees, shrubs, paths, and ornaments in
geometrical patterns were replaced by ―landscape‖ gardens designed to look, from a
specified vantage point, like a scene by Claude or Poussin. Walls and fences werehidden in ditches so as not to obstruct the long view; old ruins were created,Disneylike, on the spot, and servants were engaged to pose as farmers, shepherds,and hermits. The predictable next step was for people to venture out in search of landscapes in nature itself 
 
first with an optical device called a ―Claude glass,‖ a
tinted
convex mirror in which one could compose, over one’s shoulder, scenes in
nature that resembled paintings by Claude, and then, leaving the mirror behind,confront nature face to face.
This topic illustrates the Romantics’ developing interest in nature, as
 background notonly to
Tintern Abbey
 
and other poems by William Wordsworth but to Coleridge’s
conversation poems (
This Lime-Tree Bower
and
 Frost at Midnight 
in particular),
Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals, Percy Shelley’s
 
 Alastor
and
 Mont Blanc
, the nature
passages of Byron’s
 
Childe Harold 
, canto 3 (which Wordsworth read as a ―plagiarism‖
from
Tintern Abbey
!), and Keats’s
 
To Autumn
, among others. Thomas Gray’s
 Journal in the Lakes
, written in 1769, two decades after his famous
 Elegy
, comes near the beginning
of the movement out into nature. The Rev. William Gilpin’s
 
Observationson the River Wye
shows us what travelers, including William and Dorothy 
 Wordsworth, were looking for when they visited Tintern Abbey. Wordsworth’s
 
Guideto the Lakes
praises and minutely describes the region of his birthplace and also
laments widespread changes in it resulting from the very ―tourists and residents‖ to whom his guide is addressed. Keats’s letter from his 1818 walking tour records
excitement at first seeing Lake District mountains mixed with disappointment over

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