Abrams and Tintern Abbey
In his essay, "Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric," critic M.H.Abrams describes a paradigm for the longer Romantic lyric of which Wordsworth's "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey" is an example. First, some of the poems are either identified as odes in the title, or, as Abrams states "approach the ode in having lyric magnitude and a serious subject, feelingfully meditated." (201) The narrator of "Tintern Abbey" expresses deep sensations as he views a landscape familiar from his youth, the emotions and memories evoked lead to wider moral and philosophical cogitations. The prototypical lyric, Abrams continues, "present a determinate speaker in a particularized, and usually a localized, outdoor setting." (201) Indeed, Wordsworth's title specifically identifies the site of which the narrator speaks, it is "a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on the banks of the Wye." The narrators of these poems, continues Abrams, speak in "a fluent vernacular which rises easily to a more formal speech, a sustained colloquy, sometimes with himself or with the outer scene, but more frequently with a silent human auditor, present or absent." (201) "Tintern Abbey" begins with an informal statement, a sudden "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings": "Five years have passed; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters! And again I hear / These waters" (1-3); then gradually builds to more studied speech appropriate for philosophical ruminations: "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; / Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power / to chasten and subdue" (89-94). The narrator is speaking to an unidentified listener up to line 122, where he specifically apostrophizes "My dear, dear Sister!"
Abrams further relates that in the type of Romantic lyric which his essay addresses, the speaker will typically describe the details of the landscape he or she is viewing, and then "an aspect or change of aspect in the landscape evokes a varied but integral process of memory, thought, anticipation and feeling which remains closely intervolved with the outer scene. In the course of this meditation the lyric speaker achieves an insight, faces up to a tragic loss, comes to a moral decision, or resolves an emotional problem." (201) Thus, the speaker in "Tintern Abbey" reminisces on how the scene affected him in his youth, that his personality has evolved from a pure "animal" enjoyment of its pleasures but now encompasses a mature, metaphysical explanation of nature's curative and morally enlightening benefits.
According to Abrams, the Romantic poets reacted against the alienating result of the dominant philosophy of the seventeenth century. Two aspects common to both the school of Descartes and of Locke which, writes Abrams, disturbed the Romantic writers were: 1)"dualism, the absolute separation between mind and the...