WILLIAM WORDSWORTHS (1770-1850)
The final poem in Lyrical Ballads is an ode titled simply "Lines" and subtitled "Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798." Because of the poem's loose structure, Wordsworth did not call it an ode but developed it as an extended lyric meditation on memory, guiding the reader through a series of emotional states.
BACKGROUND. Some biographical background helps clarify the poem. Wordsworth had first seen Tintern Abbey, an old ruin, in 1793. At the end of 1792 he had returned from France full of enthusiasm for the Revolution but grew dejected when England went to war against France. His friend William Culvert had asked Wordsworth to join him in a walking tour of southern England, but the two separated at Salisbury Plain. Near Stonehenge, Wordsworth experienced a mystical restoration of faith as he saw visions of the ancient Britons. In a new mood of confidence and hope for the French republic, Wordsworth walked on alone to the valley of the Wye River where for the first time he saw Tintern Abbey.
When Wordsworth began to write the poem, almost five years later, matters in France had deteriorated. In the meanwhile, he had read Godwin's Political Justice and written poems such as "The Cumberland Beggar" and "The Ruined Cottage" in sympathy with the poor. He had made a home with his sister Dorthy near Alfoxden and had started working with Coleridge. In June of 1798 William and his siter had just spent a week with Coleridge at Stowey, preparing poems for the printer. Then the Wordsworths took a "four-day ramble" to the Wye valley, where they viewed the abbey from the same vantage point "Wordsworth had enjoyed five years before. In the poem Wordsworth recalls the scene and his formerly enthusiastic state of mind. He feels the poem arise spontaneously as he and his sister leave the Wye and continue their tour..
Tintern Abbey #1
In the first twenty-one lines, Wordsworth describes the scene as unchanged during the past five years. The poet emphasizes the lapse of time, saying, "again I hear," "again do I behold," and "again I see." The landscape is rich, green, and peaceful, suggesting the seclusion of a hermitage.
Tintern Abbey #2
In line 22, the poet shifts his attention from the present scene to recapitulate his memories of it. These memories have comforted and consoled him in the intervening years spent in less beautiful, more urban settings; they have also generated moods of calm awareness that have mystically enlightened him. In such moods, he feels, another kind of perception comes to us, so that "we see into the life of things" (line 49). He had often returned in spirit to the Wye for escape from the busy and fretful world.
Tintern Abbey #3