Tintern Abbey

We might see the poetry readings two posts back develop into a regular feature. I say this with the full awareness of how many of my promised regular features have indeed become so (the Almodóvar season WILL continue... someday). But now that literature is definitely going to become a pastime, I want to impose some discipline on myself so that it doesn't fall by the wayside. This is the second half of William Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey. Comments follow underneath.

—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,
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,
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,
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,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

Nor, perchance,
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
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,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful 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
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
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!

The two dashes we start with bracket Wordsworth describing the experience of nature as sensation without meditation. So here it is fitting to study the sensation the words of the poem create. For me, the long vowel sounds of "the deep and gloomy wood" come up against the stacatto sharpness of "An appetite". The young Wordsworth is skimming the surface of the natural world, like a stone skipping over the surface of a lake.

Now that "thoughtless youth" is gone, "other gifts / Have followed". These have their root in "The still, sad music of humanity". People, civilization, the city, add a new intensity to the experience of nature. Now Wordsworth feels "A presence that disturbs me with the joy / Of elevated thoughts". The word "disturbs" suggests not discomfort but disruption, an imposition from outside the self. A slew of s-sounds follow: "sense sublime", "something", "interfused", "setting suns", conveying the zing of the otherworldly. The four "ands" in the next two lines stack different images one upon another, and build connections between them. "Ands" then give way to "alls", six in five lines. A sense of completeness is reached -- of the All.

But then that "eye" and "ear", and that dash, shrink everything down. How much of the All is perceived, and how much is created? Wordsworth sees the two as the same thing: nature and the senses anchor his soul and feed his creative powers. The sense of the All is his "nurse", "guide" and "guardian".

Even if that sense is lost, Wordsworth says in the next stanza, he has another teacher to turn to. His sister still retains that delight in nature as sensation without meditation. He prays that this ability is not eroded by "evil tongues" and "selfish men", as it has with him. "The dreary intercourse of daily life" can "disturb / Our cheerful faith". Here "disturb" does suggest discomfort. The two "disturbs" set up two opposed impositions on the self: one from nature and one from civilization. One to be embraced, the other spurned.

Wordsworth is able to revive his "past existence" from his sister's "wild eyes", and so remain a "worshipper of Nature", one whose devotion only deepens with time. At the end of the poem, he says he wishes to return the favour. He hopes that his "exhortations" (poems) will provide the same "healing thoughts" whenever his sister experiences "solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief". The creative energy his sister gives him will be put in her service, as well as in the service of Nature.

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