"Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey" by William Wordsworth is of particular interest in that Wordsworth's descriptions of the banks of the River Wye outline his general philosophies on nature.

In “Tintern Abbey,” we have watched Wordsworth move from nostalgia for a lost perspective on nature to joy in a new one. As readers of the poem, we too experience this discovery. There is actually a character in the poem that represents us—Wordsworth’s younger sister, Dorothy, who is the “Friend” addressed in the final stanza of the poem. Dorothy’s significance in William Wordsworth’s life and writing cannot be overstated. Their affection for each other was powerful; many have argued that Wordsworth’s “Lucy” poems are actually about his sister. Often she plays the classical role of muse in his verse.

In the final stanza of “Tintern Abbey,” we learn that Dorothy is with William (at least in spirit) as he speaks this poem, just as we have been. He sees his former self in Dorothy: “in thy voice I catch/The language of my former heart, and read/My former pleasures in the shooting lights/Of thy wild eyes.” Therefore, he advises her to take his discovery to heart, and in lines that echo a spiritual benediction, instructs her to have faith that nature will always provide solace in hard times and fresh insight into the meaning of life.

The speaker says that even if he did not feel this way of spiritual awakening, or understand the deeper and greater bondage of nature and humanity; he would still be in good spirits on this day, for he is in the company of his “dear, dear (d) Sister,” who is also his “dear, dear Friend,” and in whose voice and manner he observes his former self, and beholds “what I was once.” He offers a prayer to nature that he might continue to do so for a little while, knowing, as he says, that “Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her,” but leads rather “from joy to joy.” Nature’s power over the mind that seeks her out is such that it renders that mind impervious to “evil tongues,” “rash judgments,” and “the sneers of selfish men,” instilling instead a “cheerful faith” that the world is full of blessings. The speaker then encourages the moon to shine upon his sister, and the wind to blow against her, and he says to her that in later years, when she is sad or fearful, the memory of this experience will help to heal her. And if he himself is dead, she can remember the love with which he worshipped nature. In that case, too, she will remember what the woods meant to the speaker, the way in which, after so many years of absence, they became dearer to him—both for themselves and for the fact that she is in them.

Curiously, however, the tone of this final stanza shifts from confidence to anxiousness.  Wordsworth’s advice that Dorothy does not forget “Nature” shifts to a plea that Dorothy (and perhaps we the readers) does not forget him. There is the interplay of “remember” and “forget” in the final lines of Wordsworth’s address. Again, memory is an essential concern of “Tintern Abbey.” Perhaps the impetus behind  Wordsworth’s final address to Dorothy and to us, therefore, is his desire for a kind of immortality. Just as he would carry the “beauteous forms” of the Wye valley with him always and draw on them for comfort, so he would want Dorothy and us to carry his lines in our hearts and minds.

Last modified: Tuesday, 17 April 2018, 12:39 AM