"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.
William Wordsworth returned to the Wye valley in July 1798 with his sister, Dorothy, five years after he had first toured the region. His previous visit had been on a solitary walking tour as a twenty-three-year-old in August 1793. His life had since taken a considerable turn: both personally and politically. As he looks at the valley, through the lens of memory, he sees himself—both as he once was, and as he is now.
The specific setting of Wordsworth’s poem is clearly important to him. Indeed, in the very title of his poem, he announces the time and place of his return visit, and lets us know where he is positioned in the landscape that he describes. He sits in a specific spot, a “few miles above” an abandoned abbey in the valley of the river Wye; thus he has a broad perspective on the landscape he will describe. As he composes the poem (or so he claims), he is reclined “under [a] dark sycamore.”
The poem opens with the speaker’s declaration that five years have passed since he last visited this location, encountered its tranquil, rustic scenery, and heard the murmuring waters of the river. This is where he starts to describe those impressions, and he starts with what he can hear: the sound of the "mountain-springs." He recites the objects he sees again, and describes their effect upon him: the “steep and lofty cliffs” impress upon him “thoughts of more deep seclusion”. Those cliffs reach from the landscape below and beyond them up to the sky, "connect[ing]" everything he's looking at, so the cliffs help to create a sense of unity to the view he's admiring. The speaker "reposes," or relaxes in the shade under a "sycamore" and lists all of the specific parts of the view that he remembers from the last trip to the River Wye: the small gardens around the cottages and the groups of fruit trees which, in the distance, look like "tufts" instead of individual trees. Because it's still early in the summer, the fruit isn't ripe yet, so the fruit trees are all the same shade of green as the surrounding clusters ("groves and copses") of wild trees. The "hedge-rows," or planted rows of shrubbery, used to mark property lines or the edge of a field, look like "little lines" (15) from his vantage point. The speaker then points out all the farm houses he can see, and then the little "wreaths of smoke" appearing here and there from the woods. The smoke goes up "in silence." The farms he describes are "pastoral," and imagines that the smoke might rise from “vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,” or from the cave of a hermit in the deep forest.
Like the many topographical or landscape poems that preceded “Tintern Abbey” in the 18th century, Wordsworth’s poem goes on to describe the scene in detail, appealing to our eyes and ears—the sound of “rolling” waters, the sublime impressiveness of “steep and lofty cliffs,” and so forth. Very often Wordsworth repeats the first person pronoun, “I”— “I hear/These waters,” “I behold,” “repose,” “view,” and “see.” Wordsworth’s description emphasizes his personal engagement or involvement with the landscape; he is concerned with how the visit affects him. Likewise, we should be concerned with how his point of view affects the vista. Critics have often noted that Wordsworth does not depict the Abbey and the valley as it really appeared in 1798. The abbey was ruined and overgrown, and the valley had been scarred by the industrial revolution. To some extent, Wordsworth sees what he wants to see—an idyllic landscape. Looking down on the valley through the lens of memory, he sees a mixture of the present and the past.