Wordsworth is highly acclaimed as a poet of nature. Tintern Abbey is one of his representative poems revealing a more deeply philosophical and unified expression of his thoughts about nature. In fact, the poem is Wordsworth’s own testimony to the change of his attitude to nature. He has given a highly emotional description of the effects of the outer world upon his own inner self, reflecting the different stages of the growth of his attitude to nature.
Tintern Abbey is a record of the evolution of the poet’s own outlook and attitude to nature since he first visited the bank of the River Wye during a tour. Wordsworth creates not merely a word- picture of a remembered scene, but a mythic paradise, in the poem. For Wordsworth, Paradise is the world that can be completely unified and harmonized by the mind, and harmony on the scene. As he looked again at the ‘steep woods and lofty cliffs’ of the river, he saw the image of himself as he was in his boyhood. The recount of the world as experienced by the young poet reveals the acceptance of disorder, violence and even fear. The cottages orchards etc. are supplanted by the “Sounding contract, the tall rock, the mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood.” All these suggest the terror of the world, the awfulness of the unknown and the mysterious. As a boy, his love for nature was an animalistic, pure, healthy gladness for open spaces. It was simply a healthy boy’s delight in outdoor life. In his boyhood, he enjoyed nature only through the senses; the sounding cataract haunted him like a passion, and his hungry soul fed itself on the beautiful colors and lovely forms of the mountains and the woods. All this stage, his love for nature had no philosophical or intellectual basis.
However, when he became more mature, his attitude to nature started undergoing a great change. In his youth, his love for nature was characterized by, “dizzy raptures” and aching joys replacing the earlier, “coarser pleasures”, the love of nature at this stage is purely sensuous, though deep and absorbing. The colors and shapes of mountains and woods were an appetite for him. In youth, he was fascinated by the physical beauty of nature, the sensuous charm of nature, but as he was growing more and more into maturity, nature invoked in him the consciousness of “. . . still sad music of humanity” which he developed with a philosophical mind, looking at nature not with the painter’s eyes, but as an interpreter, trying to get the hidden meaning of nature. The sunset clouds no longer appeal to him as a phenomenon of changing colors, but as a symbol of the rise and fall of the nations and empires. At this stage, Wordsworth’s love for nature becomes spiritual as well as intellectual.
At this stage, Wordsworth’s love for nature becomes spiritual as well as intellectual. To him, the water of the brook, as well as the murmur of the water, suggests agonized cry of the suffering human. The experience of the misery of the world makes him noble, more gentle and serious. His love of nature kills his heart with love of humanity. He still appreciates the external beauty of nature but the inner beauty appeals to him more. He discovers in nature the existence of a living, all-embracing spirit that exists in the objects of nature, including the mind of men. This concept of divine spirit existing in nature is called pantheism. However, he still loves the objects of nature that appeal to his senses. He firmly believes that his purest thoughts are stimulated by nature, acting as the nurse, the guide, the guardian of his heart and the soul of all his moral being. Wordsworth maintains that nature never betrays the heart that loves her; nature leads as from joy to joy, feeling our mind’s wild greatness and beauty.
In Tintern Abbey, he recalls his feelings of joys on re-visiting a scene of nature. He has gained “sweet sensations” from these objects of nature during the hour of wariness and frustrations. He considers nature as healing influence on trouble minds, emphasizing the moral function of nature. Regarding nature as a great moral teacher, he advocates that there is a spiritual intercourse between men and Nature.
Celebrated critic Myers has rightly described Tintern Abbey as “the consecrated formulary of Wordsworthian faith.” For the poem formulates the main aspects of Wordsworth’s nature cried in superb poetic diction, Tintern Abbey is an epitome of Wordsworth’s philosophy of nature and man.
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The three stages of Wordsworth’s growth as a poet of nature as recorded in Tintern Abbey