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    William Wordsworth

view on the River Wye by Ralph Lucas

Ralph Lucas, View on the River Wye

<   Tintern Abbey
poem and analysis

 

Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798

composed 1798 (28)

Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose

Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door, and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:- feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure! such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime, that blessed mood,

In which the affections gently lead us on, -
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

If this
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft-
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight! when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart -
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!

And now, with gleams of half extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again;
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of recent pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills, when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led; more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all. - 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, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye. - That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Nor for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompense. 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 motive 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 recognise
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,
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 memeory 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!

Commentary

In April 1793, Wordsworth started on a tour of England and Wales in a gig with William Calvert, a friend from Hawkshead School who had inherited a fortune, but the tour was cut short by an accident in which the gig was broken beyond repair. Wordsworth, nevertheless, continued on his own on foot, through Salisbury, Bath and Bristol into Wales and up the river Wye, passing Tintern Abbey. He revisited the River Wye five years later, in 1798, with his sister, Dorothy, and it was at this point that he composed this poem. He writes 'I began it (the poem) upon leaving Tintern, after crossing the Wye, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of 4 or 5 days, with my sister. Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol.'

The interest of the poem centres around the two visits. The poet compares his own response to the grandeur of the scenery at the two points in time, and comments on the use he has made of the first experience in the context of his intervening life
in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din

Of towns and cities...

In the first verse, the poet concentrates on the scene before him, sketching in 'these waters rolling from their mountain springs', 'these steep and lofty cliffs', 'this dark sycamore', 'these plots of cottage grounds', 'these orchard tufts', these 'groves and copses', 'these hedge-rows', 'these pastoral farms', these 'wreaths of smoke' sent up from the 'houseless woods'.

In the second verse the poet begins to generalise about his first experience of 'these beauteous forms', commenting that they have not been to him 'As is a landscape to a blind man's eye', a striking simile, but one which perhaps does not quite fit. A blind man clearly sees nothing, but it would seem that what Wordsworth here wants to convey is that, having seen and experienced 'these beauteous forms', the experience has lived with him, consoling him in times of stress etc. The blind man, on the other hand, sees nothing in the first place. He is not only excluded from future experiences, but cannot have the initial experience either. Furthermore, Wordsworth completely ignores the fact that the blind man can nevertheless experience the sounds and odours associated with this landscape, and perhaps even more elements which Wordsworth's own concentration on vision causes him to ignore. At all events, the poet leads us from the perception of beauteous forms to the religious apotheosis described in lines 42-46, extolling:
... that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on, -
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul....
An interesting gloss on the mind / body dichotomy, and fully in line with Buddhist meditational techniques, as is the final goal:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

The third verse is something of a hymn of thanksgiving to the river for the benefits the poet has received from the experience:
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer through the woods
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
It could be Sappho speaking to the ancient gods.

The fourth verse expands on the comparison between Wordsworth's earlier, youthful response to nature, 'when like a roe / I bounded o'er the mountains' with his later, reflective response
I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Not harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
and so on through some pretty generalised and vague poetic fodder
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 the setting sun ...
and so on, until we reach the wonderfully simple conclusion
Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains...
It could be bathetic, except that it is wonderfully refreshing after the grandiose claims that precede it. Wordsworth continues the analysis by postulating that the world of the senses is actually
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

This, of course, did not go down too well with the Church of England, who saw itself in this role. Perhaps while he was still something of a revolutionary, Wordsworth did not care too much, but later, when he became a member of the establishment himself, it was clearly another matter.

The final stanza brings in the poet's 'dear, dear friend', his 'dear, dear Sister'. In a complex, even convoluted passage, the poet puts his sister in his own shoes of five years ago. There is something of overblown egotism in these ramblings which imply that the only valuable contribution his 'dear, dear sister' can make is to become a reflection of his own feelings of five years ago. Poor old sis! The effort clearly became too much for her. But the introduction of another human being is probably necessary at this point to fill out some of the emptiness which is apparent in the bare relationship with nature previously described.
Finally
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.

Rather say what? If you have any ideas, I would be interested to know them.

The poem is clearly a youthful production, somewhat disorganised but nevertheless, or perhaps in part because of this, showing considerable energy. It has some interesting philosophical reflections and some little pearls of wisdom sewn into the fabric. It must be said, however, that the passion shown is not actually a passion for nature, but rather a passion to be recognised as a great poet, and, sadly, it was a passion that progressively killed Wordsworth's creative ability.

 

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