Tintern Abbey: Seeing into the Life of Things
What does Wordsworth see when he 'sees into the life of things?'; Remember that in the lines leading up to his portrayal of the 'blessed mood'; that gives him sight, Wordsworth has been pointing to the power of human memory and reflection. And the importance of memory and reflection are made plain by the shifting time perspectives in the poem. The poem begins with the speaker on the banks of the Wye for the first time in five years. At first the poet emphasizes the way in which his present experience is similar to that of five years ago. More than once he tells us that 'again'; he has certain experiences in this secluded spot, a place that is evidently a refuge for him. He then tells how he has though of 'these beauteous forms' at many difficult times since he was last at this spot, five years before. At these moments, his recollections of his time on the banks of the Wye seems to lift his spirits and restore him. He then points to what might, at first glance, seem to be impossible: 'unremembered pleasures.'; How can it make sense to say that we recall 'unremembered pleasures';? If they are unremembered, how can we be thinking about them? This strange phrase might point to some vague pleasant experience in the past, one that we cannot clearly name. But it could also mean that we can now remember pleasures that previously not only unremembered but actually unnoticed. The thought of an unnoticed pleasure might seem strange as well. But is it so odd to think that, in memory, our pleasurable experiences take on new meaning and greater substance than they had at the time? Pleasant experiences are often over quickly or happen in a rush. We are so caught up in the experience that we can't attend to all that is happening to us. Or, in some instances, when we are in the middle of some experience, we cannot grasp just what makes it special or wonderful. For what some experience means to us depends upon what came before it and, even more, what will follow from it. And, in the middle of an experience, we may forget what lead up to it and cannot know what will come of it. It is only in retrospect that we can revel in the experience, appreciate aspects of it that we could not at the moment, and grasp the meaning of it for our lives.
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...In nature and the language of the sense,
Seeing into the life of things, then, is seeing into the power of human reflection, which in turn rests on our capacity for recollection. Thus the form of the poem—the constant shifting of the author's attention from one period of time to another—portrays the experiences and recognition's that is the subject matter of the poem. It is in this shifting of attention that the author—and we—come to distance ourselves from those aspects of our lives that trouble us and turn to other experiences that nurture us and give us hope for the future. Moreover, this power of reflection gives us the ability to give shape not just to our experiences of the past but, also, to our expectations of the future. The author has learned that what he becomes is, in large part, the result of what he chooses to make of himself. Making oneself, for Wordsworth, however, comes not in building a career or seeking riches, but in coming to a better understanding of one's own nature and situation. This gives the author tremendous power over his life, but also a great deal of responsibility for it as well.
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