Taoist Reading of Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth

Taoist Reading of Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth

Length: 1308 words (3.7 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Wordsworth's 'hsü': towards a Taoist reading of Tintern Abbey

Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! And again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain springs
With a sweet inland murmur. (1-4)

"Tintern Abbey"'s opening lines prepare the reader for a reunion, notable in tone not only for the sense of anticipation with which the poet apprehends this moment, but equally so for the poignancy which immediately inflects the poem's proceedings. My reading of "Tintern Abbey" takes as its most prominent concern the sense in which Wordsworth's "Revisiting the Banks of the Wye" represents a haven-seeking of sorts. Since his visit to the Wye in 1793, much has happened to Wordsworth: he has found, and relinquished, his first romantic love in Annette Vallon. As a young would-be radical, sympathetic to the ideals of the French Revolution, he finds himself at odds with London's entrenched conservatism. In 1795, after well over a decade of only intermittent contact with his sister, Wordsworth and his beloved Dorothy are reunited at Racedown, at about the same time that they make the acquaintance of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Within two years of this happy occasion, the two Wordsworths will move to Alfoxden to be near Coleridge. The ensuing years of intense friendship and creative discourse will yield, by 1798, the collaborative Lyrical Ballads, to which "Tintern Abbey" belongs. As we consider the tumult and activity that have characterized this period of his life, we might well speculate upon the nature of the thoughts going through Wordsworth's mind as he surveys the Abbey from his vantage on the riverbank; my own temptation is to equate the quietly reflective tone of the poem with the Taoist notion of hsü.

In Taoism hsü is defined -- in describing a state of mind -- as meaning:

absolute peacefulness and purity of mind and freedom from worry and selfish desires and not to be disturbed by incoming impressions or to allow what is already in the mind to disturb what is coming into the mind. Hsü-shih means unreality and reality, but hsü also means profound and deep continuum in which there is no obstruction. (Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton University Press, 1963.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Taoist Reading of Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth." 123HelpMe.com. 17 Nov 2019
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=153645>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Millennialism and Apocalypse Thought in S. T. Coleridge and William Wordsworth's Poetics

- missing some works cited "Tintern Abbey": Millennialism and Apocalypse Thought in S. T. Coleridge and William Wordsworth's Poetics Storming of the Bastille 1789 [1] During and in the aftermath of the French Revolution, millennialist thought – independent of the myriad of economic and historical reasons for its precipitation – influenced many authors. Many people perceived the French Revolution as a foreshadowing of an Apocalypse that would usher in a new millenarian epoch, one levelling social distinctions between people and bringing about what was believed to be Christ's absolute rule....   [tags: Tintern Abbey Wordsworth Poetry]

Research Papers
2892 words (8.3 pages)

Analysis of Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth Essay

- Analysis of Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth William Wordsworth existed in a time when society and its functions were beginning to rapidly pick up. The poem that he 'Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye', gave him a chance to reflect upon his quick paced life by taking a moment to slow down and absorb the beauty of nature that allows one to 'see into the life of things'; (line 49). Wordsworth's 'Tintern Abbey'; takes you on a series of emotional states by trying to sway 'readers and himself, that the loss of innocence and intensity over time is compensated by an accumulation of knowledge and insight.'; Wordsworth accomplishes to prove that althoug...   [tags: Tintern Abbey William Wordsworth Poems Essays]

Research Papers
1039 words (3 pages)

William Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey Essay

- William Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey As students, we are taught that William Wordsworth's basic tenets of poetry are succinct: the use of common language as a medium, common man as a subject, and organic form as an inherent style. Yet beyond these rudimentary teachings, it should be considered that it was the intimacy with nature that was imperative to the realization of Wordsworth's goals set forth in the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads....   [tags: Tintern Abbey Essays]

Research Papers
916 words (2.6 pages)

William Wordsworth's Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey Essay

- William Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" Whereas most individuals tend to see nature as a playhouse that should alter and self-destruct to their every need, William Wordsworth had a very different view. Wordsworth perceived nature as a sanctuary where his views of life, love, and his creator were eventually altered forever. The intensity of Wordsworth's passion for nature elevated him from a boy into the inspiring man and poet in which he is recognized to be today....   [tags: William Wordsworth Tintern Abbey Essays]

Research Papers
2727 words (7.8 pages)

Tintern Abbey, By William Wordsworth Essay

- In William Wordsworth’s Poem Tintern Abbey, the narrator returns to a beautiful place that he visited five years prior. Having been away for such a long time, as he looks down the “steep and lofty cliffs” (288) he contemplates the changes that have occurred in both himself and the landscape itself. This text can be used as an example to identify different uses of the poetic form. In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth addresses three main points regarding poetic principles, including: language and the subject of poetry, a poet’s role as one who challenges social norms, a poet’s relation to nature, and the reflective quality of poetic writings....   [tags: Poetry, William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads]

Research Papers
1384 words (4 pages)

Analysis of William Wordsworth's Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

- Analysis of William Wordsworth's Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey William Wordsworth poem 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey'; was included as the last item in his Lyrical Ballads. The general meaning of the poem relates to his having lost the inspiration nature provided him in childhood. Nature seems to have made Wordsworth human.The significance of the abbey is Wordsworth's love of nature. Tintern Abbey representes a safe haven for Wordsworth that perhaps symbolizes a everlasting connection that man will share with it's surroundings....   [tags: tintern abbey poetry wordsworth]

Research Papers
1061 words (3 pages)

Analysis Of Tintern Abbey By William Wordsworth Essay examples

- Your Life is In Your Hands (Three Messages from the Poem Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth) Exploration of the philosophical part of life has been a very common thing for poets in the past. They love to play mind tricks through their poems that have a deeper meaning of life. They always try to play it off in some simple word play, but there is actually an insanely deeper meaning to the poem. Nine times out of ten it deals with life in some way. It usually will try to teach a lesson of some sort, or maybe even give some insight to how you should treat life....   [tags: Meaning of life, Mind, William Wordsworth]

Research Papers
1018 words (2.9 pages)

Tintern Abbey A Poem by William Wordsworth Essay

- William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey describes a return to a location the speaker has not been to for 5 years. The focus of Wordsworth’s poem is to show memory, more specifically memory of a unity with nature. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall similarly describes a return to a location. This location provides particular sentimental value to the speaker as he spent his childhood there and, importantly to this poem, the place where he fell in love. Analysis of the two poems provides insight into the two different eras they represent, as they are written on a similar subject matter with a varying message....   [tags: memory, unity, childhood]

Research Papers
1076 words (3.1 pages)

Deist Pantheism in Tintern Abbey Essay

- "Tintern Abbey" typifies William Wordsworth's desire to demonstrate what he sees as the oneness of the human psyche with that of the universal mind of the cosmos. It is his pantheistic attempt to unfurl the essence of nature's sublime mystery that often evades understanding, marking his progression as a young writer firmly rooted within the revolutionary tradition to one caught in perplexity about which way to proceed socially and morally, and further, to define for himself a new personal socio-political vision....   [tags: William Wordsworth Poetry]

Free Essays
749 words (2.1 pages)

Essay on The Romantic Imagination in Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey

- The Romantic Imagination, Wordsworth, and "Tintern Abbey" Historical Context The Enlightenment, an intellectual movement of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, immediately preceded the time in which the Romantics were writing. In Britain, the work of Locke and Newton, who were proponents of empiricism and mechanism respectively, were central to Enlightenment philosophy. Locke was the founder of empiricism, the belief that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience; Newton ushered in a mechanistic worldview when he formulated a mathematical description of the laws of mechanics and gravitation, which he applied to planetary and lunar motion....   [tags: William Wordsworth Poetry]

Research Papers
2633 words (7.5 pages)

788)

I would submit that "Tintern Abbey" is one of Wordsworth's more perfect expressions of 'nature poetry,' and in that light the Taoist sensibilities of the poem are all the more striking. The poem aptly illustrates the extent to which Wordsworth, as a poet of 'natural mysticism,' sets himself the task of revealing the unifying oneness found in Nature:
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 minds of man --
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. (94-103)

If we view Wordsworth's naturalism as a sort of pantheism, wherein Nature as animative force is realized in all things, then the parallels to a Taoist 'One', the Tao, are distinctly suggestive: "it is the One, which is natural, eternal, spontaneous, nameless, and indescribable. It is at once the beginning of all things and the way in which all things pursue their course." Now to "Tintern," and these lines which at once reveal parallels between Wordsworth's naturalism and Taoist Oneness, and also evoke the spirit of hsü (Chan, op. cit., 136):
Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood
In which the burden of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lightened -- 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,
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things. (36-49)

Reading this passage, I cannot dispel the impression that Wordsworth is seeking respite from events, a pause in which to take stock of things. What is implicit in all of this is the transcendental movement towards unity or oneness with Nature; even while the poet actively recreates a sort of haven in the moment, he seems to recognize the need to resolve this act of creation with a dissolution of self: "Almost suspended, we are laid asleep / In body, and become a living soul". In true mystical form this transcendental movement poses something of a paradox: Wordsworth must lose himself in the moment in order for the moment to occur, but in order for the moment to exist on the page he must be present, as the poet, recording the experience. We might see this as yet another perverse example of the eternal failure of Art, but I digress . . .

Returning to Wordsworth's hsü, I think it is important to point out that the "Tintern Abbey" 'moment' is persuasively invoked as an ever-present state, and not as a pause in strict isolation:
Though absent long,
These forms of beauty 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 (23-31)

In Lao Tzu, the text from which the underlying tenets and teachings of Taoism are derived, hsü is discussed as an important feature in achieving tranquility. And not surprisingly, tranquility is the desired state in Taoism, in contrast to the Neo-Confucianist 'man of virtuous action.' Lao Tzu writes:

Attain complete vacuity,
Maintain steadfast quietude.
All things come into being,
And I see thereby their return.
All things flourish,
But each one returns to its root.
This return to its root means tranquillity.
It is called returning to its destiny.
To return to destiny is called the eternal (Tao).
(Chan, op. cit., 147-8)

The "tranquil restoration" Wordsworth conjures from "forms of beauty" approaches, in a rather limited way, the 'steadfast quietude' of hsü. Less successful is the attempt on Wordsworth's part to preserve the 'moment' for his sister, Dorothy. Never was there an evangelical Taoist; irreverence aside, we might argue that any mystical experience or transcendental revelation is highly personal, and virtually incoherent in the translating. In my view, a Taoist reading of "Tintern Abbey" must take its leave in the vicinity of line 112. For at this point the poet's voice is far too 'loud' to sustain the sort of reading I've been striving for thus far. By introducing Dorothy, Wordsworth shatters the mystic's vital solitude; the poem reaches its conclusion with the return of 'explicit ego', resulting in an utter breach of hsü:
-- 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! (143-147)

Wordsworth implicates himself in 'the moment' in a manner most disruptive to the vacuous state of hsü.

Having, perhaps ill-advisedly, attempted to place "Tintern Abbey" within a Taoist context, I will in the next discussion turn from the East, and explore the tradition of mysticism native to England. I would like to explore to a greater extent Wordsworth's 'natural mysticism,' and flesh out my reasoning for upholding "Tintern Abbey" as being one of his finest works as 'the poet of Nature.' This will lead into some comparisons between William Blake's relentlessly visionary mysticism and Wordsworth's natural mysticism.
Return to 123HelpMe.com