Throughout "Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth constructs nature as both a healing entity and a teacher or moral guardian. This paper considers Wordsworth's treatment of nature in relation to both Ralph Pite's discussion of the relationship between the ecology movement and Romantic poetry and Richard Gravil's explication of the historical context of the Romantic era's "system of nature" in relation to "Tintern Abbey."
Nature as Healer?
Wordsworth ascribes healing properties to nature in Tintern Abbey. This is a fairly obvious conclusion, drawn from his references to "tranquil restoration" (31) that his memory of the Wye offered him "in lonely rooms, and mid the din / Of towns and cities" (26-27). It is also evident in his admonition to Dorothy that she let her:
memory 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. (142-147)
These passages leave little doubt that Wordsworth treats nature as a recuperative force in the poem, but his treatment of nature moves outside of the idea of nature as healer in that his description of the Wye Valley has some darker undertones.
Nature in this poem is not so much threatening as it is dangerously indifferent to humankind. The impact that nature has on one is, I think, determined primarily by one's position in relation to the natural world. The mention of the "vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods, / Or of some hermit's cave, where by his fire / the hermit sits alone" (21-24) early in the poem reminds us that a...
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...worth's metaphors at the beginning of the poem "build a bridge between landscape and psyche, while the landscape itself becomes the perfect image of a tranquil mind" (P4). In this way, Wordsworth's state of mind and his subsequent actions form a reciprocal relationship with the beauty that he initially perceives; it is his mind's response to nature that becomes, to use his words, the "anchor of [his] purest thoughts" (110) rather than nature itself.
Gravil, Richard. "Tintern Abbey and the System of Nature." Romanticism: The Journal of Romantic Culture and Criticism 6.1 (2000): 35-54. (electronic version: Academic Search Premier)
Pite, Ralph. "How Green Were the Romantics?" Studies in Romanticism 35 (1996): 367-73.
Wordsworth, William. "Tintern Abbey." Romanticism: An Anthology. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. 265-269.
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