Tintern Abbey: by William Wordsworth - Summary & Analysis

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      Tintern Abbey was written in July 1798. It was one of the nineteen poems that Wordsworth contributed to Lyrical Ballads (1798). This poem may be regarded as a “record” of the poet’s growth or of his spiritual development”. It states in clear words the gradual development in Wordsworth’s attitude towards Nature. It reveals how the poet appreciated Nature through the senses (that is to say, he was attracted by sounds and sights of nature): and how finally, he discovered the Divine Spirit in Nature and began to worship it for its inner meaning or significance.


      Wordsworth visits Tintern Abbey in the Wye valley (Wye is a river), after an absence of five years. Wordsworth is the greatest poet of nature. He is a lover of natural scenery. The poem falls into three parts: (1) Description of the scenery; (2) The poet’s philosophy of Nature and (3) Address to his sister Dorothy.

Description of the Scene

      The poet pays a second visit to Tintern Abbey after an absence of five years. He hears the murmuring sound of the waters of River Wye. The tall mountains give an impression of deep seclusion (loneliness). The green fields seem to stretch as far as the horizon. The landscape is calm and quiet. The poet lies down under the sycamore tree. The plots attached to the cottage are green, right up to the cottage door.

      The fruits on the tree are at this season unripe and green. Businesses are growing wild in the jungle. They look like an irregular line of the hedge. Smoke is rising from among the trees. From this smoke, we guess that either some homeless wanderers are making fire in the jungle, or some hermit (holy man) is sitting in the jungle near his fire.

Philosophy of Nature

      The poet has been absent from this scene for five years but he has not forgotten this scene through his long absence. This scene has not become blank in his memory as is the landscape to a blind man’s eye.

The Memory of Nature—Scene brings Pleasure

      The poet was troubled in the noisy towns and the cities. But memories of this lovely scene of nature refreshed his mind and brought him pleasure and peace.

Nature Makes Man Noble

      A worshipper of nature does a thousand, little acts of greatness and love. These small acts of kindness are not remembered by the world. Nature ennobles us.

We Understand the Mystery of the World

      We don’t understand the meaning and purpose of the world. But a worshipper of nature understands the mystery. He understands the meaning of the world, not by head, but by heart. Our body sleeps for the time being; our soul wakes and we get a grasp of the meaning of creation.

Healing Power of Nature

      Nature heals our troubles and sorrows. The poet was miserable in the city. The daylight was joyless. The noise and the mad fever of the town life seem to stop the beating of his heart. At such times the memory of this scene of the mountains, field and the rivers cured his troubles and brought him happiness.

      Today he stands seeing this scene after five years’ absence. He is getting present pleasure; also he is filling his mind with a storehouse of pleasure for the future. The remembrance of this scene in future will bring him great pleasure. So this scene gives him joy in the present and gives promise of joy for the future.

The Stages of the Poet’s View of Nature

      In boyhood, Wordsworth felt an animal pleasure in nature. Like a deer, he ran races over the mountains, and on the banks of rivers and streams. It seemed as if he was running away from nature. The fact was that he loved nature.

      In the second stage, nature became all in all to the poet. The sounding cataract (waterfall) haunted him like a passion. Nature was his beloved. He felt a deep love for the tall rocks, mountains and the jungle. He loved only the sensuous beauty of nature. He had no philosophy of nature. He loved the sights and sounds of Nature. He cared only for the outward beauty of nature, which he saw with eyes and ears. He looked at nature with a painter’s eye.

      In the third stage, he no longer cared for the pictorial beauty of nature. Now he came to read the hidden meaning of nature. In the running water of the brook, he heard the still, sad music of humanity. The water of the brook gave him the idea of the tears and troubles of humanity.

Pantheism: God Stands Revealed in Nature

      Where is the spirit (God) in nature? God dwells in the light of the setting sun, round ocean, living air, blue sky and in the mind of man. God moves through all subjects and rolls through all things. God is all, and all is God—this is Pantheism. The poet loves the woods, the mountains and the fields, since they are the visible shape of God. Nature is the source of purest thoughts; she is the guide and guardian of moral being.

Address to Dorothy

      The poet’s sister, Dorothy is with him. He calls him dear friend. His sister reminds him of his past. In the second stage, he loved the sensuous (outward) beauty of nature. Dorothy is still at that second stage. In her eyes, he reads her past. She is what he once was. He advises Dorothy to put herself under the eye of nature. Nature leads from joy to joy. She never deceives anyone who worships her. For a worshipper of nature, life is all joy. He enjoys peace of mind. All the troubles of the world cannot destroy his happiness or his optimism.

      Let Dorothy walk all alone in the moonlight amidst storms and mists of the mountains. If ever misfortunes befell her, she would remember his advice, namely that nature-worship removes all worries and troubles. Or by then the poet might have died. At that future time, she would remember the present visit to Tintern Abbey. Wordsworth, the worshipper of nature, loved Tintern Abbey, both for its sake and for the fact that his sister was with him.


      (1) Five Years....of the sky. (Lines 1-8) These are the opening lines of “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth. The poet first visited the river Wye in 1793. He revisited it in 1798 and composed the present poem. He tells us how he passed those five years and how he was impressed with the scenes of Nature round about Tintern Abbey.

      The poet says that he is revisiting the Wye after five years. He has passed five long summers and winters away from the river. The period of five years seems very long to him because, during this period, he has passed through a great mental and moral crisis. But the beautiful scenes before him make him forget his past. He once again hears the musical rippling of the waves of the river as it flows down from its source in the mountains. Once again he sees those high and steep rocks through which the river flows. He finds the peaceful hill, increasing the loneliness of the scene. Such a scene naturally produce feelings of loneliness in his heart. The scenes of the land and the sky mix up at this place and impress his mind with the deep peace prevailing there.

      The poet is much impressed with the peaceful and lonely hills. Far from the hue and cry of the cities, they produce in his thoughts of loneliness and philosophical thoughts. The cliffs rise so high that they seem to be touching the sky and maintaining the contact of peace between the earth and the sky.

      (2) And now....future years. (Lines 61-68) These lines refer to “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth. The recollection of the scenes and sights of nature round about Tintern Abbey seen by the poet, exercised a deep spiritual influence on him. Whenever he felt mentally troubled and agitated, their memory gave him relief and mental peace.

      The poet first visited the Wye in 1793. On that occasion, his mind was filled with many thoughts and feelings. But his long absence from the river had almost made him forget them. Memories of many of the objects of Nature which he had seen on his last visit had become vague and indistinct. The second visit of the poet revives all those thoughts, feelings and memories. The picture or impression left by the scenes on his mind become fresh again. Standing by the river Wye, the poet sees the scenes of Nature again. He compares them with the impressions left by them on his previous visit. This makes him sad as well as perplexed. He feels sad because he does not find the same enjoyment in Nature and he feels that the cheerfulness of his youth has gone forever. He feels perplexed because the scenes do not appeal to him in exactly the same way as they did on the previous occasion. The poet feels that the beautiful scenes are not only a source of pleasure to him at present, but they will also give him pleasure in future; the recollection of these beautiful scenes will always delight him in his future life.

      (3) For I have learned to look....chasten and Subdue. (Lines 90—95) Wordsworth is changed with the passing of years. In youth he was attracted by the physical beauty of Nature. He cared for the sensuous beauty of Nature. He loved to feast his eyes on the lonely sights and colors of Nature. In youth, he did not read any hidden meaning of Nature nor had he any philosophy of Nature. But all that is changed now. Now he no longer has that un-thinking love of nature. Now he reads the hidden meaning of Nature. Now he looks at the book of Nature, not with a painter’s eyes, but as a translator, who explains its hidden meaning. The sunset clouds no longer appeal to him as the red, blue and yellow feast, of color, but in them, he reads the meaning of the rise and fall of the nations and empires. In the water of the brook, he hears still sad music of humanity. The water of the stream signifies to him the tears of mankind. The murmur of the water means the crying and the weeping of human beings. This experience of the misery of the world makes him nobler and more sober and serious. These miseries and sufferings of mankind do not seem harsh or rough. The knowledge of human misery makes one full of sympathy and nobleness. Love of Nature leads him to the love of humanity.

      (4) For she can so inform....is full of blessing. (Lines 128—137) If we worship Nature, all happiness is ours. Nature leads us from joy to joy. A man, who moves in the open air, in the company of woods, mountains and rivers, will always feel refreshed and joyful. All the troubles and worries of life will not be able to destroy his peace of mind.

      Nature gives us a happy frame of mind. We look at the bright side of life. Our mind is not disturbed or worried. We enjoy perfect peace of mind. Our mind is full of beautiful ideas. The poet feels inspiration at the sight of the rainbow or other beautiful phenomena of Nature. In the company of Nature, one’s brain is full of beautiful poetical ideas. Little-mindedness disappears. One is full of highly noble ideas. Nature being an image of God makes us more noble and virtuous. In the midst of the storms and stresses of life, a nature-worshipper is never sad. Troubles and misfortunes visit us. People criticize us and talk ill of us and that makes us miserable. People pass hasty judgments on our work and actions. These wrong judgments pain our heart. Selfish men feel jealous of our achievements and laugh contemptuously at us. It also discourages us. Friends are cold to us. They salute us, but there is no warmth or love in their greetings. It is just a formality. Such hypocrisy breaks our heart. Then there is the dull struggle of daily life, which crushes our spirits. But all these misfortunes can work nothing against us if we worship nature. The life will be full of blessings and pleasures. All the misfortunes of the world cannot destroy our happiness and pleasures.


      Tintern Abbey is one of the great masterpieces of Wordsworth—the earliest expression, with some degree of completeness, of his new faith in Nature and in the mind of man. It combines noble poetry with noble philosophy and formulates the doctrine of the New Age, though it links itself in more than one respect to the verse of the generation that was passing. In this poem, the post describes the great power of the contemplation of a beautiful scene of Nature to heal and soothe the troubled mind of man, and to give him thrills of pleasure.

      Tintern Abbey gives a valuable and beautiful analysis of the three different stages in the poet’s appreciation of Nature: (1) of extreme sensuous delight in the beauty of her color and form; (2) the association of human sorrow with Nature; and (3) detection in her of the presence of a divine, all-pervading, living and watchful spirit, which harmonizes the manifold discord of the elements that compose the forms in which it makes its home. It communicates its presence, at every point, to those who are ready and willing to see and learn, ministering help and encouragement, and supplying a perpetual fund of strength to spirits perplexed by earthly cares.

      The poem Tintern Abbey, was first published in the Lyrical Ballads (1798). Some two months after its composition. Wordsworth writes: “I began it upon leaving Tintern, after crossing the Wye, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of four or five days with my sister. Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol”.

      The scene is in the narrow gorge of the river, Wye, somewhere between Tintern and Monmouth. Wordsworth had visited it in the summer of 1793. In July, 1798, he again visited it with his sister, after five years of absence. Many reminiscences of the earlier visit were recalled. “The peaceful charm of the scene prompted him to a retrospect of the long debt which he owed to Nature”; and he reviewed the change that had affected his attitude to Nature in the intervening period. The intellectual progress, described in these lines, has been traced more fully in The prelude, written in 1805.

      Apart from its personal interest, Tintern Abbey possesses a special historical value as the first clear statement of the emotional change in poetry of which the Romantic Movement was the climax recognizing and defining the power of nature to quicken and sustain the imagination and creative faculty of man.

Concept of Nature in Tintern Abbey

      As a poet of Nature, Wordsworth stands supreme. He is “a worshipper of Nature”, i.e. Nature’s devotee or high priest. Nature occupies in his poems a separate or independent status and is not treated in a casual or passing manner. Tintern Abbey is a poem with Nature as its theme.

      (a) Wordsworth has a complete philosophy of nature. What points in his creed of Nature may be noted? He conceived of it as a living Personality. He believed that there is a divine spirit pervading all objects of Nature. This belief finds a complete expression in Tintern Abbey. There he tells us that he has felt the presence of a sublime spirit in the setting sun, the round ocean, the living air, the blue sky, the mind of man etc. This spirit, he says, rolls through all thing:

A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thoughts
And rolls through all things.

      This belief in a divine spirit pervading all the objects of Nature is called Pantheism.

      (b) Next, Wordsworth believed that the company of Nature gives joy to the human heart. In “Tintern Abbey” he expresses the joy he feels on revisiting a scene of Nature. Not only is the actual sight of this scene pleasing, the very memory of this scene has in the past soothed and comforted his mind. He has gained “sweet sensations from these objects of Nature in hours of weariness. Nature has healing influence on troubled minds, as he tells his sister. Wordsworth looked upon Nature as exercising a healing influence on sorrow-stricken hearts.

      (c) Above all, Wordsworth emphasized the moral influence of Nature. He spiritualized Nature and regarded her as a great moral teacher, as the best mother, guardian and nurse of man, as an elevating influence. He believed that between Man and Nature, there is a spiritual intercourse. In Tintern Abbey, he says that Nature is:

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all moral being.

      According to him, Nature deeply influences human character. He tells his sister Dorothy that “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her”; that Nature can impress the human mind with quietness and beauty; that Nature gives human beings lofty thoughts. He advises Dorothy to let the moon shine on her and the winds blow on her, i.e. to put herself under nature’s influence.

      In his eyes, Nature is a teacher whose wisdom we can learn if we want, and without which any human life is vain and incomplete. He believed in the education of Man by Nature. In this, he was somewhat influenced by Rousseau. This inter-relation of Nature and Man is very important in considering Wordsworth’s philosophy. In “Tintern Abbey” he also distinguishes his love for Nature as a boy from his love for her as a man. As a boy, his love for Nature was a physical passion; as a grown-up man, his love for Nature is intellectual and spiritual. As a boy Nature was an “appetite”, with its aching joys and dizzy raptures: as man, his love is thoughtful because of the “still, sad music of humanity” which he has heard.

Style of Tintern Abbey

      The poem Tintern Abbey, is marked by Wordsworth’s gift of making beautiful and highly expressive style of phrases. Some of the phrases and lines of this poem have become so famous that they are often quoted e.g. We see into the life of tilings”; “Perpetual stir unprofitable”; “the fever of the world”; “the sounding cataract haunted me like a passion”; “aching joys and dizzy raptures”; “the still, sad music of humanity”; “the shooting lights of thy wild eyes”; “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her”—these are some of the best-known phrases and verses in the poem.

      The music of the poem is also noteworthy. The sublimity of the verse suits the loftiness of the theme. The blank verse of the poem is dignified and we see here an instance of Wordsworth’s grand style. His management of blank verse is particularly praiseworthy. It has a steady flow of dignity and at the same time great flexibility. There are Miltonic echos in it, no doubt, but how different is the movement of Wordsworth’s verse from Milton’s. “With a rolling blank verse, well condensed and solemn, Tintern Abbey makes the most revealing document of Nature, philosophy and the final testament of the soul’s journey from sensuous to the spiritual”.

Autobiographical Element

      The real importance of Tintern Abbey lies in its autobiographical element. It is this element which enables the poet’s critics to understand and interpret his other poems with great ease. We learn from the poem a number of things connected with his life. The French Revolution had filled him with great enthusiasm—the overthrown of political oppression by the French seemed to him to be the beginning of a new era of liberty and happiness. So during his first visit, he was excited to a high pitch of emotional sensitiveness that made every sight and sound acute beyond belief. When he revisited Wye in 1798, the disappointment and disillusion of the years that have passed, (the excesses of the Revolution culminating in the Reign of Terror and the rise of Napoleon, since his last visit has expanded his vision and the beauty of the landscape gave him a deeper satisfaction). He saw in Nature the revelation of the Divine Law and felt the Divine presence pervading in Nature and the mind of Man.

      During his second visit, he was accompanied by his sister Dorothy. Wordsworth says, “I began 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 four or five days with my sister”.

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