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L I N E S

WRITTEN A FEW MILES ABOVE

TINTERN ABBEY,

ON REVISITING THE BANKS OF THE WYE DURING

A TOUR,

JULY 13, 1798





Five years have passed; × Five years have passed
Wordsworth first visited the Wye Valley in 1793, shortly after fleeing the hostile political climate in France, and leaving behind his mistress Annette Vallon with their infant daughter Caroline. His return to the Wye with sister Dorothy in 1798 followed a visit with a dear friend and travel writer, Reverend Richard Warner, who had recently published an account of his own walks through the Wye Valley only months before in his book, A Walk Through Wales, August 1797 . The Wordsworths were undoubtedly aware of the book, and likely brought a copy with them on their journey to serve as a guide for their own tour of the Wye (Wordsworth's Reading 143-4).
For an extensive study of these five intermittent years between visits, see John Bugg's Five Long Winters.
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.* × hear . . . sweet inland murmur
Wordsworth draws our attention to empirically noted physical properties of the River Wye while also evoking our senses. In his own note, Wordsworth offers hydrologic information about the river's movements and clarifies, "The river is not affected by the tides a few miles above Tintern." He further emphasizes the river's physical properties in his memoir, and reiterates the observed murmuring sound of the river: "The Wye is a stately and majestic river from its width and depth, but never slow and sluggish; you can always hear its murmur" (Memoirs 119). Placing Wordsworth along the banks of the River Wye at Symonds Yat, David Miall asserts that this murmur is created by a small cascade where the river forks left at the New Weir. It sounds like a "sounding cataract" (Line 80) close up. In Wordsworth's many sensory experiences of this landscape in this poem, hearing is the first sensory perception described. The river's "murmur" is also the first instance of personification in the poem.
Listen to the River's murmur at Symonds Yat.

For more on the transformation of topographical descriptions towards a more scientific approach, see Dahlia Porter' Maps, Lists, Views: How the Picturesque Wye transformed Topography
—Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, × steep and lofty cliffs
In his travel guidebook Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales, &c. William Gilpin asserts that "The beauty of these scenes arises chiefly from two circumstances—the lofty banks of the river, and its mazy course." Both of these features contribute the echo or "murmur" (line 4) of the river (Gilpin 17-18). Richard Warner refers to these steep cliffs on the left bank of the River at Symonds Yat as the "Doward rocks," which "constitute a very grand feature of the Wye" (Warner 224).
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Which on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect × connect . . . sky
Instead of the cliffs uniting the landscape with the sky, Gilpin explains that the smoke emitting from industrial charcoal furnaces connects the two: "the smoke, which is frequently seen issuing from the sides of the hills; and spreading its thick veil over a part of them, beautifully break their lines and unites them with the sky" (Gilpin 22-23). This observation has sparked many new historicist investigations into the role of industry and its environmental and ecological impacts in the poem.

For scholarship about the role and placement of industry see Marjorie Levinson's "Insights and Oversights: Reading Tintern Abbey" and Charles J. Rzepka's more recent response, "Pictures of the Mind: Iron and Charcoal, 'ouzy' Tides and 'vagrant Dwellers' at Tintern, 1798."

For more on Wordsworth, ecology, and environmentalism, see Scott Hess' William Wordsworth and the Ecology of Authorship: The Roots of Environmentalism in Nineteenth-Century Culture and "'Tintern Abbey's Environmental Legacy Educators

see also: "Teaching & Learning Guide For: Ecocriticism in British Romantic Studies." By Kevin Hutchings, and Charity Matthews




*The river is not affected by the tides a few miles above Tintern




202

The landscape with the quiet of the sky. × connect . . . sky
Instead of the cliffs uniting the landscape with the sky, Gilpin explains that the smoke emitting from industrial charcoal furnaces connects the two: "the smoke, which is frequently seen issuing from the sides of the hills; and spreading its thick veil over a part of them, beautifully break their lines and unites them with the sky" (Gilpin 22-23). This observation has sparked many new historicist investigations into the role of industry and its environmental and ecological impacts in the poem.

For scholarship about the role and placement of industry see Marjorie Levinson's "Insights and Oversights: Reading Tintern Abbey" and Charles J. Rzepka's more recent response, "Pictures of the Mind: Iron and Charcoal, 'ouzy' Tides and 'vagrant Dwellers' at Tintern, 1798."

For more on Wordsworth, ecology, and environmentalism, see Scott Hess' William Wordsworth and the Ecology of Authorship: The Roots of Environmentalism in Nineteenth-Century Culture and "'Tintern Abbey's Environmental Legacy Educators

see also: "Teaching & Learning Guide For: Ecocriticism in British Romantic Studies." By Kevin Hutchings, and Charity Matthews

The day is come when I again repose

Here, under this dark sycamore, × sycamore
The sycamore tree originates from Central Europe, and was introduced to the Wye Valley in the 18th century. These trees are now "widespread and thoroughly naturalized," and today can be seen all along the banks of the Wye and in the Forest of Dean (Woodlands 17). Learn more about the woodlands of the Wye
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and view

These plots of cottage-ground, × Plots of cottage-ground
Though Gilpin believes "furrowed lands and waving corn" are "ill-accommodated to painting and the picturesque." (Gilpin 44)Wordsworth celebrates the beauty of cultivated land. Many of these plots are still visible from the riverbank today.
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Learn more about the picturesque here

See Brenda Garrett’s "Picturesque as Rhetorical Mode in ‘Tintern Abbey’" for an overview of scholarship on Wordsworth’s adherence to and departure from the picturesque.
See This short essay for a methodological comparison between Wordsworth's composition methods and the process of creating the picturesque.
these orchard-tufts,

Which, at this season, with their unripe fruits,

Among the woods and copses lose themselves,

Nor, with their green × green
In Observations on Man David Hartley explains that green is "The middle Colour of the Seven primary ones, and consequently the most agreeable to the Organ of Sight" (Hartley 420) (Richey and Robinson 110).
and simple hue, disturb

The wild green landscape. 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 wreathes of smoke × wreathes of smoke
Wordsworth does not specify whether this smoke is emitted from the chimneys of these "pastoral farms" (line 17) or from another source. From his visit nearly thirty years prior, in an unspecified location along the Wye, Gilpin attributes smoke "issuing from the sides of the hills, and spreading its thin veil over a part of them" to charcoal manufacturing furnaces located "on the banks of the river" (Gilpin 22). One year prior to Wordsworth's 1798 trip, Richard Warner describes ironworks upon the New Weir, as he faces West from the rocky promontory of Symonds Yat. He notes "a sharp and capricious turn of the river," and where he observes the Doward rocks (See "steep and lofty cliffs" (line 5)) and a huge isolated crag (see "tall rock" (line 78). (Warner 224).

For further scholarship contesting the placement of industrialization in Wordsworth's view and poem, see Levinson's "Insights and Oversights: Reading Tintern Abbey" and Rzepka's "Pictures of the Mind."

Sent up, in silence, from among the trees,

And the low copses—coming from the trees, × And the low copses—coming from the trees
According to the Errata in the 1798 volume of Lyrical Ballads, this line should be omitted.

However, this line could play a significant role in discussions about industry in the area. Copses, or young trees, "coming from the trees" — or rather 'sprouting from the tree stumps'—is a sure sign of charcoal manufacturing in the area. To create charcoal, trees are chopped down to their stumps in a process called 'coppicing,' and are later burned. After awhile, young copses begin to sprout from the remining stump, increasing biodiversity and providing new animal habitats. The young copses can also be harvested for other purposes, such as basket-weaving.

For more on the history of charcoal production, see G. Hammersley's "The Charcoal Iron Industry and Its Fuel, 1540-1750."

With some uncertain notice, × With some uncertain notice,
"faintly discernable" (Wu 416).
as might seem,

Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods, × vagrant . . . woods
Gilpin describes the scene of poverty around Tintern Abbey as a "scene of desolation, the poverty and wretchedness of the inhabitants were remarkable. They occupy little huts, raised among the ruins of the monastery, and seem to have no employment but begging" (Gilpin 88). This noteworthy presence of poverty described in Gilpin's account has led scholars such as Kenneth Johnson, David Chandler, and Levinson to criticize Wordsworth for minimalizing the plight of the poor. Levinson equates these beggars with Wordsworth's "vagrant dwellers," and identifies them as displaced charcoal manufacturing workers, and "causalities of England's wavering economy and wartime displacement" (Levinson 29-33). Rzepka contests that the economy was actually improving during these years, which accounts for the lack of records of homeless workers, and lack of records of beggars or vagrants in any of the 16 travel accounts written between 1770 (Gilpin's visit) and 1798 (Wordsworth's visit) (Rzepka 14). He suggests Gilpin's "beggars" and Wordsworth's "vagrant dwellers" may have been volunteer guides instead. Meanwhile, others such as Geoffrey H. Hartman and David Chandler argue that the "vagrant dwellers" and "hermit" (line 23) are actually Wordsworth's own self-projections.

Or of some hermit's cave, × hermit's cave
There is a cave a few hundred feet above the weir, on the path leading up to Symonds Yat Rock in the Forest of Dean.
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King Arthur's Cave is less than two miles to the southwest of Symonds Yat.
where by his fire

The hermit sits alone.


Though absent long,

These forms of beauty have not been to me,




203

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, × lonely . . . weariness
Though Wordsworth remarks at the splendor, beauty, and affective power of the London landscape in his poem, "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802", Wordsworth's, contempt for London city life is prevalent throughout many of his works. For example, see "London, 1802"

Not only is the city laden with illness and poverty, but it also "limits the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion to reduce it to state of almost savage torpor" (Lyrical Ballads Preface 99).
sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration: × Felt . . . restoration
This process of remembering special moments in hours of weariness echoes Wordsworth's concept of "spots of time" he describes in The Prelude He explains that when depressed By false opinion and contentious thought, the mind is "nourished and invisibly repaired" by spots of time ( The Prelude XII. 208-218). Fond memories of physically viewing the physical "forms of beauty" enable him to find respite even in the oppressive city.

See Michael Wiley's "Wordsworth's Spots of Time in Space and Time." And Lance Massey's "Tintern Abbey's 'Tranquil Restoration': Toward A Methodology of Healing in an Age Of Anxiety."
—feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,

As may have had no 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 burthen of the mystery,

Of all this unintelligible world

Is lighten'd: × burthen . . . lighten'd
The incomprehensibility of life can be burdensome, but nature eases this burden, which may make the "unintelligible" less intimating. This concept anticipates John Keats' concept of Negative Capability, in which "man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason" ( Letters 193-4).
—that serene and blessed mood,

In which the affections gently lead us on,



204

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: × suspended . . . soul
The Biblical Adam "became a living soul" after God formed him out of the dust (a natural feature of the landscape) and "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" ( Genesis 2:7 KJV). John Milton also notes this phenomenon in Paradise Lost: "in his own Image hee / Created thee, in the Image of God / Express, and thou becam'st a living Soul" (Milton 8.526-28).

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, × harmony . . . joy
Wu notes that during the Alfoxden Period—when Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge collaborated on Lyrical Ballads —'Joy' was the name employed to describe the pantheist perception of Nature as unified by a universal life force. Wordsworth also notes the power of joy as a life force in his manuscript poem, The Pedlar: "in all things / He saw one life, and felt that it was joy" (The Pedlar 217-18) (Wu 417). To learn more about Wordsworth and Coleridge's experiences at Alfoxden Hall, see Dorothy Wordsworth's journals from their stay, published posthumously as The Alfoxden Journal, 1798 See also Lucy Newlyn's "Interaction and Influence" The Early Days at Alfoxden."
For more on The Pedlar and "Tintern Abbey" see William Wordsworth: The Pedlar, Tintern Abbey, the Two-Part Prelude, edited by Jonathan Wordsworth.

We see into the life of things. × see into the life of things
The landscape's "forms of beauty"—and the thoughts and emotions they evoke—transport the observer into such a mystic state that their experience of the landscape transcends the body and evolves into a spiritual engagement with "the life-force of the universe" (Wu 417).



If this

Be but vain belief, yet, oh! how oft,

In darkness, and amid the many shapes

Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir

Unprofitable, and the fever of the world, × Unprofitable . . . world
This line is resonant of Hamlet's
"How . . . unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of the world"
in The Tragedy of Hamlet (Shakespeare I. ii. 133-4).

Have hung upon the beatings of my heart, × fever . . . heart
Wordsworth's physiological description of fever and its effect on the heart resembles Hartley's discussion of the heart in Observations on Man (Hartley 243-245) (Richey and Robinson 112).
Furthermore, the intermittent period between Wordsoworth's first and second visits to the Wye were full of turmoil. He recounts in The Prelude that the French Revolution was the greatest "shock Given to my mortal nature . . . It was a grief—/ Grief call it not, 'twas any thing but that— / A conflict of sensations without name . . . "(The Prelude X.263-266).

Moreover, he was alienated from his social and writing communities; first for being pro-Revolutionary, and later, for changing his mind. He and fellow Romantic writers were also under constant surveillance by The Home Office, and subject to heavy censorship by William Pitt's Gagging Acts and what John Bugg calls, "the decade-long assault on freedom of speech" (Five Long Winters 43).

How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee

O sylvan × sylvan
Wooded; The Wye valley contains many wooded areas, but the oldest and largest is the Forest of Dean . It is located in West Gloucestershire and bordered by the River Wye to the West and Northwest. It also surrounds the town of Symonds Yat.
Learn more about the Wye woodlands here
view current and historical maps of the area here
Wye! Thou wanderer through the woods,

How often has my spirit turned to thee!



And now, with gleams of half-extinguish'd thought,



205

With many recognitions dim and faint,

And somewhat sad perplexity,

The picture of the mind revives again: × picture . . . again
Throughout Book XI and XII of The Prelude, and in Wordsworth's experience in the Simplon Pass recorded in Book VI, Wordsworth continues this phenomenon of evolving memories of landscape in his mind. See "Spots of Time" (The Prelude XII.208-218).
For further reading see James L. Hill's " The Frame for the Mind: Landscape in 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,' apos;Dover Beach.' and 'Sunday Morning,'" Michael Wiley's "Wordsworthapos;s Spots of Time in Space and Time," Lance Massey's "Tintern Abbey's 'Tranquil Restoration': Toward A Methodology of Healing in an Age Of Anxiety," and Christopher Salvesen's The Landscape of Memory; a Study of Wordsworth's Poetry.

While here I stand, not only with the sense

Of present 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; × first . . . hills
Referring to his 1793 visit, or to his prior "boyish days".
when like a roe × roe
a type of Eurasian deer (OED).

I bounded 'er the mountains, by the sides

Of the deep rivers, × deep rivers
The River Wye is "generally shallow," but cuts deeply into the cliff sides of surrounding hills (Canoeist's Guide 5).
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 courses pleasures of my boyish days,

And their glad animal movements × glad animal movements
Wordsworth reflects on the animal movements of his boyhood in Book I & II and of The Prelude as well.
See also "'Glad Animal Movements': Motion in Wordsworth's 'Tintern Abbey' and 'The Two-Part Prelude'" By Nicholas M. Williams.
all gone by,)

To me was all in all.—I cannot paint


206

What then I was. The sounding cataract × The sounding cataract
Rather than a true waterfall, this is likely the small cascade caused by the weir in the Wye River at the New Weir, as it forks around a small island and along the East bank of Symonds Yat. Listen to "the sounding cataract" and compare with the sweet inland murmur (line 4) View images

Haunted me like a passion: × haunted . . . passion In addition to The Picturesque, images of the landscape can also inspire emotions associated with the Burkean and Kantean sublime. A similar reaction occurs in The Pedlar, in which images of the landscape "almost seemed / To haunt the bodily sense" (The Pedlar 31-4).
For Further reading see "Unity in the Valley: Transcendence and Contiguity in Wordsworth's 'Tintern Abbey,'" by Roald Kaiser Jr. and Matthew Brennan's Wordsworth, Turner, and Romantic Landscape: A Study of the Traditions of the Picturesque and the Sublime.
the tall rock, × tall rock
One year prior to Wordsworth's 1798 visit, Richard Warner describes the Doward cliffs rising above the New Weir, and specifically identifies "an huge isolated crag, lifting its detached, precipitous form, crowned with moss, and sprinkled with ivy, to a height little inferior to the cliff from whence it is seen" View 360º Street-View Images
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The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood, × deep and gloomy wood
The Forest of Dean covers an area of over 110 km 2

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, or any interest

Unborrowed from the eye.—That time is

past,

And all its aching joys are now no more

And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this

Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur: other gifts

Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,

Abundant recompence. 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, × The still, sad music of humanity
Wordsworth's reflections in nature point him back towards humanity, which is a process that occurs in several of his other poems. See "Lines Left Upon the Seat of Yew Tree" ( Lyrical Ballads 1798 Edition) and "Michael" ( Lyrical Ballads 1800 Edition). This line is also reminiscent of the "still, small" voice of God that speaks to Elijah after an earthquake and fire in 1 Kings 19:12 (KJV).

Not harsh nor grating, though of ample power


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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 motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, × presence . . . things
Though the complexities of Wordsworth's religious beliefs are highly debated, many critics agree that Wordsworth is referring to some form of a universal or pantheistic life force.
To learn more about these conversations surrounding Wordsoworth and religion, see these sources.
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 gren earth; of all the mighty world

Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,* × both . . . half create
Michael Gamer and Dahlia Porter clarify that this line refers to Edward Young's Night Thoughts : "and half create the wondrous world, they see" (Young Night VI, line 427) (Gamer and Porter 145).


*This line has a close resemblance to an admirable line of Young, the exact expression of which I cannot recollect.




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And what perceive; well pleased to recognize

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 × genial spirits
Creative energy, vitality. See Milton's Samson Agnostes : "So much I feel my genial spirits droop"(Samson 594).
to decay:

For thou art with me, here, upon the banks

Of this fair river; thou, my dearest Friend, × thou . . . Friend
Wordsworth's beloved sister Dorothy accompanied him on his trip to the Wye in 1798 when they were recently reunited after several years apart.

This language resembles Psalm 23:4, which emphasizes the power of a valley landscape, and comfort of another's presence: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff, they comfort me" (KJV).

Dorothy's presence also complicates the Romantic theory of the 'solitary genius,' who recollects his experiences with nature in tranquility, because she experiences the landscape alongside Wordsworth.

See Wordsworth's 1802 Preface to Lyrical Ballads and Jack Stillinger's Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius

Scholars continue to debate how much credit Dorothy deserves in her collaborations with her brother. To learn more about these conversation concerning Dorothy's presence and role in "Tintern Abbey," take a look at this scholarship

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, × thy voice . . . once
Some critics argue that Wordsworth diminishes his sister's identity and presence, because he superimposes himself on her. However, her presence is also considered necessary to Wordsworth's experience.
Take a look at some of the scholarship surrounding this debate.

My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,

Knowing that Nature never did betray




209

The heart that loved her; × Nature . . . her
The valley landscape itself can declare loyalty, like in Samuel Daniel's The Civil Wars II: "Here have you craggy rocks to take your part / That never will betray their faith to you" (Daniel 235-6).
'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, × evil tongues
Adam makes a similar comment in Paradise Lost when recounts he, "On evil dayes though fall'n, and evil tongues" (Paradise Lost vii.26). This line has been attributed to the slander that Milton and his fellow republicans faced for their radical political ideas after the Stuart Restoration in mid-17th-century Britain.

Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,

Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all

The dreary intercourse of daily life,

Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb

Our chearful faith that all which we behold

Is full of blessings. × Nature never did betray . . . blessings
Wordsworth copied these lines onto the paste down of the inside cover of what was once a book on 27 August 1825 at his home in Rydal Mount. View image
Image scan located at The Wordsworth Trust
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 memory be as a dwelling-place × memory be as a dwelling-place
For more on Wordsworth and memory in "Tintern Abbey" see Angela Bonilla Rasmussenapos's "The Myth of Memory: William and Dorothy Wordsworth and the Process of Poetic Production" and Michael Vander Weele's "The Contest of Memory in 'Tintern Abbey.'"

o



210

For all sweet sounds and harmonies; Oh! then,

If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,

Should be thy portion, × portion
Fate, lot, or future
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 × wilt thou then forget
Wordsworth's request for Dorothy to serve as his memory keeper until he becomes incoherent has sparked controversy amongst several scholars. Many say that this assignation diminishes Dorothy's value and agency as an independent human being, while others consider this request as reverence for her, and conventional for their relationship dynamic.
Click here to view contributions to this discussion.

That on the banks of this delightful stream

We stood together; and that I, so long

A Worshiper 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 absense, these steep woods and lofty cliffs, × steep woods and lofty cliffs
Wordsworth returns to the poem's opening scene of "steep and lofty cliffs" (line 5).

And this green pastoral landscape, were to me

More dear, both for themselves, and for thy sake.

E N D.