“Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tentern Abbey” by William Wordsworth

Here are the notes by Nancy Bogen that appeared in the handout program:

Written in 1798, this poem was one of the highlights of The Lyrical Ballads (1798). Wordsworth’s note on the poem’s composition is worth considering:

No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this. 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.

While it is never subtitled or referred to as an ode, Wordsworth made it clear in a note to the 1800 edition of The Lyrical Ballads that he thought of it in terms of one: "I have not ventured to call this Poem an Ode; but it was written with a hope that in the transitions, and the impassioned music of the versification, would be found the principal requisites of that species of composition." According to the classification of Thrall, Hubbard, and Holman in A Handbook to Literature, this poem would fall into the catch-all category of Irregular Ode, that is, they consider it neither Pindaric nor Horatian.

The verse form is blank verse, and Wordsworth’s model is Milton rather than Shakespeare, as it rightly should have been since the Bard was writing to be heard, whereas Milton intended his works to be read. As in Paradise Lost, for example, the lines of “Tintern Abbey” are arranged in paragraphs, and tend to consist of ten-syllables and to be run on rather than end-stopped.  Wordsworth’s diction here, as it is elsewhere in his blank verse, is less Latinate, learned, and polysyllabic than Milton’s, and thus “Tintern Abbey” truly is “in a selection of language really used by men,” as he forewarned readers in his Preface regarding all of the poems of The Lyrical Ballads.

The poem’s movement is from the present to the past, and then to the future. The first paragraph begins with a view from the heights above the Abbey in which the poet recalls his visit there five years before; a sense of immediacy is established by the repetition of “this” and “these.” In the succeeding paragraphs, he compares the impetuous youth full of “glad animal movements” that he was then to his maturer, more sensitive self now. In the final paragraph, he envisions the same kind of growth for his sister Dorothy, who is referred to as “dear Friend,” and in the end, for the sake of a future immediacy, there is a repetition of “this” and“these.”