top of page

Blog - William Wordsworth: Education of a Prophet* (Flashback)

January 11, 2024

I recently found a couple of my college English Lit essays.  I thought it might be fun and/or interesting to digitize them for posterity.  I sort of don't even want to read them again, as I will likely find that either a) I'm a lot dumber than I used to be or b) I used to be really dumb.  


This one was my ENG 212 course, which I think was "Intro to English Literature."   It's an analysis of English Romantic poet William Wordsworth's Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. I've preserved the professor's critiques.  Underlines and things in [brackets] are from the professor. Things in {{braces}} are notes from present day me.

For this class I wrote a final paper on Wilfred Owen's war poetry,  I remember thinking it was probably the best paper I had ever written, but sadly I don't have it anymore.  I'll always be grateful to ENG 212 for introducing me to English World War I poetry, which is still some of my favorite in the Western canon.


* This was not my title.  This was suggested in a fellow student's assessment of the paper.  It is way better than the one I crapped out.  (Thank you, Janine, wherever you are.)  



William Wordsworth and his Teacher and Preserver    [Title?] {{Note: Professor Judd was correct. This title sucked}}


The emphasis of Romantic poetry is emotion, whether it be a passionate political commentary or a joyous celebration of the unity of all things. William Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" does not fall into the revolutionary aspect of Romantic poetry, but rather focuses on the appreciation and lessons of the natural world. Wordsworth reveres nature as the ultimate teacher; a universal connecting force to be both respected and feared.


[Opening paragraph could be more developed and dynamic - how about an interesting quotation?]  {{Note: I wrote this opening paragraph last, and was sort of over it, so it's pretty perfunctory and uninspiring.}}


A major theme in "Lines" is that nature is a healer to lift "the heavy and weary weight of all this unintelligible world" (39-40). Even when he is away from [nature] the memory [of it] guides [the poem's speaker] through the grind of civilization. It has not been "as is a landscape to a blind man's eye" but has stayed with him through his life (24). The city life he touches on is described in a detached manner, as if in the blanket of nature he is protected from it.  The city is weary and buzzes with a "din" not insurmountable bellows. [Sense?]  {{Note: I think this is supposed to be "of insurmountable bellows"}}. There is nothing about it  [vague - the city?] the wilds cannot shield him from. In addition it [nature?] brings out the best of him, resurrecting "feelings too of unremembered pleasures" (30). [The speaker] conveys a sense of completeness as he rests under his tree.


[These opening paragraphs need rewording] {{Note: Very fair assessment.  Pretty sure I, unusually for me, wrote the body of this one in actual paragraph order and took a bit to get my legs under me}}


At the poem's opening, the imagery is meditative. The water flows with "a soft inland murmur" and he entertains "thoughts of more deep seclusion" (4-7). Peaceful without idyllic lightheartedness, the impression is one of serious contemplative power.

Wordsworth sits on a languid summer day and loses himself in reflection on nature.  Even the word choice speaks of serenity. The soft sounds and alliteration of phrases such as "hedge-rows, hardly hedge rows" provide a quiet backdrop to his thoughts (15).  Wordsworth takes comfort in nature and searches for a state of enlightenment there. This is evident in his use of the river Wye as his guide and as a metaphor for himself. The river wanders through the forest as he does, a part of nature. His spirituality, like the river, is strong and eternal, bringing life and shaping his environment even as it shapes him. In line 51, where he speaks of how he turns to nature even "in darkness and amid the many shapes of joyless daylight," he indicates how it is a point of his salvation.  However, the phrase joyless daylight" seems contradictory to the theme of the poem. If nature is a healer, then how can its light be joyless? The implication is that mere acknowledgment of nature's beauty is not sufficient. To be truly a part of it a person must not simply view it, but learn from it.


In the third section, Wordsworth touches on his own path out of closed off ignorance as he remembers his first visit to that spot. There is a sharp contrast between his enlightened present and the free spirited youth watching the woods rush past. As a boy he energetically bounded through nature without stopping to be a part of it, his impulsive energy separating him to the role of a spectator. As an adult he becomes part of the picture. He noticed its beauty and recognized the affectionate feelings it evoked, but Wordsworth obviously did not grasp the importance of nature in his first visit. He traveled its hills "like a man flying from something he dreads than one who sought the thing he loved" (71-72). At that point in his life, he had not the wisdom to love it completely, but could only react to its presence on a purely emotional level. In his recollection, the soothing tones are gone. The description is one of cacophonous words like "aching" and "cataract" punctuating his fear. He was "haunted; his emotional reaction without thought did not lead him to an understanding of his place in the world and in nature. Only love tempered with rationality breeds appreciation and comprehension of something beyond nature's surface beauty. On his second visit, he adds the thoughtfulness of adulthood. Sense and thought reconciled form the "soul of all his moral being" (110-111). Through this he hears the "still, sad music of humanity" a sobering and gentle reminder that it is not merely he in this world, but all people with all the joy, depression and pain that comes with them (91). He is a part of everyone, sensing "something far more deeply interfused," a perception he missed in his arrogant youth (96).


That something is a sort of universal spirit linking "all thinking things, all objects of all thought" (101). This states that in nature lies a connection with everything on this earth and not just a common human spirit. In "Lines," all the spirituality comes from nature itself; it is the only divinity in the poem. It inspires in him a "far deeper zeal of holier love" (154-155). Wordsworth seems to see nature, therefore, not as a product of God, but as existing for its own sake. This point is more explicitly stated at the end of the poem: "And this green pastoral landscape, were to me more dear, both for themselves and for thy sake" (158-159). Throughout the work his praise for the tranquility and beauty of it never goes to a deity or supernatural force. He worships nature itself and through it the power of all things. In line 106 he writes of the beautiful world "they half create," meaning that all have a hand in what they perceive and as such all have a part in the perception of everyone else. The sense of connection is demonstrated by his description of the kinship that he feels with the nameless Hermit whose solitude he knows and the homeless vagrant whose wanderings he shares. They are both nameless and unseen.  Whether real or figments of his imagination, in those woods he is them. To Wordsworth, humans are more than just "corporeal frames, they are the "living soul" children of nature (43,46).


Along with all the awe, there is a hint that Wordsworth feels a twinge of apprehension. In line 10 he describes his seat under a "dark sycamore" tree. The dark imagery of that phrase contrasts with the light and color of the rest of the poem. This subtle hint is a statement that no matter how beautiful or peaceful the day, he cannot lay in the presence of a force so much greater than himself without a touch of fear. The fear he experiences in adulthood is very different than the dread of adolescence. In his youth he did not understand nature. With greater wisdom his feelings turned into fear born of respect rather than true terror.


Along with Wordsworth's increased wisdom about nature comes an increased perception of his own importance. He views himself as the mouthpiece for nature, and suffers from a quiet arrogance because of it. This attitude is especially apparent as he condescendingly addresses his sister in the fifth section. He expresses his hope that "in after years, when these wild ecstasies shall be matured" she will come to appreciate nature as he has (138). For now he sees her as young and wild, not unlike he was, and as such gives his blessing patronizingly and with a confidence that he knows what is best for her. The language of the blessing revolves around him. For example, rather than just saying to her that she should never forget their time together on the stream he shifts the focus to himself: "Nor, perchance- If I should be where I no more can hear thy voice..." (146-148). And so his message is not only remember nature, but also "remember my words."  In an esoteric way, Wordsworth arrogance is slightly contradictory. In his assurance that he is wiser than the "unenlightened", he seems to be elevating himself above them and is therefore going against the primal connection he previously alluded to.


Whether in self-importance or arrogance, however, Wordsworth chief attitude towards the natural world is reverence. As with many of his poems he exonerates its virtues and marvels at its lessons. "Lines" is his sermon to his sister, himself and any who would listen. He is his own prophet preaching the words of a teacher far greater than he.





This is an ambitious and interesting reading of "Lines" - I particularly liked your analysis of specific lines such as the interpretations you give on p.2 .  For your 2nd paper, really work on situating and introducing  your subject - see my comments on p.1.]


{{This comment was handwritten and looked like this btw (somehow Eliza deciphered it with no difficulty)}}:

Judd Comment.jpg
bottom of page