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Mark Fernandez

Dr. Joe Marohl

ENG 242 – British Literature 2

18 September 2008

Wordsworth's Appreciation of Time in “Tintern Abbey”

In the five years between visits, Tintern Abbey has not changed. Yet when Wordsworth

once again views the banks of the Wye, aspects of nature before unnoticed now captivate his

vision. Maturation cannot fully account for this change; instead this sensory transformation is

best explained with a newfound appreciation of time. Through the lens of time, Wordsworth now

sees the “life of things” before inanimate (49). Time, a fundamental component of life, is

acknowledged instead of ignored. Throughout “Tintern Abbey” Wordsworth uses his “gift / Of

aspect more sublime” to reveal the “living soul” of these “beauteous forms” of nature (36-37, 46,

22). Wordsworth’s appeal to the senses conveys nature’s unadulterated concept of time: slow,

continuous, and cyclical.

Wordsworth’s opening lines, “[f]ive years have past; five summers, with the length / Of

five long winters!” (1-2), immediately slows the reader down, decomposing a year into seasons.

This repetitive elaboration reminds the reader of the breadth of time contained in the singular

word year. Nature's observers must also slow down in order to fully appreciate her subtleness in

color and shape. Only while reposing is Wordsworth able to discern hedgerows and unripened

fruit within a countryside all “clad in one green hue” (13), Wordsworth's encoding of spring.

These unhurried sensations penetrate deeply until they are “[f]elt in the blood,” circulated by the

heart, and become a part of the observer’s “purer mind” (28-29).

Nature is continuous, providing “life and food / For future years” (64-65). Wordsworth
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notes the incessant rolling brook, though it produces only a “soft inland murmur” (4). Nature

exists as “[a] motion and a spirit, that impels” with her “quietness and beauty”, guiding mankind

from one joyous discovery to the next (100, 127, 125). While man may spurn nature, she will not

forsake mankind (122), for how can nature reject a part of itself?

Wordsworth’s younger sister Dorothy manifests time's cyclical nature. As she experiences

Tintern Abbey for the first time, “the shooting lights / Of [her] wild eyes” (118-119) resurrect in

Wordsworth memories from five years earlier. This cycle of renewal occurs throughout nature,

making nature ageless. Wordsworth vicariously enjoys Dorothy’s “wild ecstasies” of youth,

knowing these sensations will be tempered into a more “sober pleasure” (139). During times of

“solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,” Dorothy can retrieve these “healing thoughts” to return order

to “this unintelligible world” (143-144, 40).

Wordsworth contrasts the countryside with the industrial factory created by man.

This artificial nature runs on a perverted cycle of darkness and “joyless daylight,” inducing an

unprofitable fever for all involved (52-53). Dissonance replaces subtleness, where the cacophony

of factories is appreciable only as background noise. Speed, the only aspect of time nourished

here, caused a young Wordsworth to bound “like a roe ... Flying from something that he dreads”

(67, 71).

By manipulating time like a commodity, industrial society severs the inherent connection

between humanity and time. Man works through the night producing goods for someone he will

never meet, trading time to work the land for a wage that shackles him to this deplorable cycle.

Time’s inconvenient aspects – slow, continuous, and cyclical – are modified or ignored. In

contrast Wordsworth presents the reader a world “Of something far more deeply interfused” (96).

Time is interfused with all creation. To view nature without a true construct of time distorts
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reality; to subject sentient nature to a perversion of time – schedules dictated by an inanimate

clock – corrupts life.


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Works Cited

Wordsworth, William. “Tintern Abbey.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Ed.

Stephen Greerblatt. Vol. D. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. 258-262.

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