from Poetry for Students
Memory: William Wordsworth and “Tintern Abbey”
by Derek Furr
magine yourself five years from now. You’ve 1. How does the writer received an invitation to your high school reunion attempt to engage and, feeling a little anxious and nostalgic, you arrive audience interest? Who early to walk around your old stomping grounds. You do you think his wander into the empty gym, where you played your intended audience is? first varsity ball game; you sit in the back of your old chemistry class, staring at the board that once held puzzling equations; you stroll through a courtyard where you held the hand of someone you thought you couldn’t live without. Slowly you recollect how you felt as a teenager, how you saw the world around you—who was important, what made a difference. Doubtless you’ll carry both fond and troubling memories of high school, and when you return, both will re-surface at the sites where they originated. But when five years have passed, the emotions of your teen years may prove difficult to recover. Revisiting your past, you may be surprised not so much by
From “Tintern Abbey” by Derek Furr from Poetry for Students, edited by Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary K. Ruby. Copyright © 1997 by The Gale Group. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
1 Copyright© by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. All rights reserved.
the changes in your old school—the gym will be in the same spot, the cafeteria will serve the same mysterious foods. Rather, as you recall your former self, walking through that courtyard, holding that hand, you may be struck—with melancholy and wonder—by how much you have changed. William Wordsworth returned to the Wye valley in 2. What background July 1798, five years after he had first toured the region information does the with his sister, Dorothy. As he looks at the valley, writer provide? through the lens of memory, he sees himself—both as Why do you think this he once was, and as he is now. With his “Lines,” information is important Wordsworth attempts to make sense of the changes he to understanding the has undergone, and, in the process, he offers some poem? interesting insights into the machinery of memory and the Romantic lyric. The specific setting of Wordsworth’s poem is clearly important to him. Indeed, in the very title of his poem, he announces the time and place of his return visit, and lets us know where he is positioned in the landscape that he describes. He sits in a specific spot, a “few miles above” an abandoned abbey in the valley of the river Wye; thus he has a broad perspective on the landscape he will describe. As he composes the poem (or so he claims), he is reclined “under [a] dark sycamore.” It is mid-July, the day before Bastille Day,1 and three times in the space of two lines Wordsworth asserts that “five years have past” since he last visited. Those were five tumultuous 2 years in European history and in Wordsworth’s life, and it is as though he has longed to return to this spot above Tintern Abbey. He is nostalgic, in a contemplative,3 reflective mood. Like the many topographical or landscape poems that preceded “Tintern Abbey” in the 18th century, Wordsworth’s poem goes on to describe the scene in detail, appealing to our eyes and ears—the sound of “rolling” waters, the sublime 4 impressiveness of “steep and lofty cliffs,” and so forth. But note how often Wordsworth repeats the first person pronoun, “I”— “I hear/These waters,” “I behold,” “repose,” “view,” and “see.” Wordsworth’s 3. How does the writer description emphasizes his personal engagement or explain Wordsworth's 1. Bastille (bas•tél’) Day: commemoration of the 1789...