, Research Paper
William Wordsworth’s concluding poems of Lyrical Ballads (1798 and 1800) both share distinct views on the concept of Memories and Tradition. They both show the effect that nature has on man, and how one can find solace in the beauty of nature and pass it on to others.
“Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” has been regarded as one of Wordsworth’s most prestigious poems. This poem was written on July 13th 1798, five years after Wordsworths first visit to Tintern Abbey. In the poem the author is recalling the overwhelming feeling of joy he experienced when he had first seen the abbey, and is transferring this feeling to his relationship with his sister Dorothy, who joined him in his revisit of the abbey.
The poem begins with Wordsworth showing the five-year time lapse between the two visits to the abbey.
Five years have past; five summers; with the length
Of five long winters! And again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.
He expresses how long the five years really are to him, by repeating the word “five” and using a slow, dull rhythm. Then as he concludes the stanza he mentions the waters from the mountain springs “with a soft inland murmur.” This image seems almost refreshing to the reader, and is the first sign of Wordsworth’s escape to nature. He is recreating in his mind the image and sensation of peace in nature. In the next few lines Wordsworth goes on the describe the scene of the abbey as unchanged over the past five years, using the word “again” to emphasize the revisit. Here he describes the rich green landscape and the peacefulness and seclusion of nature.
In line twenty-two Wordsworth begins to describe the lasting value of the scene that he is now once again observing. This scene has comforted Wordsworth in the intervening years spent in the city, and he feels closer to both man and nature as he is standing there observing the “beauteous forms.” It seems to the reader that this sight created a mood of deep intellectual thought in the mind of Wordsworth and that he frequently turned to this thought to escape the troubles of everyday life.
Around line sixty the author begins to recollect his experience when he first visited the abbey as a young man.
… When like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, 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 coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all, – I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; …
Here Wordsworth shows the terror he sees in nature as a young man. Not only is this his vision of nature, but a vision of the complex and mysterious world in which he lives everyday. This idea becomes very important towards then end of the poem when Wordsworth describes how his relationship with nature has grown over the five-year stretch.
The following lines then describe how Wordsworth has “learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth” (lines 88-89) He now realizes that there is no fear in nature and that nature itself should be cherished. This is the first time the author makes the connection between nature and human needs. He realizes that the mind is stimulated by the outside world, but that the mind also creates its own world from memory and imagination.
In the remaining lines of the poem, from one hundred eleven to the end, Wordsworth shows how this view of the abbey is affecting his sister. He sees the same joy in Dorothy that he himself felt years earlier, and knows that she will benefit from the compassion and love that nature has. In her “wild eyes” he sees his own love for nature which, over the years, has become deeper yet less passionate.
Nor wilt thou then forget
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake.
The concluding lines are to be taken as memories for the two, and to show that this memory will live long after the two are separated.
Wordsworth first attempt at a pastoral poem can be seen in “Michael”, the concluding poem of Lyrical Ballads. (1800) A pastoral poem is defined as poem set in idealized, often artificial rural surroundings.
The poem begins with Wordsworth taking us to the mystical place near Greenhead Ghyll, where Michael and his family live. Wordsworth vividly describes the land on which Michael lives, making it seem like paradise. In his description he mentions a “straggling heap of unhewn stones” laying beside the brook, this heap of stones plays a huge role later on in the narrative.
Michael is then described as a shepherd who has worked the land all his life. In the poem his land is very important to him because it has been passed down to him through many generations, and he plans on passing it on to his son. Wordsworth presents Michael as a model for others to follow, and shows his significance in the world that he inhabits. As the poem continues, Two other characters are introduced and thoroughly described. First is Michael’s wife, who is described as the perfect mate who cares greatly for her family and works hard to care for them. Secondly is Luke, Michael’s only son. Another important description given in the story is the cottage that the family lives in.
Down from the ceiling, by the chimney’s edge,
That in our ancient uncouth country style
With huge and black projection over-browed
Large space beneath, as duly as the light
Of day grew dim the Housewife hung a lamp;
An aged utensil, which had performed
Service beyond all others of its kind.
This descriptions compares the house to the world, showing its great vastness and how the light that is hung will bring light to the greatest depths of space. Appropriately the house was named “The Evening Star.” The lamp in the house can be seen as man in nature. Without light nothing can be seen in the house, and without man the true beauty of nature cannot be exposed.
As the poem continues we watch Luke grow up. At the age of five he is given a shepherds staff from his father, a sign of the passing of tradition from one generation to the next. When he reached the age of ten he worked with his father everyday, and “the old mans heart seemed born again.” (line 203) Michael is very proud to see his son follow in his footsteps and continue the tradition of the family.
In the following lines Michael is forced to pay back a debt which he owes, and the only way he could do this is to either sell his land or have Luke work off the debt in the city. At first the parents are excited that Luke may leave and come back rich and prosperous, as others have done before, but they soon realize that they do not want Luke to leave.
“Thou must not go:
we have no other Child but thee to lose,
none to remember – do not go away,
For if thou leave thy Father he will die.
This talk between Luke and his mother shows how important Luke is to his father, and that if he left all would fall apart. Unfortunately Luke believes he is strong and decided to the leave the next morning.
Before he goes his Father takes him to the brook with the many stones and asks him to lay the cornerstone for the Sheepfold. This is an important part of the poem, because it shows Michaels desire to pass on his tradition to his son. He wants him to come back one day and finish what he has started, and to leave a permanent mark on the land. The two say goodbye and Luke leaves for the city. For a while Luke writes home telling his parents that all is well and he is doing fine. Then suddenly Luke is said to “follow evil courses” and he is never heard from again. This destroys the Father, who gives up hope in life and lets the unfinished wall collapse into “a heap of shapeless stones.” The story ends with Michael passing away, along with his wife a few years later after having sold the precious land.
These two poems both show the importance nature plays in mans life and vice versa. In “Tintern Abbey” we see Wordsworth himself use the image he saw in nature to comfort him in his life, and then pass this image on to his sister. This directly relates to “Michael”, as we see how important the land is to him and how his only goal in life is to pass on his land and tradition to his son. Wordsworth is portraying the idea that nature is everlasting and is something that can be experienced by many people, but also showing that these experiences have a profound effect on nature. This can be seen in the concluding lines of “Michael”
… Yet the oak is left
That grew beside their door; and the remains
Of the unfinished sheepfold may be seen
Besides the boisterous brook of Greenhead Ghyll.
Wordsworth also shows the growth of man in relation to nature. This is seen in “Tintern Abbey” by the contrasting views Wordsworth has when he sees the abbey as a young man and again a few years later. At first he is afraid of nature as he would be afraid of the world itself, but as he grows to understand the world, he also grows to understand nature. In the poems man and nature seem to evolve together, feeding off of one another. Without nature man could not survive, and without man the true beauty of nature would not be uncovered.
In “Tintern Abbey” Wordsworth uses the memory of the abbey to help him through life, and then shares this memory with his sister, in hoping that she will use it and pass it on to another. This gives Wordsworth a feeling of continuity in his life, that he was able to find something in nature and pass it on to another. This idea of continuity is also show by Michael’s desire to pass on his land to his son, and the great disappointment he feels when he cannot. A tradition is just a specific memory passed on from generation to generation, as seen in “Michael” when Luke is given the staff and taught how to care for the sheep. This is a custom that took place for many years in the family and Michael wanted it to continue for many more years.
I believe Wordsworth ended Lyrical Ballads with these poems for a reason. Tintern Abbey is Wordsworth’s own experience in nature and how he wanted to pass this on to his sister. He found something in nature that brought out a sense of humility and a deeper understanding of man. I think everyone turns to nature at some point in their life, whether it be for the necessities of life or merely for the beauty it portrays. We all feel the need to pass on some kind of tradition in our lives, it is the one thing that gives meaning to what we do everyday. Sometimes we look to others for the answers and other times we turn to God or nature, but no matter what the outcome of our life is, we have each had an impact on the world in which we live. I think Wordsworth is asking his readers to reflect upon their lives and their memories, to find that one special moment, and pass it on to someone that they love.