Wordsworth's Poetic Theory and
Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

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A Brief Outline of Lines Composed

I.  Wordsworth revisits the Wye river which he had seen five years earlier.  He details the beauty of this pastoral scene. (1-22)

II. He recalls how his memories of the Wye have consoled him in times of regret.  Furthermore, he suggests that a focused sense of this mystery results in the ability to "see into the life of things," to understand what life means.. (23-49)

III. Even if this is mistaken, the Wye has provided him great comfort. (50-57)

IV. He reflects that the Wye has changed.  He cannot precisely picture what it meant to him as a boy.  That has been replaced with more adult feelings/ focus of a pantheistic sort.  He sees that his purest thought arises out of the language of sense. His sense' experience of Nature both "half creates" and "perceives" truth and beauty there.(58-111)

V. He begins to more directly address his sister, who is there with him.  Her experience is representative of what his once was.  She, too, will be able in the future to recall this time in the temple of her memory.  Even if they should be separated (by death?), she will not forget this time and its holiness. (112-159)

For Wordswoth, the memory's subjective experience of Nature is at least as much if not more important than Nature itself.  The memory, with its subjective reshaping of the past, is what perceives, but also half-creates, Nature's power.

The Central Ideas in Wordsworth's Poetic Theory

The quotations are from Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads

  1. What is the subject matter of poetry?
    "incidents and situations from common life"
  2. In what language is poetry written?
    "language really used by men"
  3. What exactly is poetry?
    "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings"; but also "emotion recollected in tranquillity" leading to the creation of a new emotion in the mind
  4. What is the truth that poetry discovers for us?
    "the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement"
  5. What is the larger cultural role of poetry?
    "the poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society" as opposed to the scientist who is after a particular fact/discovery in isolation; poetry, however, will eventually incorporate scientific knowledge when it has become familiar enough to us to be part of the life of sensation.
  6. What is the nature of the poet as compared to other people?
    "nothing differing in kind from other men, but only in degree"; "more lively sensibility"; "more enthusiasm and tenderness"; greater knowledge of human nature"; "more comprehensive soul"
  7. What is the training required to be a poet?
    "habits of meditation" particularly, it seems. a development of the associative powers of the mind
  8. How does poetry create its meaning?
    through the ability to be affected by "absent things as if they were present" and to express "thoughts and feelings" that arise "without immediate external excitement"

[adapted from William Barek]

Questions for Personal Consideration

  • How is Wordsworth's view of the subject matter and language of poetry reflected in Lines Composed?
  • Does Lines Composed fit Wordsworth's model of poetry, particularly emotion? (cf. 58-71.)
  • Does Wordsworth's description of his experience of memory and mind reflect his definition of the poet and the poetic creation of meaning?  (cf. 23-48, also 126-142--the "mind/Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms")
  • Can Wordsworth's theory be separated from his "pantheism"/heightened language, or are the two somehow dependent on each other? (cf. 85-111--note how Nature is "the guardian of my heart.")

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding