Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey: Inspiration or Aspiration?

William Christie


Wordsworth criticism has yet to come to terms with Keats' observation that the 'Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798' [hereafter Tintern Abbey] proved Wordsworth's 'Genius' to be 'explorative of those dark passages' of human life - an observation the more challenging for its contingent hypothesis that it is precisely in this that 'Wordsworth is deeper than Milton'. One may, of course, dismiss it as a partial, admittedly personal, reading or response: 'Now if we live, and go on thinking: Keats continues, 'we too shall explore them: In other words, and in terms of Harold Bloom's poetics of influence, Keats' appreciation of Tintern Abbey would appear a wilful misreading enforced by his own sense of direction and poetic responsibilitY, as limited in its own way as Arnold's famous couplet on Wordsworth's poetry:

He laid us as we lay at birth,
In the cool flowery lap of earth.

Moreover, if it is mistaken to read Keats' own poetry through the filter of his occasional, epistolary speculations, it is, arguably, even more mistaken to treat his various reflections on his fellow-poets as in any way definitive. Yet his focussing on the disturbing aspects of Tintern Abbey is itself disturbing, and, at the very least, calls for closer attention to the whole poem, especially when a cursory reading suggests that precisely the opposite is the case; that the poem sounds a barely qualified note of optimism, even triumph.

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