Tintern Abbey

In his painting Tintern Abbey from across the Wye, Edward Dayes  aesthetically captures the philosophy of the picturesque. From the over-growned ruins of the abbey to the rugged, un-uniformed landscape, Dayes encapsulates the element of imperfect beauty required for the picturesque. The picturesque scene reaches “beyond the power of thought” and “survey” to reflect the pleasurable impression the scene inspires as a whole (Gilpin 50).  

Wordsworth expresses the emotional connection he derives from the view of Tintern Abbey in his poem “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey.”Wordsworth expresses that the beauty and pleasure in the picturesque scene is found in the untamed grasp of nature. He repeatedly describes the scene of Tintern abbey as “wild”. The aesthetic “wild” he depicts contrasts against the wild, wearisome “din of towns and cities”  (Wordsworth 27). The wild of Tintern Abbey is powerful yet tranquil. It reflects the peaceful role of authority nature has taken on the scene due to humanity’s by-in-large departure. Hi reflections issue a thread of a plea to humanity to return from “the fever of the world” to the “serene and blessed mood” of nature’s untamed joys. 

Tintern Abbey

The word “picturesque” describes that which is suitable for painting.  The object being painted must have some imperfections, such as ruins or rugged mountains.  These imperfections are what make “picturesque” different than “beauty,” which quite differently is associated with smoothness or neatness.  By studying Wordsworth’s Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, there is no doubt that his encounter can be described as “picturesque.”

Seeing something that is picturesque can make one experience the sublime.  When this happens, a person is filled with so many emotions and thoughts that anything they could express on paper would not do the experience justice.  Wordsworth does not write about his experience when he first encounters it.  He lets it soak in for five years and then returns to reflect on what he felt.  He says the cottages and animals “disturb the wild green landscape.”  This shows the imperfections of the scene that a necessary for picturesque.

The Picturesque and Tintern Abbey

William Gilpin says on page 50 that a picturesque scene is one “we rather feel, than survey.”  I find this to be especially true when you read William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.”  It was clear to me throughout reading the poem that Wordsworth felt an emotional connection to the scene he was writing about, as evidenced in lines such as, “I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts” (94-96).

He also personifies nature in lines 123-124, saying “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”  This is one of many lines that enforce Gilpin’s view of a picturesque scene.  It was not only the way in which Wordsworth presents the scene’s imagery that makes it picturesque, but also the level of emotion he puts into everything he says.  There are many references to the scene’s emotional effect on him throughout the piece, and that is what really speaks to me.  That is what really makes “Tintern Abbey” a picturesque work of literary art.

Tintern Abbey: The Picturesque

                “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth exemplifies the picturesque philosophy through detailed descriptions of nature around him and its impact on his mind. The picturesque is an aesthetic idea to describe “that which is fit to be painted,” a scene that is dynamic enough to be pleasing and interesting enough the viewer. William Gilpin says that “roughness forms the most essential point of difference between the beautiful and the picturesque.” Stark contrast and vibrant images are more pleasing than “smoothness” or “neatness.”

                Wordsworth deeply portrays picturesque elements in his poetry, “Once again / Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, / Which on a wild secluded scene impress / Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect / The landscape with the quiet of the sky (4-8).” Almost immediately, Wordsworth creates disparities for the readers to imagine. He begins the poem with “waters rolling with a sweet inland murmur,” a relaxing and ever-present scene in sound and vision. Then he immerses us with “steep and lofty cliffs,” which differs from the waters in height, mutability, and density. He feels a “deep seclusion” from these cliffs, as he is comparing the magnitude of the cliffs to himself, a comment on his insignificance in comparison to nature’s strength. In fact, he “beholds” the sight, granting it respect for its majesty. Finally this dynamic landscape of flowing waters and “steep, lofty cliffs” itself is associated with the “quiet of the sky.” Wordsworth is able to craft a powerful landscape using only a few lines; like a musician composing a symphony of complementing and clashing sounds, he captivates the reader.

Tintern Abbey

“Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth is a reputable example of the picturesque. Not only does Wordsworth describe the area as “wild and green,” but he mentions the “steep and lofty cliffs” which would give the landscape that rugged quality always wanted in the picturesque (15, 5). The poem evokes a remembrance of pastoral settings while still hinting at mysteries hidden in “the deep and gloomy wood” (79). Wordsworth then turns to his memories and the pleasure derived from imagining the future as well. While gazing upon the picturesque, just the image is enough to sustain and charm. The pleasure of the sight gives a surface pleasure. However, when the view is remembered the power of nature subdues Wordsworth who realizes that nature is in fact “the guide…of all [his] moral being” (112).

Yet, the picturesque comes especially through Tintern Abbey itself, which, as described by William Gilpin had parts that “hurt the eye” (47). This supposed ugliness is of interesting importance because “roughness forms the most essential point of difference between the beautiful and the picturesque” (48). This roughness is ever apparent in Wordsworth’s poem even just as “little lines/Of sportive wood run wild” (16, 17). Bridging the gap between beauty and ugliness, the picturesque created a middle-ground which caught the interest of the Romantics. The study of the imperfect, yet almost calculated landscape was pleasurable. Quite different than the terror prompted subject of the sublime.

William Wordsworth, “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey”

In Wordsworth’s poem “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey”, he expresses the romantic philosophy of the picturesque to perfection. The aesthetic philosophy of the picturesque revolves around that which is suitable for painting (notes). However as opposed to the beautiful, the picturesque does not have to follow certain rules (i.e. symmetry and proportion) but has it’s own natural and rugged rhythm. Wordsworth retreats to his favorite spot and depicts a scene worthy of a painting “Once again I see these hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms green to the very door…”

The picturesque is not only based off of that which belongs in a painting, but also that which brings pleasure. Wordsworth expresses pleasure and happiness that he feels when he retreats to this spot, he feels it all the way down to his blood; “In hours of weariness, sensations sweet, felt in the blood, and felt along the heart. And passing even into my purer mind with tranquil restoration- feelings too of unremembered pleasure..”

Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” epitomizes the romantic philosophy of the picturesque by keeping his imagery pleasant yet nonuniform (or asymmetrical) which constructs a picture in the readers mind that belongs in a painting.


A picturesque blessing in a picturesque setting

William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” epitomizes the aesthetic philosophy of the picturesque by describing the lasting joy and pleasure Wordsworth felt from beholding a landscape filled not only with beauty, but also with imperfection. The first stanza of the poem describes the landscape that made such an impression on Wordsworth, five years previously. This scene consists not of sunshine and rainbows; rather, it boasts “a wild secluded scene,” (6) “hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines/ Of sportive wood run wild,” (16-17) and “wreaths of smoke/ Sent up, in silence…of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods” (18-19, 21). Here, Wordsworth paints a wild, intriguing, and somewhat mysterious picture. The land is not manicured to perfection, but instead has “run wild.” The people living there are not typical Englishmen, but “vagrant dwellers.” This area of the English countryside lacks perfection in the sense that it is not bright, sunny, or ordered. However, the disorder present gives Wordsworth great pleasure, exemplifying picturesque philosophy.

The philosophy of the picturesque is also present in the blessing Wordsworth gives his sister near the end of the poem. Instead of simply wishing a happy, smooth life for his sister, Wordsworth asks that, “The moon/ Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;/ And let the misty mountain winds be free/ To blow against thee,” (135-138). Generally, blessings do not include a hope for walking alone at night, or for the wind to blow against the person being blessed. However, the picturesque is a philosophy in which things are not perfect, even, and beautiful. According to Wordsworth, great value can be found when life is not entirely perfect, which is why he describes his joy at beholding a picturesque landscape in the beginning of the poem and gives this picturesque blessing to his sister near the end.