“Tintern Abbey” and the picturesque

The aesthetic philosophy of the picturesque is the middle ground between the beautiful and the sublime. The picturesque can be viewed as a mediator between the two rationally idealized states. While the beautiful offers elements of smoothness and color, and the sublime illustrates the unknown and vast, the picturesque offers a third term, almost like a middle ground, a more practical way to think about landscape.

In “Tintern Abbey”, one of, if not the greatest work of William Wordsworth, Wordsworth is thoroughly grounded with the picturesque philosophy. He hears the “waters, rolling from their mountain springs” running along the edge of the “steep and lofty cliffs.” (390) The scenes he describes is not smooth or colorful yet is also does not provoke a strong emotion of the unkown or vast. It is the middle ground between those to ideas that allow “Tintern Abbey” to epitomize the aesthetic philosophy in the picturesque.



2 thoughts on ““Tintern Abbey” and the picturesque

  1. I disagree with the statement that the “scenes [Wordsworth] describes are not smooth or colorful.” In my own post I discussed how Wordsworth was not describing a smooth view, but it is definitely colorful. He repeatedly comments on the green landscape and green pastoral view, and I would argue that although he doesn’t describe in detail the color of every crag, his descriptions are vivid.
    I agree that the picturesque is somewhere between the sublime and the beautiful, being based in pleasure rather than pain, but I think it is still closer to emotion than practicality and reason. Gilpin’s instructive essays on how to paint a picturesque scene are very pragmatic, but the idea of picturesque beauty, especially as it is expressed in Tintern Abbey, is very much an emotional response to the unrefined, uncultivated aspects of an environment. Even Gilpin suggests that a scene is more often felt than surveyed, implying that something truly possessing picturesque beauty is inherently lacking in practicality.

  2. Well, you’ve established that “Tintern Abbey” occupies a middle ground between the beautiful and the sublime, in that it features imperfections without evoking overpowering emotion. That’s correct, but what *does* it evoke? What does this rugged yet tranquil sensibility achieve in the context of the poem? In other words, how does it help Wordsworth express what he’s saying about his sister and his youth?

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