William Wordsworth and the Picturesque

“No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this.” – William Wordsworth

The feeling that resonated most strongly with me after reading Tintern Abbey was not the appreciation of nature and peaceful calm that I have come to expect when reading pastoral poetry but rather an intense feeling of understanding. In presenting readers with this poem I feel that William Wordsworth has given modern readers an opportunity to understand him as a writer and as a human being. While the poem does celebrate the landscape and magnify nature, it does so in a way that reveals Wordsworth’s strong emotions against enlightenment and helps explain to us why his poems seem to flit about in a picturesque dreamscape all their own and refuse to be grounded in clinical, scientific thought.

This poem presents Wordsworth as both a lover and worshipper of nature. He says that the “quietness and beauty that so feeds / with lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues /  rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men / Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all / The dreary intercourse of daily life / Shall e’er prevail against us.” Those lines reveal Wordsworth’s view of nature as a protector from the sneering, evil world and imply that nature is in some way his benefactor. While this poem illustrates picturesque imagery quite well, what was most picturesque to me were Wordsworth’s quietly inserted thoughts about society and nature. He spent the vast majority of the poem magnifying the landscape but the underlying theme seemed to be that nature had in some way healed him. By including these brief looks into his soul, Wordsworth successfully grounds this poem in personal conviction rather than merely discussing how beautiful the trees are. He viewed nature as a lovely work of art and created this poem to reflect back to us a perfect example of the picturesque ideal of beauty.

 

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2 thoughts on “William Wordsworth and the Picturesque

  1. I enjoyed the way you tied Wordsworth to modern times. I would like to see more of this idea, but I did think you were being a little too critical of other picturesque and pastoral writers who do “describe how beautiful the trees are”. I think in most of the writers of the various aesthetic styles, one can find a deeper meaning that can be traced back to modern times. I think you did an excellent job on what Wordsworth was talking about, though I would like to hear more about exactly what his ideas were and how they relate to modern times.

  2. I see a really interesting connection here between what Wordsworth is doing with pastoral imagery and what picturesque landscape painters were doing with ruins overrun by Nature. You’re right in that the didacticism of the poem seems to be aimed at “you bad city people,” by which I mean the undertone of modernity to which the description of the abbey’s natural setting might seem an exaggerated response. But just what is the “intense understanding” that Wordsworth counterposes to modernity in this ruin and the landscape that encroaches upon it? An eloquent beginning… keep going!

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