Color Speaks: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Initial Perceptions.

William Blake wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and chose a specific cover, but four years later he changed it. The overall look and feel from the two covers definitely effect your initial perceptions of the book. If you were to look at the 1790’s version, you would assume that the book had a calmer tone and didn’t include such vulgar things. But looking at the 1794 edition, you would anticipate vulgarity.

In the 1790’s version, the original, the colors are much cooler and relaxed. Also, the pictures on the pages contrast with the text. It almost balances out the page because of the subject matter. Also the pictures look very tranquil and safe which could be a side of marriage. Getting into the 1794’s version, while it is the same general layout of the 1790’s pictures, the colors are different. Everything looks much harsher and congealed. There are no rigid edges, just obscurity. This could be a reference to how marriage might start out all beautiful, safe, and cool, but then turns into a hellish dream where you aren’t connected to reality. I think that recoloring the pictures was either a marketing stunt or a way to express a theme outside of the text. Marriage can be heaven at one point in time, but if one minute detail changes, it is hell in the next.


The Marriage of Heaven and Hell comparisons

In William Blake’s two editions of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, I believe he was trying to portray the typical stigma of each destination. In the Fitzwilliam 1794 edition, Blake chose a much warmer and light color scheme which translates to happiness; however, in the Morgan 1790 edition, Blake chose a cooler and more subdued color scheme. I think Blake was trying to display that perception is a readers reality. Blake had the power to portray the illustrations any way he wanted and because of that advantage, he can guide the readers opinions and feelings towards the poem just by the color palette he used. Additionally, by changing the color scheme, you can see that Blake wants to viewer to realize the beauty of the marriage between heaven and hell for themselves by seeing the opposing illustrations. “The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest,” says Blake in plate 9. I think here he is again drawing on the theme of opposing forces. Like heaven and hell, the oldest and newest are associated with two vastly different beverages but still deemed the best in their own respect. 

Color Is Everything: Comparing Editions of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

Try to picture the stereotypical scene where the bad kids try to get the goody two-shoes to do something wrong because it’s the ”cool” thing to do, and then when ol’ goody refuses they get badly teased for being lame. In William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” he portrays Heaven as the boring goody two-shoes, and Hell as the interesting “cool kids”. This portrayal is starkly different from the normal views of society in that day and age. Blake says, “Good is the passive that obeys Reason / Evil is the active springing from Energy” (plate 3 line 11-12) here Heaven is now the outcast, and Hell is the fun interesting place everyone should want to be. He is still saying the normal views that “Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.” (plate 3 line 13). The difference is the paradoxical shift in which good is considered bad and evil is considered positive.

In the two separate editions Blake uses different artistic styles to help convey different messages. In the 1790 Morgan edition1 there is a more attention to detail and line. Also, the text is a simple black color set against a normal background. In the 1794 edition1 held at the Fitzwilliam Museum the lines are blurred and all of the images flow together, and the text changes color to match the pictures on the page. For instance, in Plate 3 (which is shown in the link) the text at the top of the page starts out orange then by the bottom turn to black in congruence with the pictures at the top and bottom of the plate. When looking at what helps convey a different message between the two versions the most important aspect is the way in which color is used. The color choice of the 1794 edition gives the poem a much darker feel. The 1790 edition on the other hand uses more light against dark, as well as shadows which helps show the struggle of Heaven vs. Hell.

  1. The comparison of Plate 3 from the two editions, 1790 Morgan and 1794 at the Fitzwilliam Museum(

Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Changing Perspectives

Upon comparison of two visual representations of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, a prominent difference in the meaning of the text can be ascertained due to the polar opposite tones that each assumes based off of the colors used; the Morgan 1790 edition representing a bleak, but somewhat pleasant scene, while the 1794 Fitzwilliam Museum version is grim and severely intense.  This antithesis mirrors the typical connotations of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ and epitomizes Blake’s primary purpose in composing the piece which is to satirize commonly held misconceptions regarding good and evil.  Instead he proposes that one needs to live without inhibitions in order to obtain his or her highest self and be a person of great vitality.

Among Blake’s colored plates with images, nearly every one has an altered interpretation due to the stark differences in color choice and painting style.  A distinct difference appears on plate 4 of each edition, where an individual appears to be coming out of flames and is reaching out to someone else.  The Morgan edition’s depiction of this scene borders on cheerfulness due to the bright and pastel colors, while the Fitzwilliam edition, with it’s harsh reds and oranges, shows a Satanic character reaching out the flames causing a mood shift to wickedness (,  Although, Blake describes energy as the work of the Devil, it is also “delight” (191), but upon pictorial analysis one can see that the plate from the Fitzwilliam edition does not emulate this quality.  A statement is being made here in regards to what Hell truly represents, as opposed to the perception surrounding it.  The Morgan version promotes a more welcoming version of Hell, where mankind need not fear that obeying one’s desires will result in “God…torment[ing] Man in Eternity” (190).  Another example is given by panel 14, which portrays two bodies, one hovering over the other, while they are both engulfed in flames (,  It is representative of the notion that people cannot have a full understanding of the world when we narrow our perspectives “thro’ narrow chinks of [our] cavern” (196).  This proverb symbolizes how the reasons behind why Hell is seen as evil has lead to a misunderstanding of how to live life.  The Morgan image shows this through a somber, somewhat beautiful use of yellow and pink flames, while the Fitzwilliam edition depicts the hovering individual as a cloaked, demented, deep red and black figure.  Again, the Morgan depiction is more open-minded than the latter one, once again changing the meaning of Hell in the Fitzwilliam edition to a place where one will be punished for seeing the world through a different light.

The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (Basically, Man’s “Get Out of Jail Free” Card in Verse)

How ironic that a man such as William Blake would pen a poem called “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” A man who was outspoken in his disapproval of the institution of marriage (yet was himself married) and heartily favored the free love movement of the late 18th century, Blake’s lobbying for the peaceful union between Heaven and Hell, or of anything for that matter, could have one rolling with cynical laughter, or at least rolling ones eyes.

The beautifully crafted plates of Blake’s poem have been refashioned multiple times. Referring to two separate versions, one from 1790 and the other from 1794, the contrast in the color scheme and format of the accompanying artwork, in one way, can be interpreted as the change in what Blake found most important within his great work. For instance, Plate 2 of the 1790 version is a medley of beautiful water colors with the words scribed atop, making it a part of the artwork, as it were. In contrast, the 1794 version is significantly starker due to the color-blocking technique that places the script on a colorless background. This is obviously a very important piece of the poem–nevertheless because it is the beginning–but also because Plate 2 describes the start of man’s battle with temptation (“Roses are planted where thorns grow.”) that ultimately “drive the just man into barren climes,” or rather the futility of denying man his desires in order to please God.


Plate 2, 1790


Plate 2, 1794

The alteration of color in the 1794 version obviously makes the plates more eye-catching, and albeit pleasing due to the removal of the ghastly brown hues (e.g. Plate 1, 1790), but it may also show the progression of Blake’s fervent belief in the message of his work. An artist’s emotion clearly come out in his work. The use of deep reds, blacks, and dark blues imply the passionate fervor felt when revisiting the poem. The deep, wild colors mimic man’s deep and wild desires that are being suppressed by the organized religion Blake so despises. Desires that, when gone unsatiated, can lead a man to “murder an Infant in its cradle…” (PL 10, L2).


In this way, the impulsive, uncontrollable Lothario Blake makes his case against organized Christianity and preaches (though he might prefer the word “innocently encourages”) the indulgence of man’s desires.

Comparing Two Plates of Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and How It Effects The Meaning

In the introduction it claims that Blake’s aim isn’t to scrutinize religion, and in fact that he is intensely spiritual, but his aim is “to challenge, even outrage, conventional ideologies of good and evil and the moral rewards of Heaven and Hell.” (p 188) With this in mind, I’ll try to take the writings by Blake at face value while I try to view what he’s writing. In order to narrow it down, I’ll focus on the plates as a whole, as well as a few individual plates. 

Overall, the plates of the 1790 edition tend to have cooler colors that give a sense calmness. The plates of the 1794 edition have more warm colors which causes a more intense, passionate, and in this case, almost more aggresive, “firey,” idea behind the words. For example, if you compare, first, the images on plate 14 in both version, you’ll notice that in the 1794 has a warmth in the colors, causing the figure that is hovering over the other figure seem almost creepy. It gives you the idea that the figure on top is going to harm the figure on the bottom, all before going to the words on the plate. But, if we switch and look at plate 14 in the 1790 version, the colors are deeper, darker, richer, but cooler. The coolness of the colors gives a sense of calm, as if the figure above the other figure may be protecting the figure on the bottom, or taking it somewhere safe, but more than likely not harming the figure on the bottom. On each of these plates, the section begins by talking about when/how/if the world will be consumed, come judgement day. But to get to the words dealing with the image, I assume to be, “But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to be expundged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.” (p 196) Blake continues, implying that once “Heaven meets Hell” that all mankind’s perception must and will be changed, and that up until this day comes, man will not be able to see through “narrow chinks of his cavern.” (p 196) In this case, I believe the 1794, firey, warm, vision shown on Plate 14, almost, better supports Blake’s words when speaking of expunging the soul by using corrosives and melting away surfaces. I think Blake’s vision is expressed in both version, as they are the same images, but the color impacts the feeling behind the images and the words. Overall, I would say the 1794 edition instills fear more so than the 1790 edition, and would more appropriately entice his audience.

Portrayals of Religion in Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

In William Blake’s poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” the idea of religion is dissected and even protested in a manner that seems very appropriate for Romantic thought. It appears as if Blake is calling his readers to challenge their own beliefs—to question things for themselves—as opposed to simply accepting everything they hear or observe from religious officials as absolute truth. This sense of independence can be seen in his proverb that “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” Through this proverb, Blake asserts that wisdom is found through an individual’s own experiences and learning from one’s mistakes as opposed to passively listening to the lecturing of another.

The colorings of the plates in each edition help to support this idea, yet in two completely opposite methods. The darker colors of the 1794 edition provide a sense of dread and bleakness that is perfectly characteristic of Blake’s depiction of religion at the time. For example, in this edition, the figures all seem to be dully illuminated in a background of darkness. This darkness represents ignorance, and the dull illumination of each figure represents the individual’s tendency to simply fade into the darkness around them (  The 1790 edition, on the other hand, seems to portray the element of passivity that Blake attributes to many religious people. The use of colors such as pink, yellow, light blue, and lavender provide an overly-idealized view of the physical world, heaven, and hell. In other words, the figures seem so complacent in their surroundings, that the surroundings themselves lose all credibility.  For instance, a figure resting in a hell composed of yellow and pink demonstrates how people have no real idea what hell actually is, or heaven for that matter ( Whether it is the idealized “fantasy” hell, or the bleak reality of ignorance, both printings help support Blake’s call to action.


Blake’s Use of Color in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell

William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was innovative during its time due to its unique inclusion of printed, color images alongside the text. The 1790 version of the text employs lighter, pastel colors which are reminiscent of watercolor, while the 1794 version conveys a more threatening tone with darker tones and a heavier use of contrast between the blocks of text and the images themselves. Plate 10 is an excellent example of this difference. Here is the 1790 version:   This image relies heavily on subdued hues of blue, green and yellow, which is characteristic of many of the plates from this version. The words are slightly faded and printed in a greenish ink, which could be from old age or could have been intentional on Blake’s part. These features make the image approachable, in contrast with the somewhat frightening and revolutionary message of the words above.

In contrast, here is the tenth plate from the 1794 version:

Here, the text is printed in a darker, browner ink which provides a starker contrast to the background of the page. The image is much darker; the blue of the sky gives the scene more depth and there is dark shadowing present on the ground as opposed to the more one-dimensional image in the 1790 version. Here, Blake uses the color red, in a very vibrant way, which is characteristic of this collection as a whole. There is also more contrast among the small details surrounding the text. In general, the range of colors is much more varied and the scene displayed is more congruous with the text above. For example, the “Proverb of Hell” on this plate states, “Sooner murder an Infant in its cradle than nurse unact/-ed desires” (10.12-13). The many examples (this included) Blake uses in order to support his assertion that following one’s desires is more important than being pious in the eyes of the Church are obviously controversial and jarring, which is reflected in the darkness and depth portrayed in the 1794 version of the text.

I think that the differences in the types of colors Blake uses in these two versions of the text do have an influence on its message. While the text was meant to be subversive and shocking to Blake’s contemporaries, the 1790 version seems to be intentionally less threatening. While the narrator discusses his walk through Hell, the airy and approachable images are less frightening to the audience; they are somewhat like an introduction to Blake’s message, considering this is the first version of the book. This being said, as time went on and the text became complete in 1793, it would appear that Blake began to create prints that are more reflective of the true message of the text. Perhaps he considered that his contemporaries had had enough time to get used to the incendiary ideas he puts forth. This version is much less reader-friendly and that seems to be intentional on the part of the author.

Critique of religion in Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

In William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” Blake does not seek to condemn Christianity, but rather to critique some of its more stringent, isolating policies and beliefs about morality.  Blake takes a very pointed voice in the work, that of the devil, in order to make his point: that some of what Christians at the time condemned as wrong was not wrong, and that some of what was seen as upright, moral behavior, was actually bad. Many of the ‘proverbs of hell’ suggest this. For instance, “as the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible (194)” indicates that Christians who feel contempt towards people who they consider immoral, or undesirable, are actually the contemptible ones. He also writes, “The fox condemns the trap, not himself (193)” which seems, again, to be sort of accusatory, as religion can provide people with the means to blame something other than themselves for their mistakes, which is the opposite of what it should do.

The differences in color of the Morgan 1790 edition and the 1794 edition are suggestive of two different ways in which “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” can be interpreted. The 1790 edition, with its green trees, and blue and pink sky shows a very friendly, serene-looking earth, whereas the 1794 edition, with trees that are almost black, and a blank, reddish-white sky, appears much less friendly. In the ‘hell’ of the 1790 edition, the flame is a very pale red-orange, which is much less intense than the deep red and gold colors of the 1794.  Also, the people and residents of hell on the 1790 edition are human colors, whereas the people and residents of hell on the 1794 are a red color, which suggests evil, and a lack of humanity. Overall the “marriage” indicated by the 1790 edition appears to favor the heaven-half, as everything is much softer, and kinder looking (due to the coloring), whereas the marriage indicated by the 1794 version appears to favor the hell-half, as everything is darker and more barren looking.  The 1790 edition indicates that hell is much more similar to the average Christian’s preconceived notion of heaven than we expect it to be, and the 1794 edition suggests that heaven is more like a Christian’s preconceived notion of hell than we generally expect it to be. So, in the 1790 edition it seems like hell is maybe not so bad, and in the 1794 edition it seems like perhaps heaven is not actually that much better than hell.

The Drugs of Keats and Defoe

At first glance, perhaps Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe seem to have little or nothing in common. A mere poem of eight stanzas and a tediously long novel. A pensive man swooning over the song of a small bird and a world traveller describing the toil in his many adventures. Keats adores nature and its innocent splendor whereas Crusoe reveres God and has little problem with manipulating it for personal gain on his plantation or hollowing out caves in which to live. The tones of the two pieces are undeniably polar–while Keats is numb and immersed in fantasy, Defoe’s Crusoe is very much alert of his surroundings and logically coherent in his speech. Indeed it’s hard to believe the pieces could even be considered comparable.


However, when read with an acute eye, “Nightingale” and Crusoe share a common theme that adds to the poet or character’s ultimate desire. The presence of drugs is obvious in both works. In “Nightingale,” Keats pines, “O, for a draught of vintage!” so that he can “leave the world unseen.” His consumption of alcohol would allow him to join the nightingale and become a part of its peaceful song. However, drinking would not allow him the pure state of mind and experience of nature’s unpolluted beauty which he so desires. Crusoe’s drug is not an opiate or glass of port, but money and the greed that eminently comes with it. In the midst of the shipwreck, Crusoe happens upon some gold, exclaiming, “O drug! what art thou good for? …I have no manner of use for thee…” He calls the gold a drug because of its addictive qualities and because it stands as a portal to greed, one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity. Although Crusoe refuses the gold at first, its power over all ambitious men causes him to salvage it anyway, spoiling his aim to be an obedient servant for God.

Tintern Abbey – The Imperfect Beauty of Nature

In its ruin, Tintern Abbey had many sights that could “disgust [the eye] by the vulgarity” and much that could be simply overlooked as being commonplace. However, as Gilpin explains, ones perspective and perception can be changed simply by taking a few paces left or right or delving inside. In his scouring of the Abbey, Gilpin soon found that the seemingly imperfect beams and the pane-less windows gave a new texture and feel to the scene. In Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey, he notes “The wild green landscape,” and “unripe fruits” don’t subtract from the scene, which he holds dear to his heart, but rather as a type of ruggedness that brings it to life.

If something is picturesque it doesn’t have to be perfect, clean, or pristine. For something to be so beautiful and awesome it must tap into your senses and perception of beauty. Not all beauty is smooth and polished to a shine. Nature can add beauty to a scene merely by reminding the viewer that what he is viewing is life itself.

The Embodiement of Picturesque: An Analysis of William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”

Tintern Abbey is a monastery in Wales that monks were forced to surrender to King Henry VII in 1536 as part of the Dissolution of Monasteries. After that time, it began to crumble into ruins. Thanks to King Henry VIII though it is now more famous as ruins than when it was a working monastery. This is due in part to William Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey”, and the picturesque view that it embodies. In the poem Wordsworth talks about visiting Tintern after a five year absence. It is evident throughout the poem the love that Wordsworth has had for Tintern Abbey, and how it has gotten him through some tough times by the memories he had of this sacred place. Tintern Abbey was his refuge. It was a place he could think of that would give him peace when he was being suffocated by the towns, cities, and even society. Wordsworth reminisces on his youth in a sort of melancholy way. He knows he isn’t the man he was when he first visited Tintern Abbey “That time is past, / And all its aching joys are now no more,” (lines 84-85), but he isn’t regretful. He has a deeper sense of the world around him now “For I have learned / To look on nature, not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes / The still, sad music of humanity,” (lines 89-92). He then goes on to address his sister. He hopes that she finds as much joy in Tintern Abbey and youth as he did, and hopes that it will give her solidarity even after he is gone. It seems as if Wordsworth is writing the poem to the picturesque Tintern Abbey as his lover or someone he worshipped.

The most basic definition of picturesque is “that which is suitable for painting” (p. 34), and in Wordsworth’s poem he paints an undeniable picture with his words. The reader is able to imagine the unruly hedge rows that are “hardly hedge-rows, little lines / Of sportive wood run wild;” (lines 16-17). Tintern Abbey is an irrefutable and wonderful collision of landscape and architecture. Its ruins are quintessentially picturesque. The romantic writers of these times were so consumed with ruins such as Tintern Abbey because they represented something that was once rigid and exactly as society wanted, but had since been overtaken by nature and pushed to the wayside by society. Throughout the poem the reader can see the roughness or ruggedness in Tintern Abbey that is basically required for it to be picturesque. The reader can see its imperfections as its beauty. This is why “Tintern Abbey” and the physical Tintern Abbey are the epitome of picturesque.

Tintern Abby: The Epitome of Picturesque

William Wordsworth’s mother and father both died when he was a young boy but Wordsworth found solace in nature. In Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth paints pictures of “Waters, rolling from their mountain-springs with a sweet inland murmur”(390) and “the living air, and the blue sky”(392). The imagery that Wordsworth uses was thought of an embarrassment to poetry because of how simplistic it was. But today, Wordsworth is known for iconic and natural imagery. In the beginning of Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth speaks about how he is returning to nature (390). Despite that Wordsworth has been close to nature since his parents died, I feel that he is trying to allude to the fact that we are all related to nature and even if a person feels like they are alone in the world, they truly will never be as long as nature continues to exist.

Tintern Abbey describes the picturesque nature as a place for Wordsworth to escape and build a new identity as alluded to in the following quotation, “I came among these hills; when like a roe/ I bounded o’er the mountains, by the slides of the deep rivers and lonely streams,/ wherever nature led.” In the poem, Wordsworth is using nature not only as an escape from his reality of financial troubles, rejection of his literature, and the death that follows him, but as a way for him to reinvent himself into someone more accepted by society. People can simply lose themselves in nature, gazing off into the pictorial horizon.

A Picturesque Connection to Nature

Wordsworth’s “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey” captures the philosophy of the picturesque by explaining how his appreciation of nature has grown as he has matured, but continues to fill him with that same sense of awe.  The picturesque is somewhat an intermediate between the sublime and the beautiful; the former exacts pleasure from pain on a grand scale, while the latter is pleasure from merely admiring something that pleases the senses.  Rather, something picturesque is one which invokes beauty and character from unevenness and imperfection.  Upon revisiting the Banks of the Wye after several years, Wordsworth is able to fully appreciate its grandness on both a spiritual and emotional level.

As a simple boy, Wordsworth explored the scene at the River Wye like someone “flying from something that he dreads” (72), as nature embodied everything he loved in the world.  Upon his return, his experienced eyes are able to see once again, all of its distinct features and how they “disturb the wild green landscape” (14-15).  The images from the Wye and the emotions stirred in his soul due to them give him a sense of hope during times of loneliness and despair.  The details and impurities abound at the River Wye give it a spirit in Wordsworth’s mind and it remains to him a place of tranquility for his mind to rest from the stress of the world.  A number of years have passed since his last visit, however, and he can now appreciate nature on a higher level and “not as in the hour of thoughtless youth” (90-91).  His connection with nature has intensified and become more picturesque in the process as nature is now his lifeblood and has reenergized his life in a way nothing has before.  The picturesque is therefore, Wordsworth’s newfound feeling of beauty that reflects the detail and complexity of nature.  In the poem, this mirrors how he has aged and become more weathered by the world.

The Picturesque in Tintern Abbey

Much like the Romantic works we have studied thus far, William Wordsworth’s Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey focuses heavily on the emotions sparked by the speaker’s relation toward nature. Instead of conveying aspects of the sublime, however, Wordsworth describes a picturesque scene in which his immersion in nature inspires a sense of tranquility but also triggers a feeling of loss in reference to time. He begins the poem by establishing a timeline– it has been five years since he has visited the banks of the Wye. He has returned with his sister and is reliving the sensation he had during his first visit, but he feels as if time has changed him. He reflects upon “…feelings too/ Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,/ As may have had no trivial influence/ On that best portion of a good man’s life” (31-34). Here, he expresses that the unchanged nature of the banks has the effect of sending him back in time; he is able to remember a time when he could enjoy simple and ‘trivial’ pleasures. These memories suggest a juxtaposition between his past and current self. As the poem goes on, he sees that his sister is still able to revel in this pleasure and feels happy for her, signifying that he is mourning that period of his life.

Furthermore, while Wordsworth does not actually describe the ruins of the abbey, he does hint upon the imperfect nature of the setting, which is another key aspect of the picturesque. He seems to appreciate the banks despite their imperfections, celebrating features that one would not normally glorify. For instance, he looks fondly upon the “wreathes of smoke… as might seem,/ Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,/ Or of some hermit’s cave, where by his fire/ The hermit sits alone” (19-23). The idea of a recluse living alone in the woods may seem somewhat sad or morose, but Wordsworth does not see it this way; he finds “tranquil restoration” (31) in the scene. The poem does not glorify nature or extol its virtues, but instead celebrates the emotions it can impart on people. Wordsworth’s focus on the beauty of the scene itself and the calmness it transmits to him exemplifies the concept of the picturesque.

Picturesque Through Reading Tintern Abbey

In order to understand how Wordsworth shows the idea of the picturesque in his poem, “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey”, I’m compelled to first pull out quotes from William Gilpin when comparing Tintern Abbey and images of Thomas Girtin and Edward Dayes, as this comparison helped show me, personally, what to look for when reading Tintern Abbey. Among the discussion, a crucial point brought up is about beauty and perfection and how rather than “smoothness” to create beauty and elegance, to be considered picturesque you must look towards the “roughness” within an image’s beauty. He begins to describe the weathered building that use to stand tall and smooth, and finished, and about how it’s actually much more beautiful now, through agedness; “the elements of air, and earth, its only covering and pavement, and the grand, and venerable remains, which terminated both-perfect enough to form the perspective, yet broken enough to destroy the regularity; the eye was above measure delighted with the beauty, the greatness, and the novelty of the scene.” (p. 47) Throughout the entire selection from “Three Essays on Picturesque Beauty, on Picturesque Travel, and on Sketching Landscape” there’s a theme of rough or broken adjectives; “broken”, “rugged”, “break”, “rudeness”, “mark”, “scatter”, all to end the paragraph with by doing these things, “you make it also picturesque.” (p. 49) 

The important section from the selection of Gilpin is the point where he turns to talking f the Picturesque when it comes to traveling, since Tintern Abbey is a poem about Wordsworth’s reaction/emotions/images of crossing the Wye and entering Bristol for the second time. Gilpin writes that there are three sources of amusement when dealing with the Picturesque Travel, the first has to deal with the “pursuit of his object.” (p. 49) Within Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth remarks as this visit consisting of a different mindset during his pursuit, previously he was “more like a man/ Flying from something that he dreads,” to his current pursuit as, “[than] one/ Who sought the thing he loved.” (71-73) While the first pursuit is rash and emotional, and immature (if you will), this pursuit would not have been a pursuit of, or by, the Picturesque, but maybe by more of the sublime, because of the sense of fear, solitude, the feeling of needing to escape. The second, is a pursuit of picturesque because of the thirst for nature and beauty of the surrounds regardless of imperfections as one would look upon something if they were in love. The second aspect of traveling is the “attainment of the object.” (p. 49) Wordsworth goes on to say after returning to the banks of Wye, he has “learned/ To look on nature, not as in the hour/ Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes/ The still, sad music of humanity.” (89-92) His perspective of nature has matured and now he can feel as see nature as a power and a force this time around, while his last visit, he seems to have steamrolled through it without gaining anything to grow from. This leads to the third, and “chief pleasure” of the picturesque travel which Gilpin describes as a “sensation of pleasure” that “strikes us beyond the power of thought…and every mental operation is suspended…. We rather feel, than survey it.” (p. 50) I believe Wordsworth demonstrates this when comparing himself to his sister when speaks of her “wild eyes” and how he sees in her how he once looked at nature and continues on to say ” and in after years/ When these wild ecstasies shall be matured/ Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind/ Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms.” (139-141) 

It seems as though Wordsworth is describing his picturesque experience of the banks of the Wye, by comparing to his rash, immature, maybe even sublime first impression of the nature around him. And furthers this comparison by employing his sister to take on his previous role, almost as if to show him having in outer body experience, looking on to him from the past. 

Tintern Abbey and the Picturesque

Wordsworth’s poem Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey demonstrates all of the romantic aesthetic ideas but it especially the picturesque. Beginning with the title which I found to be very interesting because the Tintern Abbey is not the subject of the poem. Wordsworth includes the name because he may want to infer the importance of the poem through the mentioning of Tintern Abbey. Today, one might call this “name dropping.” Additionally, because of the historical context introduced with the mention of Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth could want the name mentioning to represent time or time passing. 

The first few lines are vital to bringing out the picturesque ideal in the poem. “Five years have passed; five summers, with the length of five long winter,” gives the essence that the poet is returning to something or someone in their past that they were particularly fond of. Towards the end of the poem, the idea of temporality is displayed when Wordsworth writes, ” Nor wilt thou then forget / That after many wanderings, many years/ Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs, (…) were to me / More dear.” His mentioning of nature is extremely indicative especially when it is combined with the theme of temporality.

Time and Tintern Abbey

While reading Tintern Abbey, I quickly grew very fond of the narrator’s treatment of time. From the opening lines of the poem, there is an immediate mention of the past. The narrator begins by stating that “five years have passed” since he had last seen this place, but he is also careful to include his personal sense of time by highlighting the passing of “five long winters” (1,2). However, from there, the narrator has no problem connecting to the present moment. In fact, the narrator soon after states that, as he once again looks upon the “steep and lofty cliffs,” he is able to “connect/ the landscape with the quiet of the sky” (5,7-8). This connection is a very Romantic idea. It demonstrates that the narrator is not only able to connect with the look of the environment, but also with the sound of it, and other senses as well. In other words, he is able to experience the scene as oppose to simply observing it. This idea of the experience illustrates how an external source (such as nature) is able to have a profound impact on, and provoke a response from human emotions and imagination. The time trend continues, however, as the narrator is able to imagine the future based on his response to the present. For instance, he stands still, drinking in the moment, “not only with the sense/ of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts/ that in this moment there is life and food/ for future years” (63-66). Overall, the narrator’s fondness for Tintern Abbey gives him an awareness of the past, the present, and the future, all at the same time. It makes him somewhat eternal, and offers him a connection to nature in a timeless sense.

The Picturesque in “Tintern Abbey”

As far as I can tell, the basic premise of the picturesque is that most things, especially natural things, are more beautiful when they are not perfect. It seems that the picturesque differs from the sublime mainly in that the picturesque does not produce feelings of terror or awe, but rather a calmness, a feeling of being at one with nature, as opposed to being unable to fully connect with nature. In the poem “Tintern Abbey” it seems that Wordsworth has had encounters with nature that fall into both the ‘sublime’ and ‘picturesque’ categories, as his initial experience is one of being overwhelmed with nature, and his next experience is one of a sort of cathartic connection to nature.

Wordsworth discusses having been on the Wye before, five years earlier, and says that at that time, he was, “more like a man flying from something that he dreads, than one who sought the thing he loved (71-73).” He discusses having felt “haunted (78)” by nature. Both of these things indicate the feeling of being overwhelmed that comes with an experience of the sublime. However, he says that this visit to Tintern Abbey, he “[has] learned to look on nature…the still sad music of humanity, not harsh nor grating, though of ample power to chasten and subdue (89-90, 92-94).” Although Wordsworth clearly still feels the power of nature, the power does not alarm him, so much as it calms him. Nature remains grand, as nature always will, because nature never really changes, but Wordsworth’s perception of nature changes. As he is able to feel at one with nature his experience becomes much more picturesque than it does sublime, and his feeling of overwhelming awe is replaced with catharsis.