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. 

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One thought on “Picturesque Through Reading Tintern Abbey

  1. A very insightful reading that combines Gilpin and Wordsworth, Rachel. This is an excellent beginning to a paper because you’re careful to explain the definitions of the picturesque and then apply them to the poem, making good use of quotation from the text to illustrate it.

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