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.


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

  1. This is a good start to a potential paper, Mylie. Let me ask you this, though: Does Wordsworth actually describe the abbey? How does this factor into your reading of the poem’s invocation of ruins?

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