William Wordsworth’s philosophy of Nature as expressed in “Tintern Abbey”

Willliam Wordsworth’s celebrity in the realm of poetry lies primarily in his uniqueness as a poet of Nature. He is characterised as a solemn poet of Nature. But this is not all. He is not merely a poet of the beauty or charms of the external world of Nature, but also a philosophic poet of the vast world of Nature. The essence of his poetry is found in his philosophic attitude to Nature. As a philosopher of Nature, his romantic vision is found to perceive that light which has never been before on the sea or on the land. In fact, in Wordsworth’s romantic and mystical view, the world of Nature becomes enlivened, animated with a living soul, sublimated, rather spiritualised, with the presence of cosmic power.

Tintern Abbey is a specific instance of Wordsworth’s nature-poetry. According to C. B. Young, “No one poem expresses so clearly and powerfully what Nature meant to Wordsworth as this.” In fact, the poem is a most direct, sincere, and distinct revelation of the poet’s reverential view about Nature. It reveals him not merely as an ardent lover, but also as a devout worshipper of Nature-Nature’s priest. The poem clearly sums up, like his memorable The  Prelude, the Wordsworthian creed that discerns in the natural world, the presence of a mighty being and feels in the same a purifying influence on man’s intellectual, moral and spiritual outlook. Indeed, the poem is a clear and deep statement of the Wordsworthian philosophy of Nature.

The occasion of the poem is the poet’s visit to the bank of the river Wye, already visited by him, some five years back. The familiar scenes of the place led him to realize the numerous gifts that spot of natural beauty bestowed on him during his physical absence from it. The poet records how, during his period of absence from the place, he remained in communion with it through his mental vision. The memory of the place had a calming and restorative effect on his mind, much agitated, amid the din and bustle of towns and cities. That memory tranquilized his mental turbulence  and restlessness and brought him to peace and quietude.

The poet records further in the poem how the memory of the beauteous forms near the river Wye, aroused in him, almost unnoticed, a sensation of pleasure, which had its result in the impulses of kindness and of love. In fact, the lovely natural spot had a blessed effect on his mind and filled it with an inexplicable sensation of delight which a man could have realized by remembering suddenly some long-forgotten act of kindness and of love.

The poet further admits that the memory of this beauty spot of Nature has also a spiritual vision for him, that serves to raise him above this earthly mundane existence. He could have a deeper vision to see into “the life of things,” “became a living soul” and perceived the all-pervasive influences of joy and harmony all around him- in the world of Nature and Man.

Wordsworth, thus, in the very recollection of his indebtedness to the beauteous forms of Nature, near the banks of the river Wye, emphasizes the far-off effect and a sustaining force that an ideal spot of natural beauty like this possesses. His emphasis here is that such a spot does not give simply an immediate pleasure but also stores food for future years, and he states categorically his strong creed in this respect:-

While here I stand not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with the pleasing thoughts
………………………………..future years. (Lines 62-65)

The poet’s philosophic contention in regard to Nature goes further. He traces the stages through which his love for Nature has passed. The poem remains a sincere, personal confession of his changing moods in his attachment to Nature. It contains a frank and emphatic statement about his attitude to Nature in different stages in his life-in his boyhood, youth, and manhood, and illustrates distinctly his pantheistic yet undoctrinal philosophy of Nature. The poet asserts his attachment to Nature in all the phases of his life, despite changes in the nature of his attitude and attachment to Nature.

In fact, the poem Tintern Abbey lights up, in particular, the profound and undoctrinal Wordsworthian pantheism. Nature is to him nothing dead or inanimate, but living and invigorating. In his vision, every natural object is inhabited, made alive by a living force and, in this poem, the poet conceives of an all-pervading spirit that ‘rolls through all things.’ He refers to his own experience with a genuine impulse.

A sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And rolls through all things. (Lines 95-102)

This is also marked in his perception of the harmonising spirit that animates and moves everywhere and assimilates both the external world of Nature and the mind of man under one uniform cosmic process. This is his pantheism, the essence of his Nature philosophy, and this is vigorously stated as the very motto of the poet’s philosophic view in the poem.

In Wordsworth’s spiritual philosophization is found the root of his attitude of reverence to Nature. Nature becomes to him a prime teacher for the growth of his mental serenity, moral strength and spiritual revelation. She becomes the very source of his inspiration, enlightenment, instruction, and moral elevation. The poet’s admission of the role of Nature in the human world is positive, unequivocal in this respect. His admission of the role is well struck in his stark statement :

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

The poet’s philosophy is also related to the salutary role of Nature in human life. Here, again, he is quite categorical and emphatic in his statement of the relevance of Nature to man and the blessed effects that she has on his mind and moral. In his exhortation to his sister, Dorothy, in the concluding portion of the poem, his assertion is distinct and unequivocal-

Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her, ’tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy…….

In the Wordsworthian concept, Nature enlightens man’s mind, impresses it with the sense of quietness and beauty, fills it with lofty thoughts and protects it against all sinister influences and adverse forces. It is under her benign guidance that man perceives a total harmony and unending joy in the entire created world, and is cheered with his warm realisation that everything “is full of blessings.”

This is the core of Wordsworth’s nature-philosophy. It well indicates his role as a philosopher in poetry. In fact, he stands out as an original master by his grand exhibition of a perfect combination of high philosophy and great poetry that only a grand philosopher-poet is capable of professing and producing.

Also read; Bring out Wordsworth’s glorification of childhood in his poem “Ode on Intimations of Immortality.”

Also read; A short note on Wordsworth’s indebtedness to the lovely spot of Nature around the river Wye.