In our culture, we usually see memory as a stable and fixed storage of data, a device where the records of the past events are kept in the more or less unaltered form. William Wordsworth’s poem “Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey…” presents a very different picture of memory and its effects. The text imagines it as a place of change and adventure in which memories are not only preserved but also transformed, remade, and relived; the poem uses melancholic tone and high-contrast literary devices to make such claim. Its message is harmonically made into the description of the corner of the natural world, which is particularly loved to the author.
From the beginning of the poem, Wordsworth contrasts the actual geographical site to which he returns after years of physical need with his image of it. This part defines the topic of the poem. In the opening segment, the lyrical hero discovers that the two are not the same. What is more, he realizes that the “memorized” place is almost as rich and vast as the real physical one. In fact, he repeatedly revisited it in his mind throughout the years of absence: “oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din/ Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,/ In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,/ Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart” (Wordsworth). In contrast to the commonsense understanding of memory, the author points out that it can create new feelings and sensations; not only record the old ones.
Further on, the hero comes to realize that his relationship to the landscape has changed. The mentioned part represents tone of the poem. The very way in which he experiences it reflects shifts in his mind and the ways of feeling. The entire poem is written in a spirit of melancholy. In the narrator’s own words, “I have learned/ To look on nature, not as in the hour/ Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes/ The still sad music of humanity” (Wordsworth). Put somewhat differently, he came to appreciate the landscape in a more complex and less immediate way. The metaphor of “sad music” employed in the fragment above makes the melancholic notes inside the text more pronounced. The radical change from the carelessness of youth to the hard-earned clearness of the older age also takes place within the author’s memory.
When the author (or his artistic persona as well as literacy devices) turns to the idea of memory directly, he formulates it in the language of a lived space and not of a storage site. He predicts that “When these wild ecstasies shall be matured/ Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind/ Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,/ Thy memory be as a dwelling-place/ For all sweet sounds and harmonies” (Wordsworth). For him, memory is a place of home. The juxtaposition of epithets “wild-sober” or “ecstasies-harmonies” point to the width and depth of its boundaries. A person can explore memory just as explores the vastness of the natural world. It can be unfamiliar and strange, and with each expedition into it, the human mind is changed.
To sum up, the poem under analysis is not only and not as much a meditation on the particular piece of the landscape as on the nature and form of individual memory. The poet builds a vision of it as a living and changing space which never only preserves. He powerfully evokes the tone of melancholy and contrasts it with the feelings long gone. Memory provides new sensations, it changes the person’s soul. The familiar territory or half-forgotten sight helps to ignite all these processes and bring them to light.
Wordsworth, William. “Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting The Banks Of The Wye During A Tour. July 13, 1798”. Poetry Foundation, 2019, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45527/lines-composed-a-few-miles-above-tintern-abbey-on-revisiting-the-banks-of-the-wye-during-a-tour-july-13-1798. Accessed 19 Sept 2019.
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