Text. The text of the poem given here follows that of the first edition printed in Bristol by Biggs and Cottle (1798), reprinted in R. L. Brett and A. R. Jones (Eds.), Lyrical Ballads: Wordsworth and Coleridge (London: Methuen, 1968), pp. 113-118.
Title. Wordsworth later changed "written" to "Composed"
Title. The Wordsworths (Dorothy and William) probably departed Bristol on July 10 for the Wye walk, and returned on July 13. Wordsworth said later that he composed the poem during the last stage of the journey from Tintern back to Bristol, and did not write it down until reaching Bristol. It has often been noticed that July 13 is the eve of the celebration of the Fall of the Bastille, which occurred on July 14, 1789.
1. Wordsworth's previous visit occurred during the summer of 1793, probably in August, during a walk from Salisbury Plain via Bath, Bristol, and the Wye valley, to North Wales. During this walk Wordsworth wrote the first version of Salisbury Plain. In Wales he stayed with Robert Jones, his companion during the European walking tour of 1790.
4. The river is not affected by the tides a few miles above Tintern. (Wordsworth's note, 1798) This places the site of the poem above Bigsweir Bridge, about four miles beyond Tintern Abbey, the highest point reached by the tide. The nearest place upriver with "lofty cliffs" is 20 miles upstream at Symonds Yat. Here also can be found the other landscape features mentioned in the poem, including cottages, sycamore trees, a cave, and the "sounding cataract" of line 77 (the small waterfall at New Weir), which is described in dramatic terms by contemporary visitors Whately and Gilpin.
15. "disturb / The wild green landscape." Since the cottage-ground and orchards refer to cultivation, this could be an acknowledgement of William Gilpin's claim that "The painter never desires the hand of art to touch his grounds" (Observations on the River Wye, 2nd ed., 1789, p. 44). In other words, signs of cultivation should not intrude on the picturesque scene. Lines 13-15 were later amended to:
Which, at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
17. "run wild" suggests hedges that have been allowed to grow out. Probably "laid" at one time, with stems interwoven horizontally, the stems are now growing upwards.
21. "vagrant dwellers": probably charcoal burners, who provided fuel for the iron forges nearby. In order to tend their charcoal pits, which required frequent attention, they lived in the woods. Contemporary visitors remark that some of the woods along the Wye were felled every 14 years for this purpose, an indication that there was less tree-cover on the banks when the Wordsworths visited (an impression supported by Ireland's plate of New Weir: See Geography). Gilpin also comments: "The chief deficiency, in point of wood, is large trees on the edge of the water; which, clumped here and there, would diversify the hills as the eye passes them" (Wye, p. 23).
24. Lines 23-4 were later amended to:
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
27. "towns and cities": Wordsworth was in London in 1795 from late February to August, then from mid-August to late September in Bristol. He met William Godwin frequently in London. During this time he appears to have struggled to accept Godwin's political philosophy as an answer to the urgent problems posed by the French Revolution and repression in England, before giving it up in disgust (according to The Prelude (1805), Bk X). This time is referred to again below at lines 71-2.
31. Cf. The Prelude (1805): "I would enshrine the spirit of the past / For future restoration" (XI, 342-3).
32. Cf. The Prelude (1805), referring to his pleasure in nature at the age of 10:
A child, I held unconscious intercourse
With the eternal beauty, drinking in
A pure organic pleasure from the lines
Of curling mist, or from the level plain
Of waters coloured by the steady clouds.
39. Cf. The Prelude (1805): "That burden of my own unnatural self" (I, 23).
39. Keats had this passage in mind in his "chamber of thought" letter to Reynolds of 3 May 1818. As we mature, the chamber becomes "all dark, all leading to dark passages. We see not the balance of good and evil. We are in a mist. We are now in that state. We feel the 'burden of the mystery'. To this point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive, when he wrote 'Tintern Abbey', and it seems to me that his genius is explorative of those dark passages."
50. In early 1801 Coleridge commented on the psychology of this passage in a notebook:
--and the deep power of Joy
We see into the Life of Things--
i.e.--By deep feeling we make our Ideas dim--& this is what we mean by our Life--ourselves. I think of the Wall--it is before me, a distinct Image--here. I necessarily think of the Idea & the Thinking I as two distinct & opposite Things. Now
think of myself--of the thinking Being--the Idea becomes dim whatever it be--so dim that I know not what it is--but the Feeling is deep & steady--and this I call I identifying the Percipient & the Perceived--. (Notebooks, I, 921).
61. "perplexity." A puzzling passage, but possibly a reminder of the problems Wordsworth had faced in the previous five years. See notes to line 27 and line 72.
62. "picture of the mind." A risky term in this context, given Wordsworth's rejection of the picturesque later in the poem. See note to line 84.
68. In August 1793, when he was aged 23.
72. "something that he dreads": possibly a specific reference to Wordsworth's sense of alienation after Britain declared war on France on February 11th 1793: "I felt / The ravage of this most unnatural strife / In my own heart" (The Prelude (1805), X, 249-51).
75. "boyish days . . . all gone by": Wordsworth refers to his exploits in the Lake District, his "boyish sports, / On caves and trees, upon the woods and hills" (The Prelude (1805), I, 496-7).
77. "cataract," etc. While this term and those that follow appear to be generic, each reference can be located in the immediate vicinity of Symonds Yat on the Wye.
84. "Unborrowed from the eye" refers to Wordsworth's earlier commitment to the picturesque, now rejected. He mentions this phase in The Prelude (1805):
The state to which I now allude was one
In which the eye was master of the heart,
When that which is in every stage of life
The most despotic of our senses gained
Such strength in me as often held my mind
In absolute dominion. (XI, 171-176).
92. Nature and humanity. This is the first clear statement of Wordsworth's foundational claim that in his poetry he will write "On man, on nature, and on human life" (Prospectus to The Recluse, 1), written late 1799.
107. "half-create": This line has a close resemblance to an admirable line of Young, the exact expression of which I cannot recollect. (Wordsworth's note, 1798) Cf. Young, Night Thoughts: "And half-create the wondrous world they see" (vi, 424).
115. "thou": Dorothy, his sister, who is two years younger.
120. "wild eyes." While this description of Dorothy might be seen as condescending, it corresponds to contemporary reports. Coleridge, writing in July 1797 just after the Wordsworths moved to Alfoxden, says of her: "her manners are simple, ardent, impressive--. . . . her taste [is] a perfect electrometer--it bends, protrudes, and draws in, at subtlest beauties & most recondite faults" (Letters, I, 330-331).
127. "impress." This anticipates a power of nature that Wordsworth later expresses in more explicit form in the last book of The Prelude, following the passage on the ascent of Snowdon:
That domination which she oftentimes
Exerts upon the outward face of things,
So moulds them, and endues, abstracts, combines,
Or by abrupt and unhabitual influence
Doth make one object so impress itself
Upon all others, and pervade them so,
That even the grossest minds must see and hear
And cannot choose but feel. (XIII, 77-84)
160. Dorothy recalled this anticipation in a poem written around 1831:
No prisoner in this lonely room,
I saw the green banks of the Wye,
Recalling thy prophetic words --
Bard, brother, friend from infancy.
("Thoughts on My Sickbed," 45-8).