Loco-descriptive poems

John Denham, "Cooper's Hill" (rev. 1655)
John Dyer, "Grongar Hill" (1726)
Thomas Gray, "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" (1747)
Richard Jago, "Edge Hill" (1767), extracts
William Crowe, "Lewesdon Hill" (1788)
William Lisle Bowles, "To the River Itchen" (1789)
Coleridge, "Sonnet V. To the River Otter" (1793)
Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey" (1798)


The following Table locates the poems (follow the links for further details) and traces some common tropes and themes across them.
regret, loss
river as life
human fitness
nature instructs
Cooper's Hill
Cooper's Hill is 3 miles S-E of Windsor Castle, 1 mile from the Thames. View. Poem mentions Windsor, a hill with a ruined abbey, Windsor Park, and Runnymede.

destruction of abbeys: "the shame / Of sacriledge" (125-6)

Magna Carta: "forcing Kings to give / More than was fit for Subjects to receive" (345-6)

Thames: "Hasting to pay his tribute to the Sea, / Like mortal life to meet Eternity." (163-4) "such a Rise, as doth at once invite / A pleasure, and a reverence from the sight." (45-6) "O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream / My great example, as it is my theme!" (189-90) "no stupendious precipice denies / Access" (43-4)
Grongar Hill
Above River Towy (Tywi), Llangathen, S. Wales. View the rule of the mighty is short: "transient is the smile of Fate!" (88) "A various journey to the deep, / Like human life to endless sleep!" (97-8) "Content me with an humble shade, / My passions tam'd, my wishes laid" (131-2) "Thus is nature's vesture wrought, / To instruct our wand'ring thought" (99-100) "How close and small the hedges lie!" (117)
Ode on ... Eton College
Eton: for view, see note to Cooper's Hill. "To each his suff'rings: all are men, / Condemn'd alike to groan" (91-2)





gales "redolent of joy and youth, / [seem] To breathe a second spring." (19-20)



Edge Hill
7 miles N-W of Banbury. Map of battle site. Selections: The Avon at Stratford; Solihull, S. Birmingham. "In deeper murmur flows the saddening stream" (death of Shenstone: 1763)



"Or round his Leasowes' happy circuit rov'd;/ On hill and dale invoking every Muse" "The Naiads poured, enchanted with his spells" (he instructed nature) "Violets, and cuckoo-buds, and lady-smocks, / A brighter dye disclose"
Lewesdon Hill
1 mile S of Broadwindsor; overlooks Marshwood Vale, about 6 miles from the sea. Views. Also mentions: Shipton, Nethercombe, Corscombe, Sherborne "all that we behold / Is but the havoc of wide-wasting Time" (470-1) "thy pure spirit / In that illimitable gulf which bounds / Our mortal continent." (148-50)

"a path of pleasure, drawn by art / Through park or flowery garden for delight" (229-30)

"Administering sweet peace and cheerfulness" (19)

"on this height I feel the mind / Expand itself in wider liberty" (69-70

"the variegated scene, of hills / And woods and fruitful vales, and villages / Half hid in tufted orchards" (8-10)
To the River Itchen
River at Winchester and Southampton. Views "As youth, and hope's delusive gleams, flew fast" (8) "As at the meeting of some long-lost friend" (13)





"Thy crumbling margin and thy silver breast" (2)
Sonnet V. To the River Otter
Small river at Ottery St. Mary, S. Devon. View "Ah, that once more I were a careless child!" (14) "thy bright transparence . . . / Visions of childhood" (11-12) "But straight with all their tints thy waters rise" (8)



"bedded sand that, veined with various dyes" (10)
Tintern Abbey
Location. No other places mentioned (although near Ross, Goodrich, Monmouth, Tintern, Chepstow).

"somewhat of a sad perplexity" (61)

"Not for this / Faint I, nor mourn, nor murmur" (86-7)

"rolling from their mountain springs / With a sweet inland murmur" (3-4)

"rolls through all things" (103)

"I have owed to them, / In hours of weariness, sensations sweet" (27-8)

"nature never did betray / The heart that loved her" (123-4)

"the nurse, / The guide, the guardian of my heart" (110-11)

"These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts" (11)

"hardly hedgerows, little lines / Of sportive wood run wild" (16-17)

Notes to Table

1. Cooper's Hill. The following view (94K) shows Windsor Castle in the centre, Eton to the left with the River Thames flowing in front. By Joseph Farington (1747-1821) "Windsor and Eaton," 18.9 x 29.8 cm. From William Combe, An History of the Principal Rivers of Great Britain. Vol. I, An History of the River Thames (London: John and Josiah Boydell, 1794, 1796), Vol. I, facing p. 290. Library of Congress. Other sites: Runnymede (which is by the Thames at the foot of Cooper's Hill).

2. Grongar Hill. View from Aberglasney, Llangathen, John Dyer's residence, showing the edge of Grongar Hill (79K; from <http://www.gardenweek.org/journal/090799/>); about 12 miles east of Carmarthen.

3. Edge Hill. Map of Civil War battle site of 1642. Edge Hill is 7 miles N-W of Banbury in Warwickshire. For Shenstone's estate, see Leasowes site.

4. Lewesdon Hill. For views, see Lewesdon Hill. Other locations: Corscombe, and the story of Thomas Hollis (430 ff); Sherburne: see Sherborne Castle:

To Sherburne's ancient towers and rich domains,
The noble Digby's mansion . . . (440-1)

5. River Itchen. Flows from Alresford through Winchester, where Bowles walked its banks, to Southampon. See the Itchen Way; view upstream from Winchester.

6. River Otter. Flows south to the sea from Ottery St. Mary, Coleridge's birthplace. This photo (DSM) is taken about a mile south of the town, where there used to be a "crossing plank," close to "bedded sand."

7. Tintern. The poem is not situated at or near Tintern Abbey. For a selection of prints and photos of the Wye valley, see Geography (separate site).

Other comments:

1. "Cooper's Hill" (first published 1643)

Denham's poem offers praise for Charles I and his consort.

Windsor the next . . . above the Valley swells (39-40).

Windsor Castle is sited on small hill a short distance from the Thames. The "spacious plain" (227 ff.) is Windsor Castle, grazed by deer and the scene of the staghunt.

Extremes vs. contrasts, e.g.:

Tell me (my Muse) what monstrous dire offence,
What crime could any Christian King incense
To such a rage? Was't Luxury, or Lust? (117-9)

Wisely she [Nature] knew, the harmony of things,
As well as that of sounds, from discords springs. (203-4)


Is there no temperate Region can be known,
Betwixt their Frigid, and our Torrid Zone? (139-40)

Warns of excess (refers to a stag):

Great things are made, but sooner are undone. (240)

Magna Carta:

Here was that Charter seal'd (329)

But excess again:

    popular sway, by forcing Kings to give
More than was fit for Subjects to receive,
Ran to the same extreams; and one excess
Made both, by striving to be greater, less. (345-8)

2. "Grongar Hill" (1726)

Dyer has been described as the "godfather" of the picturesque movement.

Unlike "Cooper's Hill," this poem enacts the trope of retirement "Beyond the noise of busy man" (4).

The signs of power are derelict: "Old castles on the cliffs arise" ( 49) that once were "Big with the vanity of state" (87), but are now "the apartment of the toad" (78).

A little rule, a little sway,
A sunbeam in a winter's day,
Is all the proud and mighty have
Between the cradle and the grave. (89-92)

(Note how "Tintern Abbey" eschews even the ruined abbey, rather than reflecting on its dereliction as Cooper and Dyer do.)

But nature is always renewed:

Ever charming, ever new,
When will the landskip tire the view! (103-4)

But somewhat generic descriptions: "The fountain's fall, the river's flow" etc. (105 ff.). Are there places in the poem where Dyer appears to be looking at a specific scene?

3. "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" (1747)

A "revisit" poem. No lasting benefit from early love of nature:

Ah, happy hills, ah, pleasing shade,
Ah, fields belov'd in vain,
Where once my careless childhood stray'd (11-13)

although the gales seem momentarily to renew, "To breathe a second spring" (20).

The fatal passions and disasters of maturity create a radical discontinuity between youth and age:

Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
Then whirl the wretch from high (71-2)

The young are happy only because they are ignorant: "Thought would destroy their paradise" (98).

4. "Edge Hill" (1767)

Note that the epigraph to the poem (in 1784 ed.), taken from the Spectator, No 411 (by Addison), is:

Our Sight is the most perfect, and most delightful of all our senses. It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action without being tired, or satiated with its proper enjoyment.

Jago's deployment of nature is typified in this section, early in Book I, where he has just climbed a summit:

Vales, farms, towns, villas, castles, distant spires,
And hills on hills, with ambient clouds enrob'd,
In long succession court the lab'ring sight,
Lost in the bright confusion. Thus the youth,
Escap'd from painful drudgery of words,
Views the fair fields of science wide display'd (I, 47-52)

On the Avon (I, 276-304)

"mock' st the rules of the proud Stagyrite": rules of dramatic unity attributed to Aristotle; "learning's tedious toil" is also mocked. Hence native genius of Shakespeare, whose work "flow'd spontaneous from [his] tongue, / As flowers from Nature's lap." Early romantic view of untutored genius.

Solihull (III, 309-341, 354-400):

At Solihull, his education, where he was chastised at school (its walls "stain'd with infant blood"); now he fears the lash of the critic. He would direct this at "the venal tribe" (presumably the Grub Street hacks that write for hire).

His thanks to Shenstone (1714-63), an early companion at Oxford. The muses at Leasowes (his estate near Halesowen). But now he is gone, "saddening stream" etc.

Johnson in his life of Shenstone comments:

Now was excited his delight in rural pleasures, and his ambition of rural elegance: he began from this time to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters; which he did with such judgment and such fancy, as made his little domain the envy of the great, and the admiration of the skilful; a place to be visited by travellers, and copied by designers.

Also: "The pleasure of Shenstone was all in his eye; he valued what he valued merely for its looks" -- i.e., a devotee of the picturesque; Nature adapted to fit Shenstone's classical fantasy.

"On Cherwell's banks": Oxford.

"Aganippe's fount": "a celebrated fountain in Boetia, at the foot of mount Helicon. It flows into the Permessus, and is sacred to the muses, who from it were called Aganippedes." (Lemprière's Dictionary)

5. "Lewesdon Hill" (1788)

Against associationist philosophers (Hartley, Priestley):

                                who can tell
The substance and the properties of man,
As they had seen him made (153-5)

Materialists, who show "how thoughts are jogg'd out of the brain / By a mechanical impulse" (158). Cf. Wordsworth's similar criticism in The Prelude (1805): those who

Run through the history and birth of each [sensation]
As of a single independent thing. (I, 230-1)

Political aspect, the Necessitarians (like Hartley, whom Priestley edited): "Where freedom is not, there no virtue is" (169); "if that strong Necessity / Chains up our will" (183-4).

Shipwreck: refers to the loss of the Halfwell off nearby Portland Bill (197 ff).

"Now yonder high way view, wide-beaten, bare" (221). Refers to the highway from Dorchester to Bridport. Coming uphill to the highway from Shipton bottom (228): refers to Shipton Gorge, a mile below the highway two miles east of Bridport. The following description:

                                                           a cot,
O'er which the branchy trees, those sycamores,
Wave gently: at their roots a rustic bench
Invites to short refreshment (239-42)

is similar to the setting for Wordsworth's "The Ruined Cottage" (1796-7), later revised as Book I of The Excursion (1814).

Note that some of the human stories told next suggest the vanity of ambition, however noble the cause or person.

"causeless war" (254) -- probably a reference to the American war of independence, to which the Whigs were hostile.

"Patriot Prince" (267): Pasquale Paoli attempted liberation of Corsica from the French; he was expelled from Corsica in 1769.

"The stealth-approaching Vessel" (330): a reference to the smugglers on the coast. Cf. J. Meade Falkner's novel Moonfleet (1898), which is set on this coast.

"fair Elfrida" (374): her story (c. 945-1000) was told by the Dorset chronicler William of Malmsbury. She was the mother of Ethelred the Unready.

Corscombe (430) is about six miles N-E of Lewesdon Hill.

Sherburne (440). Sir Walter Raleigh fell from royal favour when he was found having an affair with Elizabeth Throckmorton in 1592; he married her and retired to his manor at Sherborne, Dorset. Here he built Sherborne Castle in 1594 (see right). He was executed in 1618 on trumped-up charges. From 1617 Sherborne was the home of the Digby family (17th century Earls of Bristol). The "foul Scot" (457) must be King James I, I think, who was hostile to Raleigh.

"the havoc of wide-wasting Time" (471): Shelleyan vision, cf. his "Triumph of Life."

Effects of sound (refers to church bells):

                             canst subtilly pervade
The yielded avenues of sense, unlock
The close affections (492-6)

Note this demotes the eye; corresponds to Ong's claim that sound is more intimate than sight:

Sight isolates, sound incorporates. Whereas sight situates the observer outside what he views, at a distance, sound pours into the hearer. . . . You can immerse yourself in hearing, in sound. There is no way to immerse yourself similarly in sight. (Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy, 1982, p. 72)

8. "Tintern Abbey"

River as life: although not directly rendered in "Tintern," cf. this passage by Wordsworth, from Essays upon Epitaphs, I (1810):

Origin and tendency are notions inseparably co-relative. Never did a child stand by the side of a running stream, pondering within himself what power was the feeder of the perpetual current, from what never-wearied sources the body of water was supplied, but he must have been inevitably propelled to follow this question by another: "Towards what abyss is it in progress? what receptacle can contain the mighty influx?" And the spirit of the answer must have been, though the word might be sea or ocean, accompanied perhaps with an image gathered from a map, or from the real object in nature -- these might have been the letter, but the spirit of the answer must have been as inevitably, -- a receptacle without bounds or dimensions; -- nothing less than infinity. We may, then, be justified in asserting, that the sense of immortality, if not a co-existent and twin birth with Reason, is among the earliest of her offspring: and we may further assert, that from these conjoined, and under their countenance, the human affections are gradually formed and opened out. (Prose Works, ed. Owen & Smyser, II, 51).

return to "Tintern" course

Document prepared October 14th 2001 / revised October 14th 2007