Blog Composed after Visiting Tintern Abbey, 12 October 2017
“These beauteous forms, Through a long absence, have not been to me As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye…” – Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798 by William Wordsworth
“These beauteous forms”? Yes, I think Wordsworth was correct. As I walked through the ruined, gothic arches imagining the former glory of Tintern Abbey prior to its destruction in 1536, Wordsworth’s description of these beauteous forms written into the lines of his poem inspired by Tintern Abbey and the nature that surrounds it holds true. Tintern Abbey began as a religious center, home to one of the greatest libraries in the British Isles. But, following Henry VIII separation from the Catholic Church, he ordered the destruction of catholic monasteries throughout his realm. He left nothing of Tintern Abbey but atrophic arches and disintegrated staircases.
So, this had me thinking, how inspirational that something once magnificent but left in complete ruins become the birthplace of a work of literary genius that in turn inspired literature through the ages? If the Abbey was once a center of religious life, today it would essentially be dead, and yet it continues to breathe life into profound literature and human thought.
Tintern Abbey and the surrounding nature left a profound impact on Wordsworth, and then later, his sister both upon their initial visit as well as the ensuing years later. While recalling his memory of the Abbey he writes,
“that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
The Abbey and its surrounding nature literally lifted the burden of life from his shoulders. He writes of the beauty of the Sycamore trees, the peaceful river Wye running nearby, and the rich tranquility found around the Abbey. He has such a love for this place that was reduced to a shadow of its former magnificent self and yet is the inspiration for such solace.
As I wandered through the ruins of Tintern Abbey, as the gray clouds passed over head, and the rain fell into my hair, and the sounds of the river ran in the background, I felt the same sort of reverence and peace that Wordsworth and his sister felt. As Wordsworth so eloquently puts, “… I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused” There is a paradoxical feeling of grandeur and humility that lies within those ruins. To have once been so grand and important and then to have fallen so far but still maintain this reverent magnificence offers solace to me. It was so incredibly thought provoking that a place that has been left to almost nothing can evoke inspiration that somehow feels like everything.
From those who occupied the Abbey at its height, to Wordsworth and his Sister in 1798 and even still to the 41 Brigham Young University students wandering it’s grounds today, Tintern Abbey, although impoverished has served as a birthplace for inspiration and soul searching for centuries.