From a Fifth Year — Tintern Abbey and The University of Arkansas

Five years have passed; five falls, with length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These bells, ringing every hour from Old Mains tower…

“Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798,” written by William Wordsworth is a poem that makes people reflect on an instance in time in which they have a realization on who they once were. In the poem Wordsworth is reflecting back to his time both physically and mentally spent at the Abbey in 1793 while on a visit in 1798. Wordsworth remembers being at the Abbey five years prior, but this time something seems changed to him.

Wordsworth begins his poem deep in thought, “Five years have passed; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters! and again I hear / These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs” (1-3) This is the beginning of Wordsworth’s realization on the death of his past self.

Everything and nothing has seemingly changed for not only Wordsworth but me as well. Five years doesn’t seem like a long time and when the years are passing and a person is living them, it’s like no time is passing at all, but suddenly they have passed. It’s been five years since my parents dropped me as a fresh and naive 18-year-older anxiously waiting for the next part of my life to start — for MY life to start. And now I am here with another chapter about to close. It’s easy to remember the feelings and behaviors I used to express, but while I was expressing them I didn’t think about the fact that someday I might be nostalgic for them. In “Tintern Abbey” Wordsworth is keenly aware of who he once was and how he behaved.

The Abbey hasn’t changed as we all know, but Wordsworth has as well as his sense of self. He recalls the youth he once experienced at the Abbey and expresses this, “Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first / I came among these hills;” (Wordsworth 67-68)

Wordsworth is saying that there was a time when he didn’t appreciate all that the Abbey was. In his youth he played around and had fun but he didn’t truly appreciate the Abbey in the way he feels it should be now.

Wordsworth is a Romantic poet who is known for writing about the egotistical sublime. He takes nature and begins to write about it and most always ends up making it about himself. He expresses his love of nature and himself, “For I have learned / To look on nature, not as in the hour” (89-90). I heard a sentence that I believe Wordsworth would very much have appreciated yesterday while listening to Nothing much happens; bedtime stories for grown-ups, “I remembered a moment from years earlier that regularly came to mind when I’d said to a friend that I’d felt the strong need to be out in nature. He’d said, with kindness in his voice “You are nature”” (Nicolai). I’d like to believe that Wordsworth was well aware of this.

The still, sad music of humanity,” (89-92)

While Wordsworth is expressing his love of himself and nature he also manages to mention humanity, “Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes / The still, sad music of humanity,” (89-92). He realizes that youth cannot be sustained because through the human condition people experience love, loss, and pain. (Rawes 97).

According to Thomas Brennan the usage of Tintern Abbey is an artful comparison for Wordsworth’s youth. The building was long abandoned in 1536 but still managed to stay intact to some degree with nature beginning to reclaim it’s property. Brennan believes that the ruin can be viewed as the central metaphor for Wordsworth’s understanding of himself.

“Though he would like to believe that nature has provided him with a framework for integrating his past youthful self with his present disappointed one, this hope proves false. He does not find the glory of his own previous relationship to nature in the ruin before him. Just as the visual culture that was England in the late Middle Ages cannot be recreated today, so Wordsworth knows that he cannot resurrect his early life experience from the bits and pieces that memory yields. Wordsworth’s youthful past, like the Gothic glory that was Tintern Abbey, has been irrevocably lost” (Brennan 15). 

Who I am has certainly changed. I walk to class more sure of myself and less afraid of others and what they might think. I’ve gained confidence, respect, and my own sense of nostalgia for who I once was. I say I’d go back and do it all again if I could, but I know this is a lie. I’m content with my life. Sure, there are things that I wish I could change, but the simple truth is that I can’t. So I will continue forward and try to appreciate the beauty of the future, the beauty of the future nostalgia I will inevitably feel for a place I have been to dozens of times. As I walk these sidewalks, I know there will be a last time, but I’ll never be sure when that time is.

Wordsworth isn’t longing to go back to his youthful self, but he does acknowledge the differences within himself. “In “Tintern Abbey,” the answer to life is found in living — not living in the past in memory nor in a state of frozen time” (Peters 78).

I know that five years ago the University didn’t have the same buildings as it does now and that new names are forever etched in stone, but it’s not the materialistic things that have changed the most, instead it’s me. I used to believe I had it so hard, that college would be the hardest thing I’d endure, in some ways, I long to still believe that. To go back and continue being that same 18 -year- old girl, but I know that I never can for I have experienced love and loss as all humans eventually do. I’ve triumphed; but maybe more importantly, I have failed. I’ve grown up, but I still have a lot of growing to do. In the poem Wordsworth mentions his “dearest friend, his sister Dorothy” and he talks down to her despite her being only a year and a half younger than him.

He says, “My dear, dear Friend and in thy voice I catch

the language of my former heart, and read

My former pleasures in the shooting lights

Of thy wild eyes. Oh! Yet a little while

May I behold in thee what I was once,

My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,

Knowing that nature never did betray

The heart that loved her; ‘tis her privilege,

Through all the years of this our life, to lead” (117-125)

I can relate to this feeling Wordsworth was expressing as a fifth year. I realize that I don’t have all the answers and that some freshmen come in and truly have everything figured out more completely than I did or do to this day, but I can’t help but feel a sense of maturity that they sometimes lack as I know I did and still do. Wordsworth ends the poem with this,

“That after many wanderings, many years

Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,

And this green pastoral landscape, were to me

More dear, both for themselves, and for they sake” (157-160).

He’s fully appreciating the beauty of Tintern Abbey not because he thinks it’s beautiful but because it actually is. He’s gone out and experienced life and come back to something he thought he’d already experienced fully. Everyone has a Tintern Abbey usually multiple Tintern Abbey’s, something they don’t realize is so beatiful or wonderful until they come back to it. I know that even though I am experiencing Wordsworth’s feelings for Tintern now with Old Main and the University that I’ll have a similar experience five years from now as well.

…”That after many adventures, many years

Of absence, these maple tress and long sidewalks,

And this vast lawn, were to me

More dear, both for themselves, and for thy sake.”

Works Cited

Brennan, Thomas J. “Wordsworth’s TINTERN ABBEY.” The Explicator, vol. 63, no. 1, 2004, pp. 13–15. ProQuest Central , https://0-search-proquest-com.library.uark.edu/docview/216776628/fulltext/B70035CEC1B8454FPQ/1?accountid=8361.

Dayes, Edward. Tintern Abbey & the River Wye. 1794, Whitworth Art Gallery, The Universityof Manchester, Manchester. Wales Online, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/gallery/7159676. Accessed 7 Jan. 2017 .

Nicolai, Kathryn. “Nothin Much Happens.” Nothin Much Happens, Curious Cast, 6 Oct. 2019, https://www.nothingmuchhappens.com.

Peter, John G. “Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey.” The Explicator, vol. 61, no. 2, 2003, pp. 77–78. ProQuest, https://0-search-proquest-com.library.uark.edu/docview/216776456/fulltextPDF/C7D8CDF40F34A7BPQ/1?accountid=8361.

Rawes, Alan. “Romantic Form and New Historicism: Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’.” Romanticism and Form, 1 Jan. 2008, pp. 95–115. Illiad, https://uark.illiad.oclc.org/illiad/AFU/illiad.dll?Action=10&Form=75&Value=1288336.

Wordsworth, William. “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798.” The Longman Anthology British Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2A, Pearson Education, 2003, pp. 426–433.