Tintern Abbey
Viewed by Wordsworth and Turner

Any person who knows me is cognizant that I love the arts whether visual or written. When I was in high school, my class had to memorize a hundred lines of poetry or prose each semester. Granted, even as a senior, I stood in front of Mrs. Davis filled with fear and trembling. While the selections that we picked were totally our choice, it was a less than pleasant introduction to the arts. Since then, I can recite portions of prose or poetry often quite close to the actual words. This is such an example from Silas Marner, by George Eliot.

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.

That was my first blessing having to do with the arts, and that was six decades ago. I wish every person had had that requirement. I’m a different person due to that formative educational experience.

My second blessing was at the end of my junior years after taking a 10-hour required class called The Arts during that year at Muskingum College. My professor, Louie Palmer, asked me to be his teaching associate in my senior year, which meant that I sat through class again, taught several subsections each week, and wrote and graded the midterm and finals for both semesters. Any form of the arts, I love.

What intrigues me in the present-day is how the various art forms can morph together. Case in point. What do William Wordsworth and William Turner have in common other than the name, William? For one thing, they were both fascinated by Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey

Both Wordsworth and Turner visited Tintern Abbey twice within a five-year period in the 1790s. Since then, millions of ordinary tourists, including me, have stood within the remaining walls of that famous abbey and monastery. It is located in Wales and is their greatest architectural treasure. It would have been a more grandiose building had Henry VIII not declared the Dissolution of the Monasteries. On September 3, 1536, the abbey and monastery were sacked and anything of value was sent off to London. For over two centuries, it simply remained, as time took more from the complex due to age. Tintern Abbey’s resurrection was well underway during the time of both Wordsworth and Turner’s two visits. This is Turner’s first painting of Tintern Abbey.

Turner painted this in 1794.

It was on July 13, 1798 that Wordsworth returned for the second time and wrote Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey. He wrote this long poem in unrhymed iambic pentameter and is divided into three different sections.

The first section addresses the tranquility that the area held for him. Whether it was the “dark sycamore” or the “wreaths of smoke” sent skyward by some hermit who sits alone.

The second section is about the first time he had been there as a youth. He remembered that he was careless and not focused upon the beauty of nature. In the time between his visits, he has come of age and is tied now “anchored” to nature. Wordsworth concluded that there is a power, a “harmony, and the deep power of joy,” which he sees now but missed during his first trip.

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
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.

Finally, the last third is Wordsworth’s eulogy to Dorothy, his beloved sister. Wordsworth calls her “my dearest Friend” who grasps his understanding of nature. In a sense, he has come of age and is aware of his closeness to his sister and how closely they are related to nature.

The world changed for both artists on their second trip to Tintern Abbey. Turner painted Tintern Abbey in the midst of fog by painting a gray rectangle in the middle of the painting.

Turner’s view of Tintern Abbey in 1798

This brings us to our present-day two centuries later. It seems to me that if we are true to ourselves, what we might have perceived as reality morphs, over time, to a far clearer Weltanschauung (worldview). It is true for me as I walk down the yellow brick road of my life. My most important mentor, Bobby Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

“I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

This a series of pictures of Tintern Abbey.