Wednesday, 12 November 2008

E&R 5: The Romantics

I have read:

- The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake
- Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth

I enjoyed all three pieces immensely, but my favourite is perhaps Tintern Abbey. I am surprised at my own decision here. Kubla Khan boasts fantastic language and imagery, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is incredibly appealing in its philosophy of passion and its audacious contradiction of orthodox Christian teachings. Tintern Abbey, on the other hand, is very subdued, measured and meditative. Perhaps it feels - ironically, given its subject matter - the least self-centred of the three poems. Though it essentially an extended self-reflection, Wordsworth discusses himself as constituted and subsumed by something greater; nature, and the sublime. He shares none of Blake or Coleridge's concern to paint himself, the poet, as a grand visionary.

A Close Analysis of Tintern Abbey (the first three stanzas)

The opening lines - "FIVE years have past ... and again I hear | These waters" - introduce immediately Wordsworth's central themes; nature, and the passage of time. The three occurences of "five" do as as much to stress the poet's sense of time past than the mentions of summers and winters to which he attaches them.

The entire poem is suffused with a steadiness emanating from the blank verse, and a gentleness induced by the constant assonance. Again, in the opening stanza, "waters" echoes "winters", and "mountain springs" is complemented by "murmur".

The second and third stanzas confirm the somber tone of the first, with repeated allusions to isolation; "secluded scene", "deep seclusion", "quiet of the sky", "unripe fruits ... loose themselves", "by his fire | The Hermit sits alone", "lonely rooms", "little, nameless, unremembered, acts | Of kindness and of love".

The idea expressed in the third stanza of nature's power to suspend the observer's physicality and release their "living soul" is accompanied by several meditative repetitions which work to lull the reader into a similar state; "blood", "blessed mood", "the power | Of harmony"/"the deep power of joy".