Wordsworth's Poetical Works

The Descriptive and Reflective elements of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" and Gray's "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College"

In his article On Reading Romantic Poetry, L. J. Swingle identifies the Romantic poet’s tendency to “think into the human heart” by using rustic description to explore “the naked dignity of man”. This analysis certainly holds true for William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey and Thomas Gray’s Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, two eighteenth century prospect poems that examine humanity and man’s changing relationship with nature through an expressive overview of a place of emotional significance. Both poems, written during a period of considerable upheaval in the countryside, place an emphasis on physical, temporal and metaphorical distance in order to examine complex questions relating to the poet’s past and future. In this way, the descriptive and reflective elements of the texts interact with each other, enabling the poets to poignantly communicate ideas of memory, loss, and, ultimately, the restorative power of nature.

The first stanza of Tintern Abbey imitates the process of recollection by conveying the narrator’s experience of the landscape before him in intricate detail. Wordsworth delights in depicting the tranquil serenity of his surroundings, appearing to savour such particulars as the “soft inland murmur” of the...

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