“Tintern Abbey”

We haven’t had any Wordsworth for a while, so here’s possibly his greatest poem. It was

Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,
On Revisiting The Banks Of The Wye During A Tour. July 13, 1798

I’m ashamed to admit that although it’s only 30 miles or so from Cardiff, and I’ve lived here nearly three years now, I still haven’t visited Tintern Abbey. That doesn’t stop me thinking this is deeply evocative of the place.

      FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
      Of five long winters! and again I hear
      These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
      With a soft inland murmur.–Once again
      Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
      That on a wild secluded scene impress
      Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
      The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
      The day is come when I again repose
      Here, under this dark sycamore, and view                        10
      These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
      Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
      Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
      ‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
      These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
      Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
      Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
      Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
      With some uncertain notice, as might seem
      Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,                     20
      Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
      The Hermit sits alone.
                              These beauteous forms,
      Through a long absence, have not been to me
      As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
      But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
      Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
      In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
      Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
      And passing even into my purer mind,
      With tranquil restoration:–feelings too                        30
      Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
      As have no slight or trivial influence
      On that best portion of a good man’s life,
      His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
      Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
      To them I may have owed another gift,
      Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
      In which the burthen of the mystery,
      In which the heavy and the weary weight
      Of all this unintelligible world,                                 40
      Is lightened:–that serene and blessed mood,
      In which the affections gently lead us on,–
      Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
      And even the motion of our human blood
      Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
      In body, and become a living soul:
      While with an eye made quiet by the power
      Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
      We see into the life of things.
                                       If this
      Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft–                        50
      In darkness and amid the many shapes
      Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
      Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
      Have hung upon the beatings of my heart–
      How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
      O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
      How often has my spirit turned to thee!
        And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
      With many recognitions dim and faint,
      And somewhat of a sad perplexity,                               60
      The picture of the mind revives again:
      While here I stand, not only with the sense
      Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
      That in this moment there is life and food
      For future years. And so I dare to hope,
      Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
      I came among these hills; when like a roe
      I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
      Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
      Wherever nature led: more like a man                            70
      Flying from something that he dreads, than one
      Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
      (The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
      And their glad animal movements all gone by)
      To me was all in all.–I cannot paint
      What then I was. The sounding cataract
      Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
      The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
      Their colours and their forms, were then to me
      An appetite; a feeling and a love,                              80
      That had no need of a remoter charm,
      By thought supplied, nor any interest
      Unborrowed from the eye.–That time is past,
      And all its aching joys are now no more,
      And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
      Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
      Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
      Abundant recompence. For I have learned
      To look on nature, not as in the hour
      Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes                    90
      The still, sad music of humanity,
      Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
      To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
      A presence that disturbs me with the joy
      Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
      Of something far more deeply interfused,
      Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
      And the round ocean and the living air,
      And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
      A motion and a spirit, that impels                             100
      All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
      And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
      A lover of the meadows and the woods,
      And mountains; and of all that we behold
      From this green earth; of all the mighty world
      Of eye, and ear,–both what they half create,
      And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
      In nature and the language of the sense,
      The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
      The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul                  110
      Of all my moral being.
                              Nor perchance,
      If I were not thus taught, should I the more
      Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
      For thou art with me here upon the banks
      Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
      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,                          120
      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
      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                    130
      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. Therefore let the moon
      Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
      And let the misty mountain-winds be free
      To blow against thee: and, in after years,
      When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
      Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
      Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,                       140
      Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
      For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
      If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
      Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
      Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
      And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance–
      If I should be where I no more can hear
      Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
      Of past existence–wilt thou then forget
      That on the banks of this delightful stream                    150
      We stood together; and that I, so long
      A worshipper of Nature, hither came
      Unwearied in that service: rather say
      With warmer love–oh! with far deeper zeal
      Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
      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 thy sake!

So it doesn’t have anything to do with astronomy or cosmology, except for the “unintelligible world” (line 40) of STFC…

48 Responses to ““Tintern Abbey””

  1. I know what you mean. I grew up not a huge distance from Cardiff, but seem to have missed the fact that the country-side is filled with ruined castles, monasteries and the sites of roman forts and towns.

    Now when I go back with the kids, I find I’m exploring all the places I should have as a child. I’m still flabbergasted that I never visited the spectacular
    Carreg Cennen

  2. telescoper Says:

    I think it’s the “proximity effect”. The closer you live to something the less inclined you are to go and visit it. It was worse for me when I lived in London – there were so many things amazing things I never saw when I lived there but have looked at as a tourist many years later..

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    I got to know – and appreciate – London when most of the friends I had made at Cambridge left and got jobs there while I stayed on to begin my PhD. I visited them about fortnightly, often going down on a Friday morning and spending the day seeing London’s tourist sights (which were new to me as a Mancunian) before meeting for the usual beer and curry in the evening. After a while I realised that I had seen more of the things make London special than many people living there. I also got to know quite rapidly how its areas fit together, since friends were dotted round the place.

    On arrival in Sydney for a postdoc, I used the weekends to get to know that fantastic city too, largely on the racing bicycle that my prof kindly lent me. Sydney is hilly and I kept fit in those days.


    • telescoper Says:

      I remember, one Christmas day, having to walk from my flat in Bethnal Green to a friend’s in the Elephant & Castle because there was no public transport. I was amazed how little time it took on foot, but also walked past a load of interesting things I’d never seen before. After that experience, I started walking whenever I could.

      I’ve never been to Sydney but would love to go, one day.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: An outstanding book, which deserves to be better known, is “The art and architecture of London” by Ann Saunders. It covers the place area by area.

  5. telescoper Says:

    When I left Queen Mary in 1998, I got some wonderful gifts from the staff there. One of them was an Encyclopedia of the East End which is absolutely fascinating. I realised that dozens of important historical landmarks were within a few miles of where I lived and I’d walked past them many times without recognizing them. There’s a lot more to the East End than Jack the Ripper and the Kray Twins!

    I wish I’d bought that book when I moved there, rather than getting it when I left.

  6. Rhodri Evans Says:


    It was only in 2006 that I went to Tintern Abbey for the first time, so don´t be too hard on yourself. But it is well worth the visit. Go in winter when the sun is low in the sky, it looks very dramatic in such light.

  7. Not wanting to say it’s a small world, but there are some interesting links between Peter, Anton and I. I did my undergrad at QM and PhD in Cambridge, and I type this while at home in the Hills-district of Sydney.

  8. Anton Garrett Says:


    Which hills – Surry, Terrey? I don’t remember the Hills by themselves, although I remember The Hill at the Sydney Cricket Ground, now sadly seated over.


  9. Pennant Hills

  10. Bryn Jones Says:

    It’s not unusual for people who have worked in research and academia to have similar experiences, because of the relatively small number of universities with particular academic specialisations. I can match some of the coincidences above: I lived in Pontcanna, Cardiff, as a PhD student, the place where Peter lives now; I worked for a short period in Cambridge; Peter and I both lived in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, overlapping for a few years, although I didn’t ever visit his house there. I’ve visited Sydney several times. And I’m currently writing this in my flat in Bethnal Green, East London!

    If people do visit Tintern, remember that, as well as being a religious institution, the abbey served as an academic foundation where scholarship was pursued. The abbeys and monasteries of England and Wales had great libraries which were trashed in the cultural vandalism of the 1530s. British culture is far poorer for the loss of the intellectual treasures that were once preserved in them.

  11. Anton Garrett Says:


    Complicated issue. There was a lot of needless cultural vandalism in the Reformation in Britain, but it was the start of a return to Christianity as a voluntary religion (matching Jesus’ own preaching) rather than a compulsory – and therefore inauthentic – version.


  12. Anton Garrett Says:


  13. Anton Garrett Says:

    Your blog clock hasn’t changed its hour…

  14. telescoper Says:

    I just remembered you have to do this by hand. Should be OK now.

  15. and to top it all off, my son’s name is Bryn.

  16. Bryn Jones Says:

    No, I’m not his son: my father doesn’t live in Sydney.

    And in response to Anton, yes, the Reformation did bring people to a voluntary, more genuine form of Christianity, but the irony is that it was achieved only generations after the Reformation was imposed by force. The loss of the scholarship of the monasteries, particularly the libraries, was a tragedy.

  17. Anton Garrett Says:


    I agree that it took a long time, from the start of the Reformation, for Christianity to be seen as a voluntary faith. More accurately, it took time for other forms of Christianity than the ‘established’ one not to be persecuted, whether the Established church was Catholic or protestant. The bad habit of concatenating totalitarianism with Christianity, which originated with Constantine centuries after Christ, took time to wither.

    Speaking as a Christian I’m actually against monasticism. In Christian life your praying informs your doing, and your doing informs your praying. The basis of monasticism is prayer without deeds. (Thankfully many monks did go out into the world to help people; I don’t mean them.) Jesus of Nazareth often withdrew into the desert to pray, but he always returned to people, to do. He told his followers to behave similarly. And he showed no interest in the Jewish monks of his time, the Essene sect (who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls, incidentally).

    I don’t know enough about Welsh history to comment, but Henry VIII trashed the monasteries in England and English scholarship did not seem to suffer.


  18. Not quite, my son is Bryn Lewis, rather than Bryn Jones (and I’m guessing Lewis is a little younger than Jones).

    Unfortunately, where we live, his name is pronounced Brian by the locals.

  19. telescoper Says:

    There seems to be a Welsh tradition of men going by their second given name rather than their first. Bryn Jones, for example, is John Bryn Jones (if memory serves). Do you know the origin of this, or is it such a longstanding tradition that nobody knows?

  20. Alas, I am an exception – I would be a Francis rather than a Cusp.

  21. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Peter – yes it is a long standing tradition for Welsh people (men, not women for some reason) to go by their second name. I was given the name John Rhodri Evans by my parents, my father is John Colin Evans and has always gone by the name of Colin, and my grandfather was David Emlyn Evans and went by the name of Emlyn. In my class in school about half of the boys were known by their second name. I don´t know the origin of this trandition. I dropped my John when I was 18 and so the only place it now exists is on my birth certificate, and for some bizzare reason also on my degree certificate from Imperial. On EVERYTHING else, including my passport, I am just Rhodri Evans.

    As I´m sure you know Peter, the Welsh didn´t have surnames per se until about the 16th Century. We were all “so and so” ap “so and so”, so I would have been Rhodri ap Colin ap Emlyn ap …. etc When the English foisted surnames on the Welsh in the 16th Century (or whenever it actually was) they just chose the most common first names and added, in most cases, an s to them. That is why there are so many Jonses and Evanses and Davieses in Wales. Evans is from Iwan or Ioan (both forms of John), Jones is also from Ioan/Iwan, and Davies obviously from the anglicisation of Dafydd, the Welsh version of David.

  22. telescoper Says:

    Does that mean the “ApJ” was originally a welsh journal?

  23. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Well it was founded by George Ellery Hale, who I am sure was of Welsh origins 🙂

    “ap” is a contraction of “mab” which means “son”, so “ap” is son-of.

  24. Anton Garrett Says:

    Rhodri, Peter,

    The historical change of pronunciation of the letter J in English (from the way we nowadays pronounce ‘Y’, to the modern way of pronouncing ‘J’) is an interesting phenomenon. It hasn’t happened in (other) Germanic languages, where ‘Johann’ is still pronounced ‘Yohann’ for instance. The change seems to have occurred not earlier than the 17th century, because the King James Bible (1611) spells the name of its central character ‘Jesus’ even though his Hebrew name began with the Y-sound, and languages other than English still get this right today. I’d be interested in the when and the why of this change in pronunciation.


  25. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Jesus is Iesu in Welsh – pronounced “yes see”. Interesting Anton…

  26. Anton Garrett Says:

    The original Greek of the New Testament got the first letter of his name right, as did the Latin ‘Vulgate’ translation used in Western Europe for 1000 years, and – to my knowledge – all other languages. The King James Bible translators wrote ‘J’ and would have pronounced it correctly as ‘Y’, but the pronunciation of ‘J’ in English changed sometime later, and I don’t know when or why.

    As for his name, it is correctly pronounced Yashooa or Yeshooa. (The most common English spelling among Hebrew-lilterate persons is ‘Yeshua’.) It drifted to ‘Jesus’ because vowels are always fairly interchangeable, likewise ‘s’ and ‘sh’, and -s at the end is a consequence of differing grammatical conventions in Greek and Hebrew.


  27. Bryn Jones Says:

    To respond to Anton’s points, yes, I strongly agree that it took time for Christianity to escape the totalitarianism of monarchs, states and establishments. And the criticism of monasticism is right, although some foundations did interact with broader society more than others.

    Wales did not have universities in the mediaeval or renaissance periods (largely because of political upheaval and a lack of royal patronage), and the dissolution of the monasteries meant the end of organised scholarship. The loss of the libraries was an intellectual catastrophe. Cistercian foundations were particularly important, and Tintern was one of these, although they had declined greatly in size by the time of the dissolution.

    Turning to the issue of names, I have been surprised by the difference in attitudes to names between England and Wales. It seems that in Wales middle names are commonly used in preference to first names, and without much thought or concern. However, I have found a strong expectation in England that people use first names, and rarely use second names. The difference surprises me.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’ve always been surprised that so many people have more than one given name anyway. If you only use one, why have any others? I don’t have a middle name, and neither did my father or his father.

      It is considered quite unusual to have only two initials. In fact, the old starlink system wouldn’t allow usernames with fewer than 3 letters, so I had to acquire an “X”. I think Andy Lawrence suffered the same indignity…

  28. Bryn Jones Says:

    Those middle X’s in Starlink user names were because people did not have middle names?

    I had always wondered why there were so many people with middle names like Xerxes and Xavier.

  29. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Yes Bryn, when you and I were doing our PhDs we had to have three letter user names. My initial is not “R” but “Rh”, a two character letter in the Welsh alphabet which comes between “r” and “s”. So my username has always been “rhe” with the “e” for Evans.

    There are several two character letters in the Welsh alphabet, “ch”, “dd”, “ff”, “ng”, “ll”, “rh” and “th”. Have I forgotten any Bryn?

  30. Bryn Jones Says:

    What is more, I found it easier to keep the same username to maintain consistency between computers. Therefore my old Starlink username on a VAX computer in 1988 passed from computer to computer, and I am using it for the account on my own laptop used to post this!

    In the Welsh alphabet, there is also “ph” as a double-character letter. (I had to check that.)

  31. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Yes “ph”. I had a gut feeling (or should that be “pheeling”?) I had forgotten at least one. Some, like “ph” only occur as a mutation. And there’s a whole other area for discussion, why does Welsh (and other Celtic languages too I think) have mutations? Why does “merch” (the Welsh for “girl”) become “ferch” after e.g. the definite article “y”?And are Celtic languages the only ones that do this?

  32. Rhodri Evans Says:


    By the way, in Welsh crosswords two character letters like ch and dd go in a single box.

  33. Anton Garrett Says:

    Does MS-WORD have a Welsh spellcheck option? I’d be interested in the progress in the number of languages supported with
    successive versions.

  34. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Spell checking is VERY difficult in Welsh because of the mutations. Merch (girl) can be merch or ferch depending on its context. It’s worse with words starting with the letters c,p and t. Cymru (Wales) can be plain old Cymru or Gymru (as in Croeso i Gymru – welcome to Wales) or Nghymru or Chymru. Tad (father) can be tad, dad, nhad or thad!

  35. Bryn Jones Says:

    To answer Anton’s question, yes there is a Welsh-language spell checker for Microsoft software (and for
    as well), developed by the University of Wales Bangor in collaboration with Microsoft (and with the open source community), sponsored by the National Assembly for Wales. (Should any readers of these comments be interested in exploring this further, the software is available at the Meddal project.

    Welsh is a very unusual language for having the mutations of the initial letter of words. I don’t think the other Celtic languages have it.

  36. Rhodri Evans Says:


    I’m 99% sure the Brythonic Celtic languages (Welsh, Cornish and Bretton) all have mutations. Not sure about the Goedelic ones.

  37. Rhodri Evans Says:

    I wish I knew more about the other Celtic languages. It’s amazing how many words Welsh and Bretton have in common. They are much more similar than e.g. English and German. My ex father in law speaks Bretton. The numbers from 1 to 10 are identical although pronounced slightly differently as Bretton pronunciation has been influenced by French. This is most obvious in the word “du” (black). In Welsh it’s pronounced “dee” but in Bretton “doo” just like the French the male form of “du” (of the).

  38. Bryn Jones Says:


    Yes, you’re right, most of the Celtic languages have mutations, both Brythonic and Goedelic. I wasn’t aware of that previously. Cornish and Breton look completely unlike Welsh to me on first sight of some text, but a translation immediately reveals the similarities to Welsh.

  39. Anton Garrett Says:

    I thought ‘Goedelic’ referred to mathematical logic until I read this exchange. Could you define this term and Brythonic for those who are interested but ignorant please? Thanks for the spellcheck info.

  40. Bryn Jones Says:

    In 1947 Kurt Gödel performed an analysis of the vowels within common words in various languages, describing the relations between them in terms of set theory. Some languages fitted a simple representation, and are known as Goedelic, or Gödelic. In 1954 Robert Brython showed that the vowel characteristics of other languages could never be represented in this form, and those languages are known as Brythonic.

    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that on April 1st. The truth is that there are two classes of Celtic languages: Gaelic-type known as Goedelic, and those of ancient British origin known as Brythonic.)

  41. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Yes the Goedelic Celtic languages are Irish and Scottish Gaelic and Manx. The Brythonic branch are Welsh, Cornish and Bretton. The Brythonic languages separated from each other in I think the 5th Century. I first heard Cornish in 1980 at the Welsh National Eisteddfod. It sounded to me like Welsh being badly pronounced and I could understand it. Bretton is not comprehensible to a Welsh speaker even though I’d say well over half the words are quite similar. I put this down mainly to VERY different pronunciation.

    I heard once that the words which differ least between languages of a common origin are parts of the body. So apparently even though the numbers from 1 to 10 in Welsh and Irish are quite different the words for e.g. head or leg are apparently quite similar.

    When did the Brythonic and Goedelic branches separate?

  42. Rhodri Evans Says:

    To return to one of the original topics in this thread, I think it is very common to not bother visiting things on your doorstep. I grew up in Pembrokeshire which boasts some of the most spectacular coastline anywhere, yet I barely knew it until I moved away and started seeing the place through the eyes of a visitor. In three years at Imperial I didn’t visit the science museum once even though it was less than 400m from the physics dept. In 4 years in Cardiff doing my PhD I didn’t visit Cardiff castle or Castell Coch once.

  43. […] not one of his better known poems,  was written in 1799, just a year or so after this great Tintern Abbey; it deals with similar themes and contains several memorable passages and turns of phrase. I […]

  44. […] it was written in the period 1803-1806. In the poem, Wordsworth returns to a theme he developed in Tintern Abbey, which provides an interesting contrast with this later masterpiece. You might disagree with […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: