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- Along with
the poems mentioned in the introduction to
this topic, such as Wordsworth's Tintern
Abbey (NAEL 8, 2.258), Coleridge's This
Lime-Tree Bower My Prison (NAEL 8, 2.428)
and Frost at Midnight (NAEL 8, 2.464),
Shelley's Alastor (NAEL 8, 2.745)
and Mont Blanc (NAEL 8, 2.762),
Byron's Childe Harold (NAEL 8, 2.617),
and Keats's To Autumn (NAEL 8, 2.925),
numerous other writings from Blake to John
Clare contain detailed descriptions of nature.
Which among these seem influenced by the
period's interest in the picturesque?
Do any seem the products of direct observation
rather than literary convention? Which, in
addition to the pictorial effects, seem to
be of serious philosophical or religious
of landscape may stress topography, but they
must also acknowledge the influence of time.
A writer may emphasize the time of the day
or of the year, or ponder time in the grander
sense of Antiquity, which Wordsworth calls "the
co-partner and sister of Nature."
- Which levels of time are emphasized in the texts by Gray, Gilpin, Wordsworth and Keats?
How do these different emphases affect the way we imagine and respond
to the landscapes they describe?
- What effects are produced when time is considered in relation both
to the landscape and to the span of human life, as in Tintern Abbey (NAEL
8, 2.258), The Ruined Cottage (NAEL 8, 2.280), the
Lucy poems (NAEL 8, 2.274–77), or any of Coleridge's "Conversation
- Both natives
and tourists could be accused of failing
to recognize the power of landscape. The
former were too familiar with what had always
surrounded them to appreciate it, while the
latter were too preoccupied with self-conscious
and worldly concerns to look around them.
Writers on landscape were thus concerned
to emphasize the superiority of their point
of view, be it that of a native or of a newcomer.
- How do Gray and Gilpin draw
attention to the superiority of their perspective as tourists to that
of the natives of the spots they visit?
- How does Wordsworth emphasize his status as a native in his Guide
to the Lakes, and how does this enhance his authority? To
what extent does Wordsworth in Book First of The Prelude relate
his poetic destiny to the landscape of his childhood (NAEL 8, 2.324–38)?
- In Frost at Midnight (NAEL 8, 2.464), Coleridge contrasts
the scenes of his London childhood with those which his infant son will
know as a native of the Lake District. How does the relationship between
father and son complicate that between newcomer and native?
- While the
Romantics celebrated the power of individual
perception, they also attributed power to
the things they perceived, most particularly
by trying to locate in nature some "living
- How do the writers collected in this topic attribute animation and
power to the objects of their vision? What makes the landscapes they
describe especially qualified as embodiments of the "living principle"?
- Does John Ruskin's denunciation Of the Pathetic Fallacy (NAEL
8, 2.1322) strike you as a valid critique of the conventions of Romantic
nature poetry? Why or why not?
- In This
Lime-Tree Bower My Prison (NAEL 8, 2.428)
Coleridge consoles himself for being unable
to join his friends on an expedition to
view spectacular scenery by concluding
That Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty!
- What role does this poem leave for the Romantic landscape in its most
spectacular and sublime?
- How do Love and Beauty come to be associated here? Do the passages
in this topic offer precedents for this association? If not, how do you
think Coleridge developed it?
- Touring the
landscapes of Britain was a social activity,
as the texts in this topic reveal. For instance, Gray and Keats not
only travel with companions but present their
travels in letters to distant loved ones.
Yet most of the great Romantic nature poems
emphasize the experience of the solitary
- Critics have frequently expressed impatience with Wordsworth's
tendency to reduce even other people to objects of the poet's vision,
a tendency that Keats famously called "the wordsworthian or egotistical
sublime" (NAEL 8, 2.945). How does this tendency affect your reading
of a poem like Tintern Abbey, in which, despite all the apparent
solitude of the first half of the poem, Dorothy turns out to have been
present all along?
- How is the solitary mind behind the great poems related to "the
mind" which is the object of Burke's aesthetic
theory? Does Burke provide insight into why the Romantic poets did
not regard two minds as better than one?
- Within one
paragraph of his letter to his brother, Keats both
condemns descriptions as "bad at all
times" and declares his determination "henceforth
[to] write, more than ever."
- What can you surmise about Keats's objections to descriptions?
What, if not description, can be considered to constitute "that
mass of beauty which is harvested from these fine materials"? How
do Keats's odes (NAEL 8, 2.901–09) help you to understand what
might be meant by this phrase?
- Do any of the other writers in this topic register a similar uneasiness
with description and, if so, how?
of both the picturesque and the sublime emphasized
the prospect and the large view over the
detail and the small view.
- How do the entries from Dorothy Wordsworth's journals (NAEL 8, 2.390–402)
present an exception to this rule? What is gained by this focus on the
- Critics have often interpreted this aesthetic of the miniature and
the detail as typical of women's artistic production in the period.
Do you find this interpretation persuasive? Why or why not? Consider
the works of other female poets of the period, such as Anna Laetitia
Barbauld (NAEL 8, 2.26), Charlotte Smith (NAEL 8, 2.39), Joanna Baillie (NAEL
8, 2.212), and Felicia Dorothea Hemans (NAEL 8, 2.864). Do they bear out this
- Despite the
prominence of visual conventions like the
picturesque, the Romantic landscape cannot
be limited to the visual. It is a place of
textures, smells, even tastes, but only sound
has a dramatic presence strong enough to
compete with the visual. Indeed, given poetry's
affinity with music, sound may even have
a privileged position in Romantic poetry.
- How do poems like Wordsworth's The Solitary Reaper (NAEL
8, 2.314) and Shelley's To a Sky-Lark (NAEL 8, 2.817)
organize landscapes around singing figures? What difference does visibility
(in the case of the reaper) or invisibility (in the case of the sky-lark)
- How does Burke's analysis of the sublime shed
light on the appeal of sound to Romantic poets?
- In two famous
lines from Book Eleven of The Prelude,
Wordsworth recalled the exultation of the
early days of the French Revolution: "Bliss
was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be
young was very Heaven!" (NAEL 8, 2.374).
Interestingly, the no-longer-young Wordsworth
embraced conservative politics, a change
which could be seen by the second generation
of Romantic poets as a betrayal of nature.
- How are Keats's disappointments over
Wordsworth's politics and his wonder at the landscape of the Lake
District played out in his letter to his brother? How does Keats perceive
the older poet's relation to that landscape?
- In Shelley's sonnet To Wordsworth (NAEL 8, 2.744),
how do images of nature function in the critique of Wordsworth's
- Consider Shelley's Ode to the West Wind (NAEL 8, 2.772)
in the light of more explicitly political poems like England in 1819 (NAEL
8, 2.771) and A Song: Men of England (NAEL 8, 2.770). How for Shelley
do images of natural change come to stand for other kinds of revolution?
- The description
of wild landscapes and crumbling abbeys was
not confined to Romantic poets and travelers
seeking the picturesque. Compare the Romantic
response to such spectacles with their appearance
in "Gothic" texts such as Ann Radcliffe's The
Mysteries of Udolpho and The
Romance of the Forest and Jane Austen's
Abbey. What purpose do landscapes,
ruins, and picturesque description serve
in these works? What similarities do you
perceive between the Romantic writers and
their Gothic contemporaries?
- Like other
religious houses in England and Wales, Tintern
Abbey was dissolved and partially demolished
in the English Reformation. In 1536–37,
of Grace, an uprising to save the abbeys
and the old religion, was defeated.
- How would Robert Aske,
the leader of the Pilgrimage, respond to Gray's picturesque
description of the ruined abbey and to Wordsworth's poem? How would
these poets in turn have viewed Aske's defense of the abbeys?
- In the mid-seventeenth century, roughly midway between Robert Aske
and Thomas Gray, Sir John Denham described the ruins of Chertsey Abbey
in Cooper's Hill. Does Denham's poem suggest an intermediate
perspective, a transition, a missing link? What affinities with Aske's
and Gray's perspectives do you find in Cooper's Hill?
- The Romantic
approach to landscape also had an impact
in America, where poets and painters turned
their eyes on a different and much wilder
version of nature. Learn about the American
experience of Re-Viewing
Nature on the Web. How do American versions
of the picturesque, the beautiful, and the
sublime in landscape differ from British
between Tintern Abbey and particulars
of William Gilpin's Observations on
the River Wye (along with Wordsworth's
date in the title of the poem — the
eighth anniversary of the day he first set
foot in France and the fifth anniversary
of the assassination of the Jacobin revolutionist
Jean Paul Marat — and our knowledge
of the poet's changing social and political
ideas during the decade preceding the poem)
have prompted readings that emphasize suppressed
politics in the poem: content, as it were,
made conspicuous by its absence.
The matter has been vigorously debated in recent years, and the existing
criticism provides rich materials for discussion of both practical and theoretical
questions concerning the poem. For opposed views on the principal issues,
see in particular Marjorie Levinson's "Insight and Oversight: Reading 'Tintern
Abbey,'" Wordsworth's Great Period Poems: Four Essays (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 14–57, and M. H. Abrams's "On
Political Readings of Lyrical Ballads, Doing Things with Texts: Essays
in Criticism and Critical Theory" (New York: Norton, 1989), pp.
The following writings deal with these issues: J. R. Watson, "A Note
on the Date in the Title of 'Tintern Abbey,'" The Wordsworth
Circle 10 (1979): 379–80; Kenneth R. Johnston, "The Politics
of 'Tintern Abbey,'" The Wordsworth Circle 14 (1983):
6–14; Robert A. Brinkley, "Vagrant and Hermit: Milton and the
Politics of 'Tintern Abbey,'" The Wordsworth Circle 16
(1985): 126–33; Mark Foster, "'Tintern Abbey' and Wordsworth's
Scene of Writing," Studies in Romanticism 25 (1986): 75–95;
David Bromwich, "The French Revolution and 'Tintern Abbey,'" Raritan
10.3 (Winter 1991): 1–23; Laurence Lerner, "Wordsworth's Refusal
of Politics," Studies in English Literature 31 (1991): 673–91;
Kenneth R. Johnston, "The Romantic Idea-Elegy: The Nature of Politics
and the Politics of Nature," South Central Review 9.1 (Spring
1992): 24–43; Nicholas Roe, The Politics of Nature: Wordsworth and
Some Contemporaries (London: Macmillan, 1992), chap. 6; Helen Vendler, "'Tintern
Abbey': Two Assaults," Bucknell Review 36 (1992): 173–90;
Brian Barbour, "'Between Two Worlds': The Structure of the
Argument in 'Tintern Abbey,'" Nineteenth-Century Literature (1993):
147–68; and (with an abundance of illustrations and maps) Charles J. Rzepka, “Pictures of the Mind: Iron and Charcoal, ‘Ouzy’ Tides and ‘Vagrant Dwellers’ at Tintern, 1798,” Studies in Romanticism 42 (2003): 155-85.