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  1. 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 interest?
  2. Descriptions 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."
    1. 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?
    2. 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 Poems"?
  3. 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.
    1. 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?
    2. 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)?
    3. 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?
  4. 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 principle."
    1. 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"?
    2. 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?
  5. 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!
    1. What role does this poem leave for the Romantic landscape in its most spectacular and sublime?
    2. 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?
  6. 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 mind.
    1. 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?
    2. 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?
  7. 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."
    1. 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?
    2. Do any of the other writers in this topic register a similar uneasiness with description and, if so, how?
  8. Conventions of both the picturesque and the sublime emphasized the prospect and the large view over the detail and the small view.
    1. 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 small?
    2. 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 generalization?
  9. 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.
    1. 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) make?
    2. How does Burke's analysis of the sublime shed light on the appeal of sound to Romantic poets?
  10. 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.
    1. 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?
    2. In Shelley's sonnet To Wordsworth (NAEL 8, 2.744), how do images of nature function in the critique of Wordsworth's increasing conservatism?
    3. 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?
  11. 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 parodic Northanger 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?
  12. Like other religious houses in England and Wales, Tintern Abbey was dissolved and partially demolished in the English Reformation. In 1536–37, the Pilgrimage of Grace, an uprising to save the abbeys and the old religion, was defeated.
    1. 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?
    2. 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?
  13. 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 ones?
  14. Connections 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. 364–415.

    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.

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