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The City vs. the Country: Preserving the Memories in a Fast-Paced World

Romantic poets of the past attempted to portray the idea that emotion is more important than reason.  Perhaps they are reacting to the new emphasis of reason and rationalism and feared that people might forget the more esoteric benefits of nature and emotion and reflection.

In William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few miles Above Tintern Abbey,” the city and the country are contrasted for the reader through the use of reflective imagery and symbolism in an effort to reconnect the reader with these passions and to encourage his use of memory to summon strength.

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Wordsworth believed, as did all romantic poets, in writing from the heart.  Thus his poem is a reflection of his two visits to Tintern Abbey, a former medieval church.  The beauty of this natural surrounding is the subject of the poem.

His first solitary visit occurred five years earlier than his second visit with his sister.  He hopes to give her an escape from her grief and sadness in the future by providing her with the memories of this visit.    In addition, the reader can be seen as an extension of the sister, the symbol of all people who need to find solace in nature and the love and peace it produces.

The second visit, for Wordsworth, is different from the first.  Upon his first visit, he recalls his initial passion about nature which he has since lost.  He recalls his love of nature and the comfort it had given him in lines 23-28:

Here he gives his sister, and the reader, a look into his feelings about the view that he has missed.  He notes that he was not ‘blind’ to the view, but has called upon it while in the noisy and tiring cities.  Here, life in the city is presented negatively, as being an oppressive and unhealthy environment, while the natural, peaceful environment of Tintern Abbey is calming, soothing, and healing.

Life for the speaker now, as a city dweller, is symbolized in line 39 as a “heavy and weary weight” and refers to his life there as one “of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir / Unprofitable, and the fever of the world, / have hung upon the beatings of my heart” (lines 52-55).  This gives the city life an essence of disease and pain while his second visit to the abbey gives him the rushing hope “That in this moment there is life and food / for future years” (lines 64-65).