transept2-aug05-ds2464sar80In his poem, “Tintern Abbey,” William Wordsworth makes a god out of nature and declares “nature then… / [to] me was all in all.”[1]  Wordsworth praises nature for possessing attributes which previously were reserved for God alone.  In “Tintern Abbey,” nature exemplifies God’s attributes of omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence.

Nature guards and guides people through life just as God’s omnipresence watches over Christians.  Omnipresence characterizes Wordsworth’s nature “whose dwelling is the light of setting suns” which also “rolls through all things.”[2]  Because nature lives in all things, Wordsworth boldly states that nature is capable of being the “guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul / [of] all my moral being,” thus declaring that nature directs the lives of every human being.[3]  While this omnipresence cannot be escaped it is not an oppressive thing but rather a comfort.  King David alludes to God’s omnipresence as comforting when in Psalm 91 he says that those who dwell in safety “abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”  One critic remarked after reading “Tintern Abbey” that “it is no surprise that Wordsworth should then be happy to recognize anchor, nurse, guide, and guardian in powers not his own—in nature and the language of the self.”[4]  Through the atmospheric elements like the “living air” which blows over all life, nature demonstrates its omnipresence and leaves no room for God’s supremacy.[5]

Nature appears to be the greatest sage and omniscient rather than God being the wisest.  Yet Psalm 139:4 declares God to be the greatest sources of knowledge, “for there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.”  Often throughout the poem, Wordsworth cries out to the spirit of nature to listen to his thoughts and answer his questions, such as when he declares, “O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods, / [how] often has my spirit turned to thee!”[6]  The poet glorifies the river Wye and declares that it answers his questions about life.  Wordsworth praises Nature for possessing knowledge from days of old, instead of giving God the glory for creating humans with a mind to see and hear nature.  Wordsworth keeps referring to how nature teaches him through sight because “Nature will not stop writing.”[7]  Wordsworth believes that nature’s supernatural intellect can teach man how to live a spiritual life because of its omniscience.

Nature also displays a power which supplants God’s omnipotence.  Symbols of power like the deepening woods, the tall mountains, and the “sounding cataract” emphasize the force which nature exemplifies.[8]  The power of nature “impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought” with its driving force.[9]  Wordsworth draws his readers into his creation by emphasizing descriptions which cause the scene to be heard, not just read.  Power pervades the nature found in “Tintern Abbey,” because nature pulls Wordsworth “into a world of his own.”[10]  Nature suppresses the power of God to reign in the hearts and minds of men by placing its own mystifying control upon them, drawing them to worship the created instead of the Creator.  Pantheism and paganism are two religions prevalent in Wordsworth’s time which worship plants and animals.  Wordsworth just formed his own skewed version of these two religions, bringing them into one.

In “Tintern Abbey” nature usurps God’s divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, and Wordsworth creates a religion that honors mortal nature.  While nature does possess power through motion, does reside everywhere, and does offer knowledge to those who care to learn, humans must always remember that the ultimate, pure source of these attributes dwells in God alone who made heaven and earth.  He exclusively alters the course of time and instills knowledge of Himself in the hearts of men.

– Hannah S. Bowers

Bibliography

Bloom, Harold, ed. William Wordsworth. New York: Chelsea House, 2007.

Miller, Jr., James E., and Bernice Slote. The Dimensions of Literature: A Critical Anthology. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1967.

Sullivan, K. E. Wordsworth: The Eternal Romantic. London: Brockhampton P, 1996.

Wordsworth, William. “Tintern Abbey.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams et al. 8th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 2006. 2: 258-262.


[1] Wordsworth 72, 75

[2] Wordsworth 97, 102

[3] Wordsworth 100-111

[4] Bloom 41

[5] Wordsworth 98

[6] Wordsworth 56-57

[7] Bloom 42

[8] Wordsworth 76

[9] Wordsworth 100-101

[10] Bloom 42

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