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Friendship in Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 06:16 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 62.6 
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Of all the topics Wordsworth covered in his poetic lifetime, friendship stands out as a key occupation. His own personal friendship with Coleridge led to the co-writing of Lyrical Ballads in 1789. The poem “On Friendship,” written to Keats after an argument in 1854, states, “Would that we could make amends / And evermore be better friends.” In “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” we find the purest expression of Wordsworth’s fascination with friendship.

Written on the banks of the Lye, this beautiful lyric has been said by critic Robert Chinchilla to “pose the question of friendship in a way more central, more profound, than any other poem of Wordsworth’s since ‘The Aeolian Harp’ of 1799” (245). Wordsworth is writing the poem to his sister Rebecca as a way of healing their former estrangement. Rebecca Wordsworth was, as many writers have pointed out, distressed at Wordsworth’s refusal to hold a full-time job—like many a youth after him, Wordsworth was living the carefree life of the artist. Rebecca wanted him put to rights. He should become an adult now. “Tintern Abbey” is Wordsworth’s attempt to explain himself to Rebecca, but also, in crucial ways, to himself.

As the poem opens, Wordsworth is standing a few miles above the ruined Tintern Abbey. He states:

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 island murmur.

Despite his position, Wordsworth can hear the “soft island murmur” of the mountain springs. As “five long winters” suggests, Wordsworth is cold and dreary—London, we must remember, is a bitter place. He longs for the islands: the sand, sun, and warm waters that those murmurs suggest. The coldness of winter could be brought about by Rebecca’s distance from her brother; they had been, at the time of the poem’s writing, separate...


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