With Wordsworth we re-visit the beautiful Wye valley near Tintern Abbey to re-discover the source of one of his most famous pieces of poetry.
This is a place to absorb and feel, not just to see. A deep peace remains in this valley which Wordsworth felt and it brought him into profound thought.
The above painting by William Havell was completed in 1804, 5 years after Wordsworth’s visit. Today this valley is still largely left unspoiled and for most visitors it’s usually a matter of love at first sight. When we lived in Bristol the Wye was a favourite visit. Now, protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we hope it is safe from development.
“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 inland murmur…..”
Lines written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on re-visiting the banks of the Wye… – 1798.
Having visited the river several years before, the romantic magic of the place has drawn Wordsworth back again. This time it inspires him to write in a flow of deep musing thought. Against a background of the sorrows of the world, this valley and the healing balm of nature was restoring his soul, as it does ours. Apparently when he returned to Bristol the poem had almost written itself.
“……. how oft—
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!”
Here the river moves silently on its way from the Welsh hills down to the Severn estuary, passing beside the silent woods on the valley sides. We need time to slow to the pace of the river here, and let the peaceful atmosphere and magnificence of the scenery soak into our spirits, as it has done for thousands of visitors since Wordsworth came.
“I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man, ..
… Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world.”
Although over 70,000 visit Tintern Abbey each year, in September it is used for an annual service of worship – the abbey partially reclaimed and put to its original use.
It’s hard not to become lyrical here. The Wye has cast its spell over many writers, poets and artists. What was it like when the monks were here at the 12th century Cistercian Abbey? Those who built the abbey certainly chose the location wisely.
I love the powerful image of the open east window showing how the ruins have mellowed into the landscape behind. It’s not hard to worship the Creator in such an uplifting setting. The monks have left a prayerful legacy which has, I believe, helped to influence the atmosphere in this wonderful valley. Thoughtful visitors to the Abbey ruins may want to leave a brief prayer of their own when visiting to add to this legacy.
Places like the Wye are rare treasures that can touch our souls and lift our thoughts. Like the poet, when we leave we are changed into deeper, richer, wiser people. Wordsworth himself wrote of this poem:
“No poem of mine was composed under such pleasant circumstances as this”
My mother who grew up in a Cotswold village always had a copy of Wordsworth’s poems at hand. I too have grown to love the sensitive heart of this poet who read the landscape so intimately and with such affection.
As we return to Bristol we notice the sun catching the graceful shapes of the Severn bridge. Even the best of the works of man look good in such a setting. In the old days it took a lengthy 60 mile journey to cross the Severn at Gloucester. Today the bridge offers an easy and quick return to Bristol. Progress does have its benefits, but hopefully this beautiful river valley, immortalized in Wordsworth’s poem, will never change!
Next time – ‘Still Listening with St Patrick’