Religion at Tintern Abbey
In one of the classes I took for my English minor, I was given the following question: In what sense does “Tintern Abbey” offer readers a “religion of nature”? What are some of the specific ways in which nature works as a substitute for traditional religion?
Have you ever had a chance to read William Wordsworth's poem? The official title is "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798." I think we can all agree that we can just call it Tintern Abbey. Read the full poem.
What Is Religion?
An attempt to explain the religion of nature was rather difficult until the definition of religion or religious could be comprehended. Webster defines religion as "a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices." It does not necessarily have to be of a particular deity or principles. So, nature could be a religion.
As it is not an organized religious movement or organization, the religion of nature proved to be more elusive than originally assumed. Putting it into concrete words made it harder to define. Dr. Michael Sudduth explained it best by defining a religious experience as “a subjective feeling, a perceptual experience, and as a supernatural interpretation of ordinary experiences” (The Nature of Religious Experience). That opens up the possibilities when reading the poem.
In Tintern Abbey
William Wordsworth penned such an experience in this work. He describes the landscape around the abbey in a very emotional and almost spiritual way. Nothing is done in a bland method. Intense imagery is used to get his message across. Though he has not always been near the scenes, he describes the very thought of Tintern Abby and the surrounding nature setting as “sensations sweet” that are “felt in the blood, and felt along the heart” and even giving him “tranquil restoration” (Project Gutenberg).
He expresses to the reader how nature has given him a sense of a “presence that disturbs me with the joy/of elevated thoughts” and which appears as “a motion and a spirit” (Project Gutenberg). His words over more than just a place to relax or a connection to the world around him. It gives him a connection to his own soul and to that of something much bigger. It gives him a religious experience.
Seeing the area around the abbey is emotional. It pulls at the heart and prompts the author to feel more than he usually does. He uses his poetic words to relate those feelings to the reader.
Through these examples, it can be seen that nature can be an alternative for the way religion has been practiced and seen traditionally. Wordsworth expresses the emotion and the depths nature can take a person.
The world nature presents is not just three dimensional. It goes to a spiritual level that affects man’s heart, mind, and soul. Nature can give him peace as does traditional religion as when Wordsworth explains how it gives “tranquil restoration” to him (Project Gutenberg). Nature gives man hope as Wordsworth describes his faith in the flowers living and how it is the “anchor” of thoughts that are pre and “the guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul/of my moral being” (Project Gutenberg). Dr. Sudduth’s description of a religious experience as being “a perceptual experience” is clearly see in Wordsworth’s poem (The Nature of Religious Experience).
Wordsworth, William. “Lines written above Tintern Abbey.” The Project Gutenberg. Web. 12 July 2012.
Sudduth, Dr. Michael. “The Nature of Religious Experience.” Michael Sudduth Courses. Web. 12 July 2012.