Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tintern Abbey: The Ruins and Wordsworth's Memories

Tintern Abbey's ruins are a great tourist destination now, per this website:

The appeal of this exceptional Cistercian abbey remains as enduring as ever

An area of outstanding beauty complemented by this outstanding beauty in stone. If only the walls could talk! The chants of countless monks echo through the masonry here. Despite the shell of this grand structure being open to the skies, it remains the best-preserved medieval abbey in Wales. Although the abbey church was rebuilt under the patronage of Roger Bigod, lord of nearby Chepstow Castle, in the late 13th century, the monastery retains its original design.

Tintern was only the second Cistercian foundation in Britain, and the first in Wales. The present-day remains are a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1131 and 1536. Very little remains of the first buildings but you will marvel at the vast windows and later decorative details displayed in the walls, doorways and soaring archways.

The lands of the abbey were divided into agricultural units or granges, worked on by lay brothers.

On September 3, 1536 Abbot Wyche surrendered Tintern Abbey to King Henry VIII’s officials and ended a way of life which had lasted 400 years.

There’s a lot still going on at Tintern Abbey 500 years on! A major two-year programme of conservation work has been completed on the iconic 13th-century west front – one of the great glories of Gothic architecture in Britain. The statue of Our Lady of Tintern is installed in the south aisle of the abbey for all to see.

If only the Blessed Sacrament and the Altar and the Work of God could be restored there--not just the statue of Our Lady of Tintern--and the ruin not just echo with the memories of chant!

It was on July 13 in 1789 that William Wordsworth and his sister Mary visited Tintern Abbey and as David Lehman writes in The Wall Street Journal, William then wrote a great Romantic poem about memory and nature: "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour". Lehman tells us why it is a great work of art. The poem

presents the crisis of melancholy, specifically the melancholy over the passing of youth. If the majestic prospect of a ruined 12th-century church on the Welsh side of the River Wye triggers the meditation, the landscape's fourth dimension—time as an almost palpable presence—dominates it. Five years have gone by since the poet last stood here. Now his thoughts turn naturally to the changes since then and to trepidations over what may ensue.
Wordsworth has a fierce nostalgia for boyhood—"when like a roe / I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides / Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams, / Wherever nature led." But the reality principle is strong in him; he shuts off the reverie in four curt syllables: "That time is past." The crisis is solved, the melancholy fit cured, by the key apprehension of a divinity located not in the remote heavens but on earth, in nature. The conviction that there is "a motion and a spirit that impels / All thinking things, all objects of all thought, / And rolls through all things" expresses itself with the force of a soul-restoring epiphany. . . .
The poem is a triumph emotionally. The seemingly spontaneous overflow of feelings in the last movement of the poem—the prayer addressed to Dorothy Wordsworth—may bring tears to your eyes. I know no finer or more tender expression of a man's love for his sister. The poem is a triumph, too, of the "cheerful faith" that reconciles us to losses and compensates for them. It comes as close as Wordsworth ever did to achieving a metrical ideal: the language approaching prose, with the fixed meter acting as a firm restraint.

You may find the text of the poem here.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment