Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798
by William Wordsworth
Stanza 6 (Lines 111-159) Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
- The final stanza opens with another gearshift. The speaker says that even if he weren't "thus taught" – even if he hadn't learned about the "presence" in nature – he still wouldn't "suffer his genial spirits to decay." In other words, he wouldn't allow his natural sympathy and kindness to go to waste.
For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear Sister!
- And here's the reason why he won't let his "genial spirits" go to waste. It's because "thou art" with him on the banks of the river Wye.
- What? The speaker isn't alone? He's been wandering around the banks of the river for how long, and without mentioning his companion?
- He calls her his "dearest Friend" (115), his "dear, dear Friend" (116), and his "dear, dear Sister" (121). Wordsworth's sister was named Dorothy. From these lines we can tell that he really likes her.
- He says that her "voice" (116) reminds him of the way he used to feel ("the language of my former heart"), and her "wild eyes" (119) remind him of his "former pleasures" (118).
- So the speaker seems to be saying that present-day Dorothy reacts to nature in the same way that William did when he was here five years ago.
- He says that he can see his past self (a.k.a. "William") in her.
and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.
- The speaker "pray[s]" that he can continue to see his former self in his sister.
- Wait, who's he going to pray to? The "presence" (94)? Kind of, but he calls it by yet another name: "Nature" with a capital "N" (122).
- This is one of the most famous lines of the poem: "Nature never did betray/ The heart that loved her" (122-3). So, "Nature" will answer the speaker's prayer because he's a Nature-lover.
- "Her privilege," in line 123, refers to "Nature's privilege."
- Nature will always "lead" (124) us "from joy to joy" (125) through all our lives. Sounds good to us!
- Nature will make sure that we only have "lofty thoughts" (128), and will keep our minds full of "quietness and beauty" (127). This is important, because there's plenty to distract us from the "quietness and beauty."
- The speaker lists some of the possible distractions: "evil tongues" (128), or mean gossipy people who talk smack; "rash judgment" (129), or people who misjudge you; the "sneers of selfish men" (129), or the self-centered folks who look down on you; and "the dreary intercourse" (131), or the boring, mind-numbing interactions of "daily life" (131). Phew. That's a lot of stuff "Nature" needs to protect us from!
- But none of those bad things the speaker lists for us will get the better of us ("prevail against us," line 132) or take away our "simple faith" that everything we see is "full of blessings" (134).
Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies;
- The speaker is so confident that Nature will answer his "prayer" (from way back in line 121) that he utters what sounds like a blessing or benediction on Dorothy: "let the moon/ Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;/ And let the misty mountain-winds be free/ To blow against thee" (134-6).
- The speaker wants Dorothy to experience nature the way that William experienced it five years ago. He wants her to have the same "wild ecstasies" (138) that William did.
- That way, when Dorothy "mature[s]" (138) the way he did, her "pleasure" in nature will become "sober" (139), too – just like the speaker!
- Just as the "beauteous forms" (22) stayed alive in the speaker's memory after William's boyish "bound[ing]" (68), so too will Dorothy's "mind" (139) become a "mansion for all lovely forms" (140).
- In other words, Dorothy's memory will be like a huge scrapbook of this visit, just as the speaker's memory was a scrapbook of his past visit five years ago.
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!
- If all this happens – if Dorothy's mind gets turned into a scrapbook of her current impressions – then, later on, "if solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief" (143) should bother her, she'll be able to look into the scrapbook of her memory and have "healing thoughts" (144) that will make her feel better.
- Specifically, the "thoughts" that will "heal" her will be her memories of how her brother, the speaker, stood next to her with his "exhortations" (146), or encouragements.
- The speaker imagines that Dorothy's memories of these "beauteous forms" (22) will work to soothe her in the future, just as his memories of them soothed him in the past.
Nor, perchance –
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence – wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love – oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
- The "gleams/ Of past existence" (148-9) that the speaker is seeing in Dorothy's "wild eyes" are his recollections of the way William reacted to things, because Dorothy's present reactions are so similar (like in lines 116-120).
- Now the speaker imagines a future after he has died, after he is "where [he] no more can hear/ Thy voice" (147-8). This could just mean that he's imagining a future when they're not together anymore, but it seems more dramatic to imagine that it's after he's dead and she's still alive.
- He asks Dorothy if she'll forget having "stood together" (151) on the banks of the Wye after he's gone.
- The question continues in line 151. He asks if she'll forget that her brother ("I," line 151), who has loved Nature for "so long" (151), had come back "hither" (152) to the banks of the Wye with an even deeper love of nature than he felt before.
- The speaker doesn't need an answer to his question; of course she won't forget!
- He seems to forget that he had started out by phrasing it as a question. The sentence beginning on line 155, "Nor wilt thou then forget" means "and you won't forget this either!"
- She won't forget, he says, that after all of his "wanderings" and the "many years/ Of absence" (156-7), the view from the banks of the Wye are even more precious to him than they were before – both for its own sake (because it's pretty) and for her sake.