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Don’t let the title that’s almost as long as the actual poem get you down. Basically, this is one of the most famous Romantic poems, and in it the speaker takes this long walk to an area surrounding an old ruined abbey from the Middle Ages. Sounds like a relaxing day in nature, right? Oh, but it’s so much more.
When we think of the Romantic poets, we often think of flowers, trees, maybe some lovers’ tears, and basically lots of really scenic nature that maybe stands in for romance. In other words, we don’t think of politics or class structures or capitalism—all those things are total turn-offs, after all. And sure, we’ve got plenty of leaves and hillsides near Wordsworth’s abbey, but some of his observations have to do with that less romancey stuff, too.
New Historicists like Jerome McGann say we’re wrong to approach the Romantics in this way that ignores everything but the candy hearts. According to him, Romantic poetry isn’t “detached” from the contextual history of the French Revolution, industrialization, urbanization, all those other fun things. Sure, the Romantic poets may love to write about flowers and trees, but even when they’re writing about flowers and trees, they’re referencing all kinds of political, economic and historical events.
Jerome McGann looks at Wordsworth’s poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” to prove his point. At first glance, the poem seems to be all about pretty scenery. But McGann says it’s about a whole lot more. Let’s have a look: