Study Guide

Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798 Form and Meter

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Form and Meter

Blank Verse, Lyrical Ballad

At first glance, it seems that "Tintern Abbey" isn't written in verse at all. After all, the lines don't rhyme, and the structure of the sentences often doesn't parallel the structure of the lines. In other words, sentences often spill over after the end of a line (this is called enjambment – see the "How to Read a Poem" for more on that). Wordsworth didn't want his verse to be too obvious, so he decided to use blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Oh darn, we lost you. OK: the "unrhymed" part is obvious. You probably picked that up yourself. "Iambic pentameter" refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. An "iamb" is a set of two syllables whose pattern goes "da-DUM." "Pentameter" means that there are five ("penta") iambs per line. Check it out:

The day is come when I again repose (9)

If we bold the syllables that get stressed when you read it out loud, and mark in between each separate iamb, or "da-DUM" unit, it looks like this:

The day/ is come /when I / a-gain / re-pose (9).

See? Five iambs. Iambic pentameter.

Wordsworth probably chose to use blank verse because he wanted "Tintern Abbey" to sound natural and conversational. In fact, if you listen to a recording of "Tintern Abbey" being read out loud, you might not notice the meter at all (check out our "Best of the Web" section for links to recordings). Some folks even say that English falls most naturally into iambs, and that we're all speaking in iambic pentameter a lot of the time without being aware of it. We're not sure that this is true, but it is true that the blank verse in "Tintern Abbey" makes it sound very natural.

"Tintern Abbey" is also a "Lyrical Ballad," which is a kind of hybrid of two different kinds of poem. The entire volume of poems in which "Tintern Abbey" was first published was called Lyrical Ballads. A lyric is a poem, usually in the first person, which is about the individual speaker. OK, this is certainly true of "Tintern Abbey." What about the "ballad" part? A ballad is a narrative poem – i.e., one that tells a story. Ballads often tell simple or popular tales (as opposed to romances about queens and knights). All of the Lyrical Ballads, including "Tintern Abbey," fall into this category, too. Wordsworth and Coleridge invented a new genre!

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