Wandering through Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey

Just before I graduated from college, I started making a list of 100 things I wanted to do before I died. Sadly, I lost it (perhaps “Be more organized” should’ve been one of them), but I remember three of the items.

One of them was to visit Tintern Abbey on the Welsh/English border, which William Wordsworth wrote a poem about. And, just in case you think I’ve always been a complete nerd, let me tell you that the number one thing on my list was to have sex in a glass-bottomed Tahitian tree house. (Still not checked off, sadly.)

Smarty Pants and I spent New Year’s Eve with friends in Wales, so we took the opportunity to visit the abbey. Friends, it was well worth the ten-year wait.

The abbey from the front
The abbey from the front
The abbey from the side
The abbey from the side

The abbey was built between the 1130s and 1530s, but it fell into disrepair after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.

Two hundred and fifty years later, the abbey was a popular tourist destination for Georgian society. According to Wikipedia, Fanny Price from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park had an engraving of the abbey in her sitting room (though my memory’s not good enough to recall that detail from the book).

In his Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth published his poem “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, July 13, 1798”. Pithy title, huh?

Reading the poem
Reading the poem – the title alone took me several minutes
Inside the abbey
Inside the abbey

Wordsworth had visited the abbey five years earlier, when he was a young man with a lot of problems. He’d left his pregnant French girlfriend in France because he didn’t have any money, and then the French revolution prevented him from going back.

The second time he visited the abbey, his life had changed. He’d met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a fellow poet who became a close friend for decades afterward. He also visits the abbey with his sister, who became his lifelong companion.

Inside the abbey
Inside the abbey

His second visit to the abbey prompts him to write a poem, reflecting on nature’s beauty and how it has stayed with him through the five years since he first visited. He also rejoices in the pleasures of his current life, which give him hope for the future, and sees how he has changed from a young man who was “flying from something that he dreads” instead of seeking “the thing he loved”.

Here’s my favorite part of the poem.

And now, with gleams of half-extinguish’d thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:

While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led; more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

And the surrounding area is just as stunning.

The Wye Valley
The Wye Valley
The other thing Wales is known for
The other thing Wales is known for
Gruffalo and mouse wood sculptures
And the abbey’s near the Forest of Dean Gruffalo trail. Literature wherever you look.

Have you ever revisited a place several years later? How did it make you feel? What’s on your bucket list? 

12 thoughts on “Wandering through Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey

  1. Oh, thank you for posting those gorgeous photos! You’ve inspired me – I live only 45 minutes from Tintern Abbey, but we’ve never actually gone there. (It’s been on my vague “must visit someday” list ever since we moved here 3-1/2 years ago!)

    1. Oh my gosh, Stephanie, you MUST go! It was a dreary day when we went, which kept the crowds away, I guess, but also meant that the photos don’t do the place justice. It’s an amazing place. GO NOW!

  2. These pictures are beautiful! My bucket list includes a trip to Hawaii and Ireland. I think both are fascinating in their own way so I continue to dream! It gives me something to look forward to. Stephanie Burgis if you’re that close you should definitely go! Thank you Kat!

    1. I really hope you can get to both places, Wanda…and then discover more things to put on your bucket list, because we all need dreams to strive toward!

  3. Sad to say, several places I’d visited in England had turned into American Shopping malls (with The Gap etc). While I understand that the residents want the shopping available, it certainly took away from the visitor experience. I’m sure Tintern itself will be protected from that and I hope to visit there someday.

    1. I completely know what you mean, Diane, and yes, Tintern Abbey was nothing like that. It was close to a village and there was an old-looking pub across the street (we didn’t go in, but it looked fairly traditional from the outside). There’s a visitor center and a souvenir shop, but it’s not surrounded by commerce. It’s really very peaceful. I hope you get there someday!

  4. What a beautiful post! This has been on my bucket list also. England, Wales, Scotland, and France….those are my bucket list wishes. I know whenever I do make it there that my soul will feel as if it’s home.

    1. That’s such a beautiful way of describing it, Leah. My fingers are crossed that you’ll be able to cross those places off your bucket list soon!

    1. The foggy weather and the fact we were almost the only people there made the place feel a bit eerie, that’s for sure. And I know just what you mean about feeling like you’re riding through a history book. I never liked history much until I could walk past buildings where history was made.

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