Well, I suppose we have all taken trips that have changed our lives. After all, why else go anywhere! If it had not been for a New York City subway ride and a brisk walk to Rockefeller Center on an afternoon in December, I would never have ended up here in Wales (a virtual tour of which is being attempted in this 1930s radio broadcast). Indeed, I would not have been able to spot Wales on a map, even though I, a student of English literature, believed myself to be familiar with one of the most famous poems to have been inspired by the Welsh countryside: Wordsworth’s “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey.”
It was on this day, 13 July, back in 1798, that Wordsworth revisited the Wye valley in Monmouthshire, Wales, where Tintern Abbey stands in its Romanticism-inspiring ruins (as shown left, in a more prosaic picture from my first visit there).
Wordsworth had been at the same spot some five summers earlier, together with his sister, Dorothy. He felt himself aged and believed himself matured. It had been a memorable journey; indeed, as he remarked in his notes on the poem, no work of his was “composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember.” The memory of the trip and of his “boyish days” were very much on his mind on his return to the scene, a landscape revisited not simply per pedes, but, in a less pedestrian sense, in recollection.
“[H]ow oft,” he recalled in his famous poem, in lines that would change the course of literary history,
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
It was a vision of a landscape that recurred to Wordsworth, “in lonely rooms” and “‘mid the din / Of towns and cities.” A “worshipper of nature,” he had little to say about the Abbey itself, a ruin that inspired many an artist, most notably Turner, Wordsworth’s contemporary. This Sunday, I am going to travel down to Monmouthshire in the knowledge that my days in the Welsh countryside are numbered.
It seems I am moving back into town this fall, after nearly three years in the Welsh countryside. A small town, mind you, but a town nonetheless. It was peaceful here, and pleasant in the sunshine. Yet there has hardly been any sunshine this summer, nor warmth; and the loneliness of our house has at times been a burden to me, and to those having to suffer my presence.
Without this intensely felt isolation I would perhaps not have commenced the broadcastellan journal. Before moving to Wales, I was not aware of how much our surroundings enter our being, of how much a landscape can inhabit or possess, rather than merely surround us. Now, would the Romantic movement have come into being had Wordsworth’s second summer in Wales been as much of a washout as the present season?