On a moody, misty Autumn day, Year 12 and 13 English Literature students travelled to the Wye Valley in Monmouthshire to visit the Gothic ruins of Tintern Abbey. This was to be an atypical A Level English Literature school trip, focusing more on experiencing the landscape and setting that inspired Wordsworth’s famous Romantic poem of the same name, in order to gain a better understanding of the sensations felt by the poet himself as he penned his creative works.
Wordsworth stated that poetry is the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity” and so, having spent time quietly exploring the extensive ruins and surrounding monastery, students were asked to express what they had felt and sensed from the ancient buildings in the form of a poem. Once written, the students were invited to share their beautiful creations under the protective branches of a handsome, old oak tree.
With their poetic faculties engaged, the students then took turns reading sections of Wordsworth’s philosophical, lyrical composition, often referred to as simply ‘Tintern Abbey’ but in fact possessing a much longer title. The discussion turned intellectually literary and, complemented by critical material sourced from the British Library, a deep-reaching interpretation of this complex poem was agreed by the group before we headed into the nave for lunch.
After lunch, the students crossed the River Wye from Wales into England, heading up the “steep and lofty cliffs’ to develop a stronger connection with the wooded hills and valley that surround the Abbey. Subscribing to the definition of the sublime as something that inspires awe and delight in ways that can be frightening as well as pleasurable, Wordsworth and his fellow Romantic poets often sought out impressive landscapes such as this to provide experiences to inspire their literary outputs.
So, on a high promontory known locally as ‘The Devil’s Pulpit’, enveloped in low-hanging clouds, students read more about the sublime and how it helped to shape the poetry they have been studying in their English Literature lessons. Through the wet, white veil that clung to the trees around them, students could faintly perceive the ghostly ruins of the Abbey far below in miniature, giving them a real sense of the power of nature and the fragility of human existence. Having supped full of the sublime from this rocky perch, the students then enjoyed a hike through the woods and down the valley side before walking back along the ‘sylvan Wye[‘s]’ riverbanks.
Before leaving Tintern and bidding farewell to this place of immense natural beauty, we couldn’t leave without sampling the locally made Welsh cakes – a fundamental (and very tasty) element of being able to experience the authentic flavour of Wales and so totally in the interest of any fully immersive literary study!
Our students fully embraced the day, absorbing and engaging in everything with maturity, reverence, open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity. We hope the experience has enabled them to see through the eyes of some of our greatest poets a little more clearly as a result.
Mr Ryan-East, Head of Sixth Form
Below are the poems written and shared by the students, presented here as they were intended to be read. On agreement by all, the poems remain anonymous.
Tintern Abbey, a sight so grand,
With ancient walls that still stand.
Nature’s beauty, serene and pure,
A place where memories endure.
A place of wonder,
Where history and nature blend together.
The ruins tell stories of times long past,
As nature’s embrace forever lasts.
A Temple with a view
O, what misty mountains frame
His voidless serene view?
A Temple lost unto a green hue
To know His past and to see His present,
a funeral and a birthday.
Yet dead and crumbling on this so earthly day.
But nothing can humble Her worth, Her power, Her might.
She owns him and killed Him, removed His worth of sight.
Nothing can own Her, not time nor God.
For Her power is timeless and destroyed Him by the lot.
Tintern and her majesty (an elegy)
through your even frame, the feeble pulse of the almighty
comforting the exiled?
solitary, severe, Alive.
Nature takes its course.
caught in a leafy embrace,
cradled by the Valley,
kissed by the dew,
you bloom in self-discovery.
now I see you, stripped, a shadow of yourself
adorned with rope and steel
(what a worthy robe)