Throughout Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey,” he uses the image of the eyes, more specifically what the eye is able to perceive. He begins the poem by describing what it is his eyes are seeing as he paints for the reader a picture of where he is situated in nature. Details of shape, color and movement are revealed, yet it is not with the eyes that the scene is made visible to readers, it is with the mind that the trees, rocks and hedge-rows emerge. This plays into Wordsworth’s idea that eyes limit what we see. It is with our minds that we must look at the world around us.
This idea is revisited by the discussion of memories. He writes, “These beauteous forms, through a long absence, have not been to me as is a landscape to a blind man’s eye” (22-24). A blind man only sees with his head, but Wordsworth’s eyes aid him as he remembers what he once saw. Unlike a blind man he has his past to draw from, but because he is relying on his mind, the landscape will not be exactly as he remembers. The mind’s view also has limitations. Memories are once again internal; we draw on what our eyes have shown us, but we must use our brains to fill in the gaps.
Wordsworth uses his memories of nature to calm himself and to restore his tranquillity. This calming effect also happens when he is physically look at nature. He writes, “We are laid asleep in body, and become a living soul: While with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things” (44-48). Once again the distraction of the eyes are referenced. It is only when our eyes are quiet and relaxed that we can see life. In nature, when eyes are shut or focused, sounds are amplified, movement is felt. Sometimes eyes seem to distract, hiding the life within nature, which to Wordsworth is more important that beauty. Coming back to Tintern Abbey shows him this.
As he returns after five years of absence, he is seeing this place with new, fresh eyes. He admits that at first, years ago, he was transfixed by what his eyes saw: “Their colours and their forms, were then to me an appetite; a feeling and a love, that had no need of remoter charm, by thought supplied nor any interest unborrowed from the eye.” (79-83) His love for nature was a visual love; a love that required no excess thought. He let his eyes take control, but after his return, he discovers that nature is not just visual. Nature is more than what his eyes once showed him. Memories aid him in this discovery as well, because he is able to conjure up the same feelings without his eyes showing him the beauty.
He now understands the deeper meaning of nature; it is something beyond the surface. He maintains his love for it, but now realizes that the eyes “half create” (106) and change what something truly is. As Wordsworth is given time to reflect on what he sees, he understands that the beauty of nature is not aesthetic, rather it is found in its ability to clear the mind of problems. It is important to allow the brain to show the answers and to show love. He will forever remain a worshiper of nature because of the memories it inspires, what it shows him and what nature reminds him of. All of these things go beyond his eyes. Nature goes deeper. It moves through his veins into his heart, restores tranquility and reminds him of the important parts of life.
All of these aspects contribute to Wordsworth’s identity. He has changed over the five years he has been gone from Tintern Abbey and has learned to see with more than his eyes. His ability to see beyond the surface of nature shows the importance of what is under his surface. Identity is not about the external. This is why discovering someone’s true identity takes more than a simple glance. Identity must be deciphered in one’s mind.