Tag Archives: Lord Tennyson

An Unfortunate Lily Maid: Anne of Green Gables and Lady of Shalott

2 May

Anne was devoured by secret regret that she had not been born in Camelot. Those days, she said, were so much more romantic than the present.”

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888

“With a steady stony glance—
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Beholding all his own mischance,
Mute, with a glassy countenance—
       She look’d down to Camelot.
It was the closing of the day:
She loos’d the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
       The Lady of Shalott.”
(Lord Tennyson)

What connects Elaine, The Lady of Shalott; a beautiful and doomed heroine of Arthurian legends and Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name published in 1832, and Anne Shirley Cuthbert; a freckled, red-haired eleven year old orphan girl from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s well-know and well-loved children’s novel Anne of Green Gables? Elaine lived in the dark and magical Medieval times, in a tower, weaving her embroidery and gazing at the world through a mirror, and Anne lives on a beautiful Prince Edward Island in the late nineteenth century. Elaine suffered a romantical death from a curse that fell upon her, and Anne would give everything for such a tragical, romantical fate. “An Unfortunate Lily Maid”, chapter twenty-eight of Anne of Green Gables, holds answers to our questions. The thing that connects Anne with Elaine is the same thing that connects me and Elaine, me and The Smiths, Modigliani, Manics etc: fascination and adoration.

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, Sketch, Pencil, watercolour and bodycolour

“But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
       And music, came from Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead
Came two young lovers lately wed;
‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said
       The Lady of Shalott.”
John Everett Millais, The Lady of Shalott, 1854

Anne is a very dreamy, romantic, and imaginative girl who spends a lot of time fantasising and daydreaming about some other times and places, dreamier than her reality, even though, ironically, whilst reading the novel the reader will likely daydream about her time and place as more dreamy and romantical than our present. It is very easy to see what a heroine such as Elaine would appeal to Anne’s vivid imagination and romantic inclinations. If fate wasn’t as kind as to make Anne a princess from some fairy tale or a maiden from some Medieval romance, then acting is the second bets alternative and that is what Anne does in chapter twenty-eight. Along with her friends Diana, Ruby and Jane, Anne decides to lie in a boat, holding an iris flower instead of a lily, and float down the river “for ever and ever….” as Syd Barrett sings beautifully in the song “See Emily Play”. But of course, as it goes in Anne’s life, something goes wrong and a very dreamy situation becomes comical. Here is the passage from the book:

Of course you must be Elaine, Anne,” said Diana. “I could never have the courage to float down there.”

“Nor I,” said Ruby Gillis, with a shiver. “I don’t mind floating down when there’s two or three of us in the flat and we can sit up. It’s fun then. But to lie down and pretend I was dead—I just couldn’t. I’d die really of fright.”

“Of course it would be romantic,” conceded Jane Andrews, “but I know I couldn’t keep still. I’d be popping up every minute or so to see where I was and if I wasn’t drifting too far out. And you know, Anne, that would spoil the effect.”

Walter Crane, The Lady of Shalott, 1864

It is almost amusing how Anne thinks it is ridiculous for a redhead girl to play Elaine because Lord Tennyson had described Elaine’s locks are golden. The most beautiful portrayal of the Lady of Shalott is the one painted in 1888 by John William Waterhouse and she is painted with masses of beautiful coppery red hair, clearly a legacy of the Pre-Raphaelites who had a penchant for red hair. It goes to show how life imitates art, for as soon as something is glamorised in art, it becomes fashionable in life as well. This was just a little digression. Here is how the passage continued:

“But it’s so ridiculous to have a redheaded Elaine,” mourned Anne. “I’m not afraid to float down and I’d love to be Elaine. But it’s ridiculous just the same. Ruby ought to be Elaine because she is so fair and has such lovely long golden hair—Elaine had ‘all her bright hair streaming down,’ you know. And Elaine was the lily maid. Now, a red-haired person cannot be a lily maid.”

“Your complexion is just as fair as Ruby’s,” said Diana earnestly, “and your hair is ever so much darker than it used to be before you cut it.”

“Oh, do you really think so?” exclaimed Anne, flushing sensitively with delight. “I’ve sometimes thought it was myself—but I never dared to ask anyone for fear she would tell me it wasn’t. Do you think it could be called auburn now, Diana?”

“Yes, and I think it is real pretty,” said Diana, looking admiringly at the short, silky curls that clustered over Anne’s head and were held in place by a very jaunty black velvet ribbon and bow.

They were standing on the bank of the pond, below Orchard Slope, where a little headland fringed with birches ran out from the bank; at its tip was a small wooden platform built out into the water for the convenience of fishermen and duck hunters. (…)

It was Anne’s idea that they dramatize Elaine. They had studied Tennyson’s poem in school the preceding winter, the Superintendent of Education having prescribed it in the English course for the Prince Edward Island schools. They had analyzed and parsed it and torn it to pieces in general until it was a wonder there was any meaning at all left in it for them, but at least the fair lily maid and Lancelot and Guinevere and King Arthur had become very real people to them, and Anne was devoured by secret regret that she had not been born in Camelot. Those days, she said, were so much more romantic than the present. Anne’s plan was hailed with enthusiasm. The girls had discovered that if the flat were pushed off from the landing place it would drift down with the current under the bridge and finally strand itself on another headland lower down which ran out at a curve in the pond. They had often gone down like this and nothing could be more convenient for playing Elaine.

“Well, I’ll be Elaine,” said Anne, yielding reluctantly, for, although she would have been delighted to play the principal character, yet her artistic sense demanded fitness for it and this, she felt, her limitations made impossible.

“Ruby, you must be King Arthur and Jane will be Guinevere and Diana must be Lancelot. But first you must be the brothers and the father. We can’t have the old dumb servitor because there isn’t room for two in the flat when one is lying down. We must pall the barge all its length in blackest samite. That old black shawl of your mother’s will be just the thing, Diana.”

The black shawl having been procured, Anne spread it over the flat and then lay down on the bottom, with closed eyes and hands folded over her breast.

“Oh, she does look really dead,” whispered Ruby Gillis nervously, watching the still, white little face under the flickering shadows of the birches. “It makes me feel frightened, girls. Do you suppose it’s really right to act like this? Mrs. Lynde says that all play-acting is abominably wicked.”

“Ruby, you shouldn’t talk about Mrs. Lynde,” said Anne severely. “It spoils the effect because this is hundreds of years before Mrs. Lynde was born. Jane, you arrange this. It’s silly for Elaine to be talking when she’s dead.”

Jane rose to the occasion. Cloth of gold for coverlet there was none, but an old piano scarf of yellow Japanese crepe was an excellent substitute. A white lily was not obtainable just then, but the effect of a tall blue iris placed in one of Anne’s folded hands was all that could be desired. “Now, she’s all ready,” said Jane. “We must kiss her quiet brows and, Diana, you say, ‘Sister, farewell forever,’ and Ruby, you say, ‘Farewell, sweet sister,’ both of you as sorrowfully as you possibly can. Anne, for goodness sake smile a little. You know Elaine ‘lay as though she smiled.’ That’s better. Now push the flat off.”

(….) For a few minutes Anne, drifting slowly down, enjoyed the romance of her situation to the full. Then something happened not at all romantic. The flat began to leak.

Arthur Hughes – April Love

26 Aug

Let’s take a look at some very romantical paintings by a Pre-Raphaelite painter Arthur Hughes.

Arthur Hughes, April Love, 1855-56

On 19th May 1855, Edward Burne-Jones, English painter associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, took his beloved girl Georgiana “Georgie” MacDonald to the Royal Academy Exhibition and proposed marriage to her in front of the painting “April Love” by Arthur Hughes. What a romantical gesture!? I have always been fond of this painting because of its dreamy and romantic mood and the gorgeous indigo-purple dress that the girl is wearing. Purple dresses are somewhat rare in art history, and interestingly Arthur Hughes’s canvases are full of them. Sweet and wistful coppery-haired maidens in purple gowns, against a background of lush green nature. Very romantic and very Pre-Raphaelite. Hughes is famous for making paintings of lovers, influenced by a painting that he himself admired, “The Huguenot” by John Everett Millais, but he is also somewhat ignored, perhaps because his life wasn’t rife with scandals, lovers or travels to exotic places. He led a quiet, but joyous and serene life with his wife Tryphena Foord ‘his early and only love’ and they married in 1855, so around the time “April Love” was painted.

Arthur Hughes, Study for April Love, 1855

It’s interesting to note that Arthur Hughes’ own love life was happy and seemingly ideal, and yet the romantic scenes on his canvases are tinged with melancholy and unrequited feelings; transient nature of love and life are in opposition with the lasting character of nature, old oak trees and ivy with its steady and persistent growth are in contrast with the changing nature of human feelings. Maybe in his real life, love was as strong as an oak trees and could resist winds and storms, but in the gentle, dreamy and wistful world of his paintings, love is a light pink rose whose delicate petals are easily scattered by a gentle breeze, as we can see in the bottom left part of the painting “April Love” where a girl is standing by an ivy-overgrown tree trunk and looking down in disappointment and sadness, while a gentleman whose head is hard to even notice on canvas is kissing her hand and perhaps reassuring her that she is wrong in her doubts and that he does love her. The model for the lad was the sculptor Alexander Munro who shared a studio with Hughes from 1852 to 1858, and the model for the girl was originally a girl from the countryside who refused to pose for Hughes after she saw the way he had drawn her. Hughes then used his wife as a model and it is her face that we see on the canvas, so gentle and so suitable for a romantic scene. The painting was exhibited in 1856 and accompanied with these verses from Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Miller’s Daughter”:

Love is hurt with jar and fret,
Love is made a vague regret,
Eyes with idle tears are set,
Idle habit links us yet;
What is Love? For we forget.
Ah no, no.

Arthur Hughes, Amy, 1853-59

Arthur Hughes was not an official member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but his paintings clearly exhibit the Pre-Raphaelite style and preference of themes. Another painting, “Amy”, is also a beautiful example of Hughes’ use and choice of colours; how radiant and vivacious is the purple of her dress?! Especially in the contrast with the many shades of green of the ivy, moss and fern all around her. The rosy-cheeked Amy with a flower in her hair could be mistaken for a forest fairy. Her eyes are worryingly set on the name “Amy” freshly carved on the tree trunk. Youthful love is fragile and somewhere deep in her heart she can sense it. In a follow-up painting “Long Engagement” we see the same girl, this time with a far sadder look on her face, disappointment and pleading are in her gaze. His eyes are directed somewhere else, perhaps he doesn’t have the heart to break hers and shatter her hopes, or there is reluctance which keeps him from fulfilling his promise. Meanwhile, the carved name on the tree trunk is getting more and more overgrown with ivy. Ferns and moss have grown in abundance, and white roses with their thorny stems have started to smother the paths of the forest. The lovers’ love is lulled to everlasting sleep. Despite the sad element of Hughes’ paintings, they are still a definite proof that broodiness and melancholy are cool, and happiness is not. Also, it’s interesting to note that the couple mentioned in the beginning, Edward Burne-Jones and Georgie, also had a long engagement which made Georgie’s heart ache, but in 1860 they finally married, and luckily avoided the fate of the couple bellow.

Arthur Hughes, Long Engagement, 1859

Lord Tennyson: February fair-maid – The Snowdrop

27 Feb

A little poem by the Victorian poet Lord Tennyson about a snowdrop, one of the first spring flowers. He called this delicate white flower “a February fair-maid” and I thought it was unbelievably romantic and sweet to think of her in that way. A silent and fair maid dressed in white whose arrival in the gardens, woods and meadows signifies the end of winter and the warmer, brighter days, as Tennyson put it “May time and time of roses”. Truly, when I see snowdrops, and I saw some last week for the first time this season, it fills my heart with mad blind hope. I know that spring will come and that soon I will see the cherry blossoms in bloom and thread my way through the meadows while the sweet gentle sun of March kisses my face. Let us not forget the Snowdrop’s dear friends, shout out to yellow primroses and crocuses whose silken gowns come in all three colours; purple, yellow and white.

Photo by Michelle De Rose, Waiting.

The Snowdrop

Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!
Ever as of old time,
Solitary firstling,
Coming in the cold time,
Prophet of the gay time,
Prophet of the May time,
Prophet of the roses,
Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!

John Everett Millais: Mariana and Autumn Yearning

29 Aug

Dusky, velvety colours, intricate detailing and that peculiar mood of yearning and melancholy that pervades paintings from Millais’ early phase, make Mariana a true Pre-Raphaelite gem, comparable by beauty and emotional intensity only to the more famous Ophelia painted around the same time.

1851. John Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851 smallerJohn Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851

Painting Mariana is a beautiful and psychologically stimulating example of Millais’ early work and his devotion to the values of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, that is, to study nature attentively, to have genuine ideas to express and to produce thoroughly good pictures. Pre-Raphaelites had a tendency to draw inspiration from works of literature such as Dante and Lord Tennyson’s poems, and plays by William Shakespeare. This painting is no exception. Its mood and composition instantly attract the viewer. A tired lady in a gown of shiny midnight blue velvet stands by the window, supporting her aching back with hands, gazing into the distance. That’s Mariana, a character from Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure and Lord Tennyson’s poem Mariana, a young woman doomed to a life of solitude because her fiancé Angelo abandoned her after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck at sea.

In her lonely, virginal chamber time stands still. Modern, Victorian interior in carnelian brownish reds and peridot greens is contrasted with old Medieval stained glass windows that show the scene of Annunciation which perhaps serves to compare Mariana’s waiting to that of Virgin Mary. If you look closely, you’ll notice a needle pinned into a discarded embroidery. Mariana seems occupied by her pursuit while seasons change and winds roar around her lonely claustrophobic abode. The abundance and lushness of late Summer transitions in Autumn as orange and green leaves come dancing softly into her cluttered Victorian chamber. Seasons change but her longing seems infinite and still. Autumnal nature dying in rich shades could symbolise Mariana’s inner dying. The seal in the right corner of stained glass windows reads In coelo quies or In Heaven there is rest, further implying Mariana’s suicidal thoughts as she contemplates on her dreary world. These verses of Velvet Underground’s song Venus in Furs remind me of Mariana’s emotions: I am tired, I am weary/ I could sleep for a thousand years/ A thousand dreams that would awake me/ Different colours made of tears.

At first sight, this painting seems like a simple Victorian genre scene; passive and sad woman in a dark cluttered room, in a Medieval-style dress, exhibiting a typical Victorian nostalgia for the past eras. However, Millais portrays a complex psychological state underneath the aesthetically pleasing exterior, and that’s what makes this painting stand out amongst other similar Victorian artworks. Attentive to details like he was in his early artistic phase, Millais managed to evoke Mariana’s feelings – her yearning, pain, loneliness and seeming resignation, mood of dreariness and ‘changes that all pass her like a dream’, as Lizzie Siddal, another Pre-Raphaelite muse, would late wrote in her poem. This painting is so iconic in my opinion, just like the famous Ophelia. You simply can’t think of the character Mariana without imagining the scene the way Millais portrayed it and he based the painting on this particular verse by Lord Tennyson:

She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’

Looking at her pose and her surroundings you can feel her tiredness and desperation. You can imagine the broken thoughts running through her mind; What am I doing with my life? What awaits me? Will my life be this dreary forever? Perhaps she still feels the softness of her silk wedding dress under her fingers, but, oh, misery, all too soon she has buried it along with her dreams. Millais is quite daring in his choice of subject. In rigid Victorian world, a woman did well if she got married, and if she remained a spinster, well, that must be her fault. And here we have a dashing young artist portraying a sexually frustrated woman; a woman who is not content with being silent and doing her embroidery but wants more, from life and love equally. Almost twenty years later, a fellow Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti revisited the theme and painted his own version of Mariana; portraying her as a sensuous and arrogant femme fatale disdainfully gazing into the distance, using Jane Burden Morris as a model. I prefer Millais’ version because he, in my opinion, managed to portray Mariana’s feelings much better. I feel that in general, Millais is the poetic one, and Rossetti is the passionate one. With this subject, lyrical and poetical approach is better.

I recognise Mariana’s feelings in these lyrics written by Morrissey:

And as I climb into an empty bed

Oh, well, enough said…” (The Smiths, I Know It’s Over)

Dream is gone, but Mariana’s loneliness is real. She could have been a bride and now she’s a fool. Oh, if only that dowry wasn’t lost at sea. If only Angelo had been more faithful. Please, save your life, Mariana, because you only got one.

The Lady of Shalott – John William Waterhouse

17 Dec

Magical and dreamy quality of this painting simply draws you into its world of melancholy, hidden symbols and the inevitable darkness that pervades the atmosphere.

1888. John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, after a poem by Tennyson; like many Victorian paintings, romantic but not Romantic.1888. The Lady of Shalott

Elaine of Astolat, a figure in Arthurian legends, apparently died of unrequited love for Sir Lancelot. Her body was placed in a small boat, one hand holding a lily and the other clutching her final letter. She them floated from Thames to Camelot where they discovered the body, calling Elaine ‘a little lily maiden‘.

Legend about Elaine was very popular among Victorian artists and poets, as were many other Arthurian and Medieval legends, but this legend about a frail and delicate lady who faces her own destiny sparked a special interest of John William Waterhouse, a famous Pre-Raphaelite painter. This sad and unusual fate of the poor maiden fascinated Pre-Raphaelites, and Waterhouse painted many scenes inspired by Elaine. The legend also awakened the attention of other Pre-Raphaelite painters such as William Holman Hunt and Gabriel Dante Rossetti.

It was however, Lord Tennyson’s poem called ‘Lady of Shalott‘, first version being published in 1833. and the second in 1842, that gave a new vision of Elaine’s destiny which the artists accepted. In the poem, nineteen stanzas long in the second edition, Lord Tennyson explores Elaine’s life in isolation in the tower and the longing to live a real life among real people. Her suffering is caused by a curse that has been cast upon her; a mysterious curse that forces her to weave images on her loom without ever looking directly out at the world. She looks in the mirror instead, yearning to see the busy streets and the people of Camelot directly. ‘I’m half-sick of shadows.‘ said The Lady of Shalott; the shadows being a metaphor for the reflected images in the mirror which the Lady feels are a poor substitute for seeing people directly.

The inevitable thing happened, one day a handsome and charming knight passed by, Sir Lancelot, and The Lady of Shalott discarded her weaving and looked out of the window towards Camelot bringing about the curse. The Lady of Shalott then left the tower, found a boat, wrote her name on it and floated down the river to Camelot where the ladies of the court and the knights found her. Lancelot considered her appearance of particular beauty and grace.

”Who is this? And what is here?”
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,

All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,

The Lady of Shalott.”

 1915. I am half-sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott - John William Waterhouse1915. ‘I am half-sick of shadows’, said the Lady of Shalott

Mysterious curse, beauty of this maiden, isolating life in the tower, reality seen through the mirror; all these elements inspired John William Waterhouse in painting ‘The Lady of Shalott’ in three different versions; first in 1888, then in 1894. and 1915. respectively. The first painting, painted in 1888. is the most appealing to me, and it’s also considered one of Waterhouses’ most popular works due to many reasons. The Lady of Shalott is presented here in a boat after escaping the tower in an autumn storm, inscribing ‘The Lady of Shalott‘ on the prow. As she sailed towards Camelot and her certain death, she sang a lament, lying resigned with her fate yet full of deep melancholy. Waterhouse captured this moment of Tennyson’s poem:

And down the river’s dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance –
With glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

This painting is the epitome of the Pre-Raphaelite style due to its sympathetic notion towards the subject portrayed; he was so tender in portraying a vulnerable yearning woman, the Pre-Raphaelite aspect of nature, along with the vivid colour and detail characteristic for Pre-Raphaelite painting style. Despite the captivating, almost magical quality of the painting, the atmosphere is engulfed in darkness; the certainty of Lady’s death, her sad resignation, life and reality she wanted to experience but never did, the romantic love she hoped for but never sensed it. This painting is romantic but only at the first sight. While looking at the painting, the first thing you see is a beautiful long haired maiden, immersed in tranquility, sitting in a boat surrounded by her possessions, but Waterhouse portrayed the scene with much more complexity. One could get lost in this nature, bursting with beauty and details as it was a character itself.

The painting is filled with metaphoric references; the lantern at the boat suggests it will soon be dark, a crucifix positioned near the front of the bow, and three candles, two of which are already blown out signifying that her death is soon to come. Also, the detailed approach of Waterhouse’s painting style is evident in the tapestry draped over the side of the boat; it is the tapestry that The Lady of Shalott had been vowing in her isolation and solitary in the tower.

1894. The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot - John William Waterhouse1894. The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot

Lord Tennyson’s poem, main inspiration for Waterhouse’s paintings, prompted the modern critics into believing that is represents the dilemma the artists, writers and musicians face; ‘to create work about and celebrate the world, or to enjoy the world by simply living in it.

Romantic and Picturesque Tintern Abbey – Its Effect on Art and Poetry

29 Nov

Ruins of the Tintern Abbey situated in Southeast Wales inspired many poets and artists, from Wordsworth and J.M.W. Turner to Lord Tennyson and Ginsberg. Once representing the architectural developments of the day, Tintern Abbey was abandoned and doomed to solitude and decay, but the spirit of this once magnificent Abbey, resistant to transience, still resides, woven into these old stone walls.

Tintern Abbey, West Front circa 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-18511794. Ruins of West Front, Tintern Abbey by J. M. W. Turner

Tintern Abbey is situated on the Welsh bank of river Wye; a river which forms the border between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England. It was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow on 9th May 1131. Tintern Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery founded in Wales, and only the second to be founded in all of Britain.The present-day remains of Tintern is a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1131. and 1536, thought very little of the first buildings remained. Abbey was mostly rebuilt in the 13th century in the ‘Geometrical‘ style; first period of the Decorative Style; part of English Gothic Architecture. Tintern Abbey, as it is seen today, represented the architectural developments of its day, being built of Old Red Sandstone in a typical Cistercian ground plan which is charasterised by a cruciform plan and a rectangular shaped apse. The Abbey put Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk’s coat of arms in the glass of the east window in token of gratitude as he was a generous benefactor in the rebuilding of the Abbey.

However the Abbey was disestablished in 1536. under the reign of Henry VIII. His ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries‘ ended the monastic life in England and Wales that was cherished in this Abbey particularly for more than four hundred years. Valuables from the Abbey were sent to the Royal Treasury and the lead from the roof was sold. Decay of the buildings had begun.

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-18511794. The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window by J. M. W. Turner

No one has shown interest in the history of the site in the next two centuries and it wasn’t until the mid eighteenth century that the interest arose again, as it was popular to visit ‘wilder’ parts of the country. Wye Valley, where the Tintern Abbey is situated, is particularly known for its picturesque and romantic landscapes, and was often visited by ‘romantic‘ tourists; poets, writers, painters and other ‘romantic fanatics‘. The Abbey was overgrown by ivy which was considered especially romantic.

In 1745. John Egerton, later Bishop of Durham, started taking his friends on boat trips down the valley. The area, however, became more widely known following the publication of works by the poet Thomas Gray who traveled throughout Britain in search of picturesque landscapes and ancient monuments which he did found, in places such as Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland. These elements were not particularly valued in the 18th century, at the peak of the Enlightenment era. Gray’s writing on these subjects, and the Gothic details in works such as Elegy and The Bard, foreshadow the Romantic movement. Lake Poets such as Coleridge and Wordsworth taught people to value picturesque, Gothic and sublime. Some of the most famous poets, writers and artists of the day made the pilgrimage to the great sights such as Tintern Abbey, and were inspired by its romantic and magical sensibilities.

Wordsworth in particular was captivated by the area, having written a famous poem ‘Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey‘ or simply ‘Tintern Abbey‘ after a tour that took place July 13th, 1798. In the poem he expresses his fascination not only with Tinter Abbey, but with the River Wye also, and presented his philosophies on nature. Revisiting the natural beauty of Wye filled the poet with a sense of ‘tranquil restoration‘. He felt the ‘divine creativity‘ at these old ruins, gazing at the old red sandstone which changed colours from purple to grey in the sunset.

1790. Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard - Philip James De Loutherbourg1790. Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard – Philip James De Loutherbourg

Tintern Abbey inspired not only poets, but artists too, J.M.W. Turner most notably. Turner painted the Abbey many times, which is unusual as he favored painting seas and ships, but seems like he was powerless against the magical spirit of the old ruins. The wealth of decorative detail displayed in the walls, doorways and archways has surely been inspiration for painters, as it was for poets. Numerous other artists painted the abbey and made engravings, such as William Havell, Edward Dayes and William Henry Bartlet, but the most interesting among them is Philip James De Loutherbourg, a Franco-English painter famous for his landscapes and elaborate stage designs for London theatres.

In 1790. he painted a painting called ‘Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard‘ which is very romantic and melancholic in its sensibilities, but also very dark and nocturnal. A figure is standing in the overgrown ruins of an abbey, identified as Tintern Abbey, contemplating the remnants of an old painting showing the Resurrection. Above the figure of Christ is sundial which casts a long moonlight shadow which, along with the ivy overgrown ruins, old graves and sculls, suggests the imminence of death, but also the possibility of salvation. This painting shows another reason for the popularity of Tintern Abbey; its emotive historical associations with the Protestant Reformation. Many elements of the painting; ambiance itself, ruins of an old abbey, the nocturnal setting, the idea – inability to resist transience, make this painting a Romantic one.

1820s Tintern Abbey by William Havell1804. Tintern Abbey by William Havell

The popularity of Tintern Abbey did not fade in the Victorian era thanks to Lord Tennyson, a much respected Victorian poet, who, inspired by his visit to the ruins of the abbey, wrote a poem ‘Tears, Idle Tears‘ in 1847. He said the convent was ‘full for me of its bygone memories‘, and that the poem was about ‘the passion of the past, the abiding in the transient.‘ Lord Tennyson developed the similar theme as Wordsworth in his poem ‘Tintern Abbey‘ written almost fifty years earlier. The final verse of Tennyson’s poem however reveals the true reason for melancholy and tranquility. It was the unhappy attachment to Rosa Baring, the love of his youth, that provoked such deep emotions.

Tears, Idle Tears

 Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

   Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

   Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

   Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign’d
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

1794. Edward Dayes, Tintern Abbey & the River Wye1794. Edward Dayes, Tintern Abbey & the River Wye

After inspiring artists and poets, and many other ‘romantic souls‘, old ruins of Tintern Abbey still reside in the picturesque and magical Wye Valley, old walls still change their colour from purple to gray in the sunset, Autumn rains still mourn over those sad ruins, wind still blows through the branches of hawthorn trees, old archways are still adorned by evening shadows in the dusk, moonlight still illuminates the old doorways and the spirit of the past pervades the old Abbey, now enriched with memories of many visits.