Recent readings of "Tintern Abbey" have been political in nature and emphasis, moving further and further away from the text. But the poem is fundamentally, though generically, religious, the expression of Wordsworth's desire to define a new, autonomous spiritual outlook different from historical Christianity and proof against the mechanism and materialism of the Enlightenment. An examination of the structure reveals an unfolding religious drama in which Wordsworth attempts to define his new belief and then defend it against anticipated Enlightenment objections. The third verse paragraph, so often overlooked, is central to the structure, looking backward to the definition of the first two paragraphs and forward to the defense and proclamation of the fourth and fifth. The poem celebrates both the priestly and prophetic elements of religion while always moving on the natural plane. Wordsworth secures the great moments of mystical exaltation by surrounding them with definite claims about his moral life, and this moral benevolence validates the mystical experience. What Wordsworth expresses is fundamentally different from, though often confused with, mere Christianity.
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