Modern critics have been suspicious of the "abundant recompense" that "Tintern Abbey" claims for the replacement of youthful joys by mature thought. Many have contrasted unconscious motivation and surface articulation within the poem. But what if Wordsworth was more self-conscious about the efficacy of memory than we give him credit for? I argue that both the language and the structure of the poem show Wordsworth questioning the claims he was making for memory. But were there resources available for him to understand memory differently than we do-as well as to call that understanding into question? I argue that there were, and that they can be found both in texts echoed in the poem and in a long tradition of reflection on memory recently described by Mary Carruthers in The Book of Memory (1990). Where critics such as Harold Bloom have seen a blind spot in Wordswoth's self-consciousness and have brought psychoanalytic theory to bear upon their analysis of memory, I argue that Wordsworth's categories for understanding and questioning memory were at least as historical and ethical as they were psychological and aesthetic. Seeing the author work out of and question a tradition of memory as ethical construction helps us understand what is at stake in the poem. Less productive is the assumption that only the poem's readers can figures the riven text below its smooth surfaces.
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