Finding Inspiration in The Land and Literature of England
Written by Corinne Prost
The Land and Literature trip to England eased the transition from the less challenging curriculum of my public high school to the rigorous, demanding academia of Hillsdale College. It not only immersed me in the rich heritage of the Western-European traditions that form the basis of my studies, but also solidified my dream to become a writer. The handful of trinkets, photos, and memories I gathered overseas constantly remind me of the endless possibilities that the world has to offer.
Every summer since the trip to England, I find myself reminiscing over an odd book, pamphlet, or photo that I collected. The pictures that I took at Tintern Abbey are among some of my favorites. When studying each photo, I try to remember how the ruins rose up from the lush valley filled with sunshine. It’s hard to grasp that the abbey I saw was only a shell of its former self because most of the outer walls were perfectly intact, and the windows appeared to be intentionally void of stained glass.
If our professor had told us that the architect designed the abbey to be open to the countryside, I would have believed him. Everything glowed yellow in the summer sun while the swallows darted around and chased one another through hidden crevices. All the while, their songs layered one another like a multitude of bells. I knelt on the grass and prayed where the front of the church presumably once stood. Any time I reminisce about that moment, I struggle to put into words what I’d felt.
I think that Wordsworth captures the feeling best in his poem, Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, when he writes:
“I have felt/ A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.”
In this poem, I believe that Wordsworth was describing the presence of our Creator in the natural world around us. At Tintern Abbey, the combination of nature and ruins created an environment of stillness and reflection.
This presence that Wordsworth described was pervasive throughout our travels, from Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon to the bustling streets of London. It would well up like water through cracked earth and quench parts of my spirit I never knew were thirsting. It became the raw inspiration that breathed life into my college experience as it bridged the content of my studies to the full reality of the world.
Perhaps I’m among the few who ever felt this way, but I had a hard time believing that the things I read in great books truly ever existed the way their authors wrote about them.
Since that summer, I’ve come to believe that these authors were pointing towards something extraordinary—what Hillsdale would call the good, the true, and the beautiful. Thus, my goal became to seek the good, the true, and the beautiful through exploration of the world. I consider my collegiate studies as the tools for my travels—books and lectures draw my maps; my professors become my guides. I will always be thankful for the opportunity Hillsdale presented through that trip overseas, because it set a course for my life I would have otherwise never known.
Corinne Prost, ’19, is a Hillsdale student from Arizona.