It is more than three years since The Chase, and Tess leaves her home once again. She looks back at her house and can't help regret leaving it. Her family will soon move on with their lives without her. Tess has decided that the young children might be hurt by her example if she had remained.
Tess is moving for her own well-being, but in another way sacrificing herself for her family again. They will be freer without her presence bringing shame into the house.
After a while Tess accepts a ride from a farmer who finds her attractive. She walks the rest of the way on foot. She has never been to this area before, but she already feels “akin to the landscape.” Tess can see the distant place where the tombs of the d'Urbervilles lie, but she has no respect for them anymore, as they in some way caused her misfortunes and left her only a seal and spoon.
Tess begins to reconnect with Nature in her new environment. The d'Urberville tombs are just as worthless as the seal and spoon, and their dark images contrast with the bright natural beauty all around.
At last Tess reaches the Valley of the Great Dairies, which is much larger and more fertile than her homeland. Cows are everywhere she can see. There is a clear river like the “River of Life,” and the air is light, sunny, and full of birdsong. Tess feels hopeful.
“The River of Life” again introduces religious imagery, and Tess's natural purity reacts positively to the outdoor environment. She finds joy in the agricultural world.
The universal desire to be happy has finally reached Tess. She is still only twenty, and so her spirits can rise above her dark past. She starts to sing a Christian chant, but then feels guilty. The narrator muses that her rhapsodic song is probably more pagan than Christian, as Tess is a women more in touch with Nature than God, but she only knows how to express her sentiments in the Church's language.
Here Hardy begins to explain the theme of paganism and Christianity. Tess is technically a Christian, and she believes the religion she has been taught, but the purer nature of her faith and her affinity with the outdoors are more in the spirit of the ancient pagan religions of the land.
Tess descends into the vale, still full of the joyful energy of her surroundings. She looks around at the green fields and a heron lands nearby and watches her. Then Tess hears the call for milking-time, and she follows a herd of cows into a dairy farm. As the cows wait to be milked everything about the place shines brilliantly and overflows with fertility.
Again birds, in this case the heron, are associated with Tess (like Mrs. d'Urberville's bullfinches and chickens), and she naturally follows the cows home. The language describing the animals and landscape emphasizes the tone of joyful natural abundance.