The Prelude: The Four Texts (1798, 1799, 1805, 1850)
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First published in July 1850, shortly after Wordsworth's death, The Prelude was the culmination of over fifty years of creative work. The great Romantic poem of human consciousness, it takes as its theme 'the growth of a poet's mind': leading the reader back to Wordsworth's formative moments of childhood and youth, and detailing his experiences as a radical undergraduate in France at the time of the Revolution. Initially inspired by Coleridge's exhortation that Wordsworth write a work upon the French Revolution, The Prelude has ultimately become one of the finest examples of poetic autobiography ever written; a fascinating examination of the self that also presents a comprehensive view of the poet's own creative vision.
the heart of man Dread nothing. From this height I shall not stoop To humbler matter that detained us oft In thought or conversation, public acts, And public persons, and emotions wrought Within the breast, as ever-varying winds Of record or report swept over us; But I might here, instead, repeat a tale, Told by my Patriot friend, of sad events, That prove to what low depth had struck the roots, 550 How widely spread the boughs, of that old tree Which, as a deadly mischief, and a foul And
That he, who would sow death, reaps death, or worse, And can reap nothing better, child-like longed To imitate, not wise enough to avoid; 70 Or left (by mere timidity betrayed) The plain straight road, for one no better chosen Than if their wish had been to undermine Justice, and make an end of Liberty. But from these bitter truths I must return To my own history. It hath been told That I was led to take an eager part In arguments of civil polity, Abruptly, and indeed before my time: I had
mind and the blue sky, ‘impelling’ both. The child now is distinct from the natural world with which he forms an imaginative alliance. 285 the infant sensibility… our being: Portrayed at first as the child at the breast, the infant babe has moved into a symbolic realm, ‘powerful’ in an array of emotions that he could not possibly have experienced. Wordsworth, however, refuses to think of him as unordinary: his sensibility is the birthright of our being. 290 chamois: agile mountain antelope,
such a context. 178–9 some tale|That did bewitch me then: Cf. Wordsworth’s later references to fairy-stories and The Arabian Nights (11. 364–9 and 482–500 below). In 1847 he recalled the happiness of his ‘earliest days at school’ in terms of being at liberty ‘to read whatever books [he] liked’ (Memoirs I 10). Don Quixote is cited, alongside Fielding, Gil Blas and Swift. 180 O friend… soul: Coleridge had addressed Wordsworth in very similar terms in the version of Dejection: An Ode printed in
on the line of each of those two roads Advanced in such indisputable shapes – All these were spectacles and sounds to which I often would repair, and thence would drink 370 As at a fountain. And I do not doubt That in this later time, when storm and rain Beat on my roof at midnight, or by day When I am in the woods, unknown to me The workings of my spirit thence are brought. Nor, sedulous as I have been to trace How nature by collateral interest, And by extrinsic passion, peopled first My