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The Prelude by William Wordsworth
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The Prelude (1850)

by William Wordsworth

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First read over a half-century ago, but chosen now by chance after two M.C. Beaton mysteries: unexpectedly linked by fuel. At Scottish home fires, and in Wordsworth’s childhood two centuries ago, “we pursued / Our home amusements by the warm peat-fire.” (Book I, end) Also as in Beaton, rural labor teaches ethics that the city may not; here, young Wordy* rows, races against his fellows on a lake toward an island with the remains of a chapel; “In such a race/ So ended, disappointment could be none,/…We rested in the shade, all pleased alike, / Conquered and conqueror. Thus pride of strength,/ And the vain-glory of superior skill, were tempered.”**(Book II).

Before finding his epic subject of self-development, the poet searches “some old / Romantic tale by Milton left unsung; / More often turning to some gentle place /Within the groves of Chivalry.” Or, “How Mithridates northward passed…” or “some high-souled man,/ Unnamed among the chronicles of kings, / Suffered in silence for Truth’s sake….”
Like Rousseau’s Confessions, this poet’s whole project illustrates his line, “The child is father of the man,” which becomes Freud’s analysis a century later.

The most famous page in the whole Prelude comes midway in Book I, where the young oarsman-poet takes “A little boat tied to a willow tree / Within a rocky cove…” and admits “It was an act of stealth.” As he rows out, fixing his eye on a craggy ridge to the rear, “a huge peak, black and huge…Upreared its head…” For many days he felt that spectacle, “Of unknown modes of being,” of the power behind, within Nature, quite beyond “the mean and vulgar works of man.” And might I add, no Englishman can know “mean and vulgar works” equal to American malls or what Russians Ilf and Petrov called in the 50’s, “one-storied America.”

Behind the poem also lies social reform, when seeing a "hunger-bitten girl" tied to a heifer, "that poverty / Abject as this would in a little while / Be found no more"(Bk IX). And this did happen in 19C America, though such poverty--now post-industrial--has returned, massively. Of his residence at Cambridge and in London, he wonders "how men lived / Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still/ Strangers, not knowing each the other's name."(Bk VII)

He writes about fifteen years after, though publishing six decades later his 1792 French Revolution sojourn and amour with Annette Vallon producing daughter Caroline. He admits he's "untaught ..by books / To reason well of polity or law"...though then "on every tongue,/ natural rights and civil"(Bk IX) Of his French love, "I wept not then,-- but tears have dimmed my sight, / In memory of the farewells of that time, / Domestic severings, female fortitude / At dearest separation...." He returned to London because England had declared war on France, though the temporary move became much more.

In Book Two he recalls renting a horse, riding to a disused Abbey (maybe Tintern) and even riding their horses down the chantry, “in uncouth race,” “and that single wren / Which one day sang so sweetly in the nave.” G Sample says in Bird Songs and Calls of Britain “in the latter half of the year, the wrens may be the only birds singing… like the real owners of the wood.” I recall hearing a couple wrens near the North River in Islington, startlingly copious song, as much as the Skylark, and easier to imitate (closer to diatonic scale).

Wordsworth recalls growing up (in 1780s) with little food in Cockermouth, overlooking the Derwent; the kids played games 'til after dark, "A rude mass / Of native rock, left midway in the square of our small market village, was the goal / Or centre of these sports..."( Bk II, start). He doesn’t say exactly what he played, but later he rented a horse and rode through an Abbey--maybe down in Tintern Abbey. Most of his writing is about Nature and Solitude, so these town-centered games—Tag? Bowlywicket? Handball?--were a surprise.

* Oops—just a glancing diminutive, not worthy of the poet’s Reader, whom he calls “Friend”--in Book VI, his Friend is Coleridge. The poet knows his Friend will not think “that I have lengthened out / With fond and feeble tongue a tedious tale” (Bk I, end).
**Would that the Trumpster had learned basic (rural) ethics, to temper his excruciating vain-glory.

PS I read in Carlos Baker's edition, Holt Rhinehart, 1961. ( )
  AlanWPowers | Jul 22, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Wordsworthprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wordsworth, JonathanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
E' una benedizione questa lieve brezza che soffia dai campi verdi e dalle nuvole e dal cielo mi batte sulla guancia quasi consapevole della gioia che dà.
Quotations
OH there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.
Whate'er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free,

Free as a bird to settle where I will.
What dwelling shall receive me? in what vale
Shall be my harbour? underneath what grove
Shall I take up my home? and what clear stream
Shall with its murmur lull me into rest?
The earth is all before me. With a heart
Joyous, nor scared at its own liberty,
I look about; and should the chosen guide
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way. I breathe again!

Trances of thought and mountings of the mind
Come fast upon me: it is shaken off,
That burthen of my own unnatural self,
The heavy weight of many a weary day
Not mine, and such as were not made for me.
Long months of peace (if such bold word accord
With any promises of human life),
Long months of ease and undisturbed delight
Are mine in prospect; whither shall I turn,
By road or pathway, or through trackless field,
Up hill or down, or shall some floating thing
Upon the river point me out my course?

. . . .

One end at least hath been attained; my mind
Hath been revived, and if this genial mood
Desert me not, forthwith shall be brought down
Through later years the story of my life.
The road lies plain before me;--'tis a theme
Single and of determined bounds; and hence
I choose it rather at this time, than work
Of ampler or more varied argument,
Where I might be discomfited and lost:
And certain hopes are with me, that to thee
This labour will be welcome, honoured Friend!
Last words
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This entry is for the complete 1805 text of The Prelude.  Do not include selections, the two earlier texts, the Penguin Parallel 1805-1850 text, or editions containing all four texts.  They each have their own page.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140433694, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:34 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

This book presents one of Wordsworth's greatest poems. The Prelude was completed in 1805.

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