William Wordsworth: “Invigorating thoughts from former years”

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Throughout May I hope to post my favorite bits from Wordworth’s 1805 Prelude. Here are highlights from Book 1:

Time, place, and manners, these I seek, and these
I find in plenteous store, but nowhere such
As may be singled out with steady choice –
No little band of yet remembered names
Whom I, in perfect confidence, might hope
To summon back from lonesome banishment
And make them inmates in the hearts of men
Now living, or to live in times to come.

Book 1, 169-176

 

Meanwhile my hope has been that I might fetch
Invigorating thoughts from former years,
Might fix the wavering balance of my mind,
And haply meet reproaches too, whose power
May spur me on, in manhood now mature,
To honorable toil. Yet should these hopes
Be vain, and thus should neither I be taught
To understand myself, nor thou to know
With better knowledge how the heart was framed
Of him thou lovest, need I dread from thee
Harsh judgments if I am so loth to quit
Those recollected hours that have the charm
Of visionary things, and lovely forms
And sweet sensations, that throw back our life
And almost made our infancy itself
A visible scene on which the sun is shining?

One end hereby at least hath been attained –
My mind hath been revived – and if this mood
Desert me not, I will forthwith bring 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 chuse 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.

Book 1, 648-674

 

Ye presences of Nature, in the sky
Or on the earth, ye visions of the hills
And souls of lonely places, can I think
A vulgar hope was yours when ye employed
Such ministry – when ye through many a year
Haunting me thus among my boyish sports,
On caves and trees, upon the woods and hills,
Impressed upon all forms the characters
Of danger or desire, and thus did make
The surface of the universal earth
With triumph, and delight, and hope, and fear,
Work like a sea?

Book 1, 490-501

 

                                     Then, last wish –
My last and favorite aspiration – then
I yearn towards some philosophic song
Of truth that cherishes our daily life,
With meditations passionate from deep
Recesses in man’s heart, immortal verse
Thoughtfully fitted to the Orphean lyre;
But from this awful burthen I full soon
Take refuge, and beguile myself with trust
That mellower years will bring a riper mind
And clearer insight. Thus from day to day
I live a mockery of the brotherhood
Of vice and virtue, with no skill to part
Vague longing that is bred by want of power,
From paramount impulse not to be withstood;
A timorous capacity, from prudence;
From circumspection, infinite delay.
Humility and modest awe themselves
Betray me, serving often for a cloak
To a more subtle selfishness, that now
Doth lock my functions up in blank reserve.,
Now dupes me by an over-anxious eye
That with a false activity beats off
Simplicity and self-presented truth.
Ah, better far than this to stray about
Voluptuously through fields and rural walks
And ask no record of the hours given up
To vacant musing, unreproved neglect
Of all things, and deliberate holiday.
Far better never to have heard the name
Of zeal and just ambition than to live
Thus baffled by a mind that every hour
Turns recreant to her task, takes heart again,
Then feels immediately some hollow thought
Hang like an interdict upon her hopes.
This is my lot; for either still I find
Some imperfection in the chosen theme,
Or see of absolute accomplishment
Much wanting – so much wanting – in myself
That I recoil and droop, and seek repose
In indolence from vain perplexity,
Unprofitably travelling towards the grave,
Like a false steward who hath much received
And renders nothing back.
                                                  Was it for this
That one, the fairest of all rivers, loved
To blend his murmurs with my nurse’s song,
And from his alder shades and rocky falls,
And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice
That flowed along my dreams? For this didst thou,
O Derwent, travelling over the green plains
Near my ‘sweet birthplace’, didst thou, beauteous stream,
Make ceaseless music through the night and day,
Which with its steady cadence tempering
Our human waywardness, composed my thoughts
To more than infant softness, giving me
Among the fretful dwellings of mankind,
A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm
Which Nature breathes among the hills and groves?
When, having left his mountains, to the towers
Of Cockermouth that beauteous river came,
Behind my father’s house he passed, close by,
Along the margin of our terrace walk.
He was a playmate whom we dearly loved:
Oh, many a time have I, a five years’ child,
A naked boy, in one delightful rill,
A little mill-race severed from his stream,
Made one long bathing of a summer’s day,
Basked in the sun, and plunged, and basked again,
Alternate, all a summer’s day, or coursed
Over the sandy fields, leaping through groves
Of yellow grunsel; or, when crag and hill,
The woods, and distant Skiddaw’s lofty height,
Were bronzed with a deep radiance, stood alone
Beneath the sky, as if I had been born
On Indian plains, and from my mother’s hut
Had run abroad in wantonness to sport,
A naked savage, in the thunder-shower.

Book 1, 227-304

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2 replies »

  1. I read this aloud and was impressed by the way in which Wordsworth captures the poetic rythm of ordinary speech. But it all came to vivid life when I came to his memories of growing up in and around Cockermouth. I don’t know if this is because my mother grew up just a few miles south of Cockermouth and so I could picture the scenes that he described or that it is Wordsworth himself who comes alive when in a place. Does he give himself away when he says that he longs to write a philosophical poem but that it is such a burden?

    Liked by 1 person

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