Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 3: “Unknown, unthought of, yet I was most rich”

Anthology: Poems on How to Live Human Voices Wake Us

Tonight I read a handful of poems on the theme of How to live, what to do? How to get by in the world as a devotee of culture, solitude, ritual, beauty, tradition and individuality? There is of course no one answer, and anyway, poetry should stay as far away from direct “advice,” or proscription of any kind. Still, when I sit back and think about the kind of poems that help me through the day – and the months, and the years – these are some of them. Let me know the poems you rely on in this way: send me a message at humanvoiceswakeus1@gmail.com. As I also mention, after this episode I’ll be taking a break from Human Voices Wake Us for at least a month. The best way to support the podcast is to preorder my book Notes from the Grid (coming out February 23), or check out any of my other books: To the House of the Sun, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old, Bone Antler Stone The poems I read are: Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), How to Live What to Do Galway Kinnell (1927-2014), Tillamook Journal Edith Nesbit (1858-1924), Things That Matter Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), #2 from Lightenings Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), Joy Louise Glück (1943-), Summer Night W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), A Prayer on Going into My House Emily Brontë (1818-1848), “Often rebuked, yet always back returning” Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), Man Don’t forget to join Human Voices Wake Us on Patreon, or sign up for our newsletter here.  — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/humanvoiceswakeus/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/humanvoiceswakeus/support
  1. Anthology: Poems on How to Live
  2. Anthology: Love Poems from the Last Four Centuries
  3. Advice from Charles Dickens & Alice Munro
  4. First Person: Voices from 1900-1914
  5. The Great Myths #22: The Story of Ragnarok in the Norse Eddas


Excerpts from Book 3 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his years at Cambridge. Other excerpts are here.


Things they were which then
I did not love, nor do I love them now:
Such glory was but little sought by me,
And little won. But it is right to say
That even so early, from the first crude days
Of settling-time in this my new abode,
Not seldom I had melancholy thoughts
From personal and family regards,
Wishing to hope without a hope – some fears
About my future worldly maintenance,
And, more than all, a strangeness in my mind,
A feeling that I was not for that hour
Nor for that place.”

Book 3, 69-81

Let me dare to speak
A higher language, say that now I felt
The strength and consolation which were mine.
As if awakened, summoned, rouzed, constrained,
I looked for universal things, perused
The common countenance of earth and heaven,
And, turning the mind in upon itself,
Pored, watched, expected, listened, spread my thoughts,
Incumbences more awful, visitings
Of the upholder, of the tranquil soul,
Which underneath all passion lives secure
A steadfast life. But peace, it is enough
To notice that I was ascending now
To such community with highest truth.

A track pursuing not untrod before,
From deep analogies by thought supplied,
Or consciousnesses not to be subdued,
To every natural form, rock, fruit or flower,
Even the loose stones that cover the highway,
I gave a moral life – I saw them feel,
Or linked them to some feeling. The great mass
Lay bedded in a quickening soul, and all
That I beheld respired with inward meaning.
Thus much for the one presence, and the life
Of the great whole; suffice it here to add
That whatsoe’er of terror, or of love,
Or beauty, Nature’s daily face put on
From transitory passion, unto these
I was as wakeful even as waters are
To the sky’s motion, in a kindred sense
Of passion was obedient as a lute
That waits upon the touches of the wind.
So was it with me in my solitude:
So often among the multitudes of men.
Unknown, unthought of, yet I was most rich,
I had a world about me – ’twas my own,
I made it; for it only lived to me,
And to the God who looked into my mind.
Such sympathies would sometimes shew themselves
By outward gestures and by visible looks –
Some called it madness; such indeed it was,
If childlike fruitfulness in passing joy,
If steady moods of thoughtfulness matured
To inspiration, sort with such a name;
If prophesy be madness; if things viewed
By poets of old time, and higher up
By the first men, earth’s first inhabitants,
May in these tutored days no more be seen
With undisordered sight. But leaving this,
It was no madness; for I had an eye
Which in my strongest workings evermore
Was looking for the shades of difference
As they lie hid in all exterior forms,
Near or remote, minute or vast – an eye
Which from a stone, a tree, a withered leaf,
To the broad ocean and the azure heavens
Spangled with kindred multitudes of stars,
Could find no surface where its power might sleep,
Which spake perpetual logic to my soul,
And by an unrelenting agency
Did bind my feelings even as in a chain.

As here, O friend, have I retraced my life
Up to an eminence, and told a tale
Of matters which not falsely I may call
The glory of my youth. Of genius, power,
Creation, and divinity itself,
I have been speaking, for my theme has been
What passed within me. Not of outward things
Done visibly for other minds – words, signs,
Symbols or action – but of my own heart
Have I been speaking, and my youthful mind.
O heavens, how awful is the might of souls,
And what they do within themselves while yet
The yoke of earth is new to them, the world
Nothing but a wild field where they were sown.
This is in truth heroic argument,
And genuine prowess – which I wished to touch,
With hand however weak – but in the main
It lies far hidden from the reach of words.
Points have we all of us within our souls
Where all stand single; this I feel, and make
Breathings for communicable powers.
Yet each man is a memory to himself,
And, therefore, now that I must quit this theme,
I am not heartless; for there’s not a man
That lives who hath not had his god-like hours,
And knows not what majestic sway we have
As natural beings in the strength of Nature.

Book 3, 106-194

The congregating temper which pervades
Our unripe years, not wasted, should be made
To minister to works of high attempt,
Which the enthusiast would perform with love.
Youth should be awed, possessed, as with a sense
Religious, of what holy joy there is
In knowledge if it be sincerely sought
For its own sake – in glory, and in praise,
If but by labour won, and to endure.
The passing day should learn to put aside
Her trappings here, should strip them off abashed
Before antiquity and stedfast truth,
And strong book-mindedness; and over all
Should be a healthy sound simplicity,
A seemly plainness – name it as you will,
Republican or pious.

Book 3, 392-407