Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 5: “Stirred to ecstasy by glittering verse”


Excerpts from Book 5 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his love for books. Other excerpts are here.


                                                      And yet it seems
That here, in memory of all books which lay
Their sure foundations in the heart of man,
Whether by native prose, or numerous verse,
That in the name of all inspirèd souls –
From Homer the great thunderer, from the voice
Which roars along the bed of Jewish song,
And that, more varied and elaborate,
Those trumpet-tones of harmony that shake
Our shores in England, from those loftiest notes
Down to the low and wren-like warblings, made
For cottagers and spinners at the wheel
And weary travelers when they rest themselves
By the highways and hedges: ballad-tunes,
Food for the hungry ears of little ones,
And of old men who have survived their joy –
It seemeth in behalf of these, the works,
And of the men who framed them, whether known,
Or sleeping nameless in their scattered graves,
That I should here assert their rights, attest
Their honours, and should once for all pronounce
Their benediction, speak of them as powers
For ever to be hallowed – only less
For what we may become, and what we need,
That Nature’s self which is the breath of God.

Book 5, 198-222

                                                     Thirteen years,
Or haply less, I might have seen when first
My ears began to open to the charm
Of words and tuneful order, found them sweet
For their own sakes – a passion and a power –
And phrases pleased me, chosen for delight,
For pomp, or love. Oft in the public roads,
Yet unfrequented, while the morning light
Was yellowing the hilltops, with that dear friend
(The same whom I have mentioned heretofore)
I went abroad, and for the better part
Of two delightful hours we strolled along
By the still borders of the misty lake
Repeated favourite verses with one voice,
Or coming more, as happy as the birds
That round us chaunted. Well might we be glad,
Lifted above the ground by airy fancies
More bright than madness or the dreams of wine.
And though full oft the objects of our love
Were false and in their splendour overwrought,
Yet surely at such time no vulgar power
Was working in us, nothing less in truth
Than the most noble attribute of man –
Though yet untutored and inordinate –
That wish for something loftier, more adorned,
Than is the common aspect, daily garb,
Of human life. What wonder then if sounds
Of exultation echoed through the groves –
For images, and sentiments, and words,
And every thing with which we had to do
In that delicious world of poesy,
Kept holiday, a never-ending show,
With music, incense, festival, and flowers!

Here must I pause: the only will I add
From heart-experience, and in hublest sense
Of modesty, that he who in his youth
A wanderer among the woods and fields
With living Nature hath been intimate,
Not only in that raw unpractised time
Is stirred to ecstasy, as others are,
By glittering verse, but he doth furthermore,
In measure only dealt out to himself,
Receive enduring touches of deep joy
From the great Nature that exists in works
Of mighty poets. Visionary power
Attends upon the motions of the winds
Embodied in the mystery of words;
There darkness makes abode, and all the host
Of shadowy things do work their changes there
As in a mansion like their proper home.
Even forms and substances are circumfused
By that transparent veil with light divine,
And through the turnings intricate of verse
Present themselves as objects recognised
In flashes, and with a glory scarce their own.

Book 5, 575-629