William Wordsworth on friendship with Coleridge: “No absence scarcely can there be, for those who love as we do.”

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Throughout the summer I hope to post my favorite bits from Wordworth’s 1805 Prelude. Book 6 is filled with highlights, but this extended passage about his friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge is especially transcendent . Other excerpts are here.

 


There is no grief, no sorrow, no despair,
No languor, no dejection, no dismay,
No absence scarcely can there be, for those
Who love as we do.

Book 6, 253-256

I too have been a wanderer, but, alas,
How different is the fate of different men,
Though twins almost in genius and in mind.
Unknown unto each other, yea, and breathing
As if in different elements, we were framed
To bend at last to the same discipline,
Predestined, if two beings ever were,
To seek the same delights, and have one health,
One happiness. Throughout this narrative,
Else sooner ended, I have known full well
For whom I thus record the birth and growth
Of gentleness, simplicity, and truth,
And joyous loves that hallow innocent days
Of peace and self-command. Of rivers, fields,
And groves, I speak to thee, my friend – to thee
Who, yet a liveried schoolboy in the depths
Of the huge city, on the leaded roof
Of that wide edifice, they home and school,
Wast used to lie and gaze upon the clouds
Moving in heaven, or haply, tired of this,
To shut thine eyes and by internal light
See trees, and meadows, and thy native stream
Far distant – thus beheld from year to year
Of thy long exile. Nor could I forget
In that late portion of my argument
That scarcely had I finally resigned
My right among those academic bowers
When thou wert thither guided. From the heart
Of London, and from cloisters there, thou cam’st
And didst sit down in temperance and peace,
A rigorous student. What a stormy course
Then followed – oh, it is a pang that calls
For utterance, to think how small a change
Of circumstances might to thee have spared
A world of pain, ripened ten thousand hopes
For ever withered. Through this retrospect
Of my own college life I still have had
Thy after-sojourn in the self-same place
Present before my eyes, have played with times
(I speak of private business of the thought)
And accidents as children do with cards,
Or as a man, who, when his house is built,
A frame locked up in wood and stone, doth still
In impotence of mind by his fireside
Rebuild it to his liking. I have thought
Of thee, thy learning, gorgeous eloquence,
And all the strength and plumage of thy youth,
Thy subtle speculations, toils abstruse
Among the schoolmen, and Platonic forms
Of wild ideal pageantry, shaped out
From things well-matched, or ill, and words for things –
The self-created sustenance of a mind
Debarred from Nature’s living images,
Compelled to be a life unto itself,
And unrelentingly possessed by thirst
Of greatness, love, and beauty. Not alone,
Ah, surely not in singleness of heart
Should I have seen the light of evening fade
Upon the silent Cam, if we had met,
Even at that early time: I needs must hope,
Must feel, must trust, that my maturer age
And temperature less willing to be moved,
My calmer habits, and more steady voice,
Would with an influence benign have soothed
Or chased away the airy wretchedness
That battered on thy youth. But thou hast trod,
In watchful meditation thou hast trod,
A march of glory, which doth put to shame
These vain regrets; health suffers in thee, else
Such grief for thee would be the weakest thought
That ever harboured in the breast of man.

Book 6, 261-331

 

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