Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 8: “A weight of ages did at once descend upon my heart”


Excerpts from Book 8 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, which he titles “Love of Nature Leading to Love of Mankind.” Other excerpts are here.


With deep devotion, Nature, did I feel
In that great city what I owed to thee:
High thoughts of God and man, and love of man,
Triumphant over all those loathsome sights
Of wretchedness and vice, a watchful eye,
Which, with the outside of our human life
Not satisfied, must read the inner mind.
For I already had been taught to love
My fellow-beings, to such habits trained
Among the woods and mountains, where I found
In thee a gracious guide to lead me forth
Beyond the bosom of my family,
My friends and youthful playmates. ’Twas thy power
That raised the first complacency in me,
And noticeable kindliness of heart,
Love human to the creature in himself
As he appeared, a stranger in my path,
Before my eyes a brother of this world –
Thou didst with those emotions of delight
Inspire me.

Book 8, 62-82

Never shall I forget the hour,
The moment rather say, when, having thridded
The labyrinth of suburban villages,
At length did I unto myself first seem
To enter the great city. On the roof
Of an itinerant vehicle I sate,
With vulgar men about me, vulgar forms
Of houses, pavement, streets, of men and things,
Mean shapes on every side; but, at the time,
When to myself it fairly might be said
(The very moment that I seemed to know)
“The threshold now is overpast”, great God!
That aught external to the living mind
Should have such mighty sway, yet so it was:
A weight of ages did at once descend
Upon my heart – no thought embodied, no
Distinct remembrances, but weight and power,
Power growing with the weight. Alas, I feel
That I am trifling. ’Twas a moment’s pause:
All that took place within me came and went
As in a moment, and I only now
Remember that it was a thing divine.

Book 8, 689-710


A glimpse of such sweet life
I saw when, from the melancholy walls
Of Goslar, once imperial, I renewed
My daily walk along that chearful plain,
Which, reaching to her gates, spreads east and west
And northwards, from beneath the mountainous verge
Of the Hercynian forest. Yet hail to you,
Your rocks and precipices, ye that seize
The heart with firmer grasp, your snows and streams
Ungovernable, and your terrifying winds,
That howled so dismally when I have been
Companionless among your solitudes!
There, ’tis the shepherd’s task the winter long
To wait upon the storms: of their approach
Sagacious, from the height he drives his flock
Down into sheltering coves, and feeds them there
Through the hard time, long as the storm is “locked”
(So they did phrase it), bearing from the stalls
A toilsome burthen up the craggy ways
To strew it on the snow. And when the spring
Looks out, and all the mountains dance with lambs,
He through the enclosures won from the steep waste,
And through the lower heights hath gone his rounds;
And when the flock with warmer weather climbs
Higher and higher, him his office leads
To range among them through the hills dispersed,
And watch their goings, whatsoever track
Each wanderer chuses for itself – a work
That lasts the summer through. He quits his home
At dayspring, and no sonner doth the sun
Begin to strike him with a fire-like heat,
Than he lies down upon some shining place,
And breakfasts with his dog. When he hath stayed –
As for the most he doth – beyond this time,
He springs up with a bound, and then away!
Ascending fast with his long pole in hand,
Or winding in and out among the crags.
What need to follow him through what he does
Or sees in his day’s march? He feels himself
In those vast regions where his service is
A freeman, wedded to his life of hope
And hazard, and hard labour interchanged
With that majestic indolence so dear
To native man.

Book 8, 347-390

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