Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 13: “The perfect image of a mighty mind, of one that feeds upon infinity”

Pythagoras: The Life & Times (new episode) Human Voices Wake Us

Tonight, I'm thrilled to read a poem that I began working on three years ago on the life, teachings, and mysticism of the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras (c. 570- c.495 BCE). I am also thrilled that the poem is being simultaneously published at The Basilisk Tree. Many thanks to its editor, Bryan Helton, for coordinating all of this with me. For anyone who wants to look closer at the earliest Classical accounts of Pythagoras, his life, and his teachings, check out: The History of Greek Philosophy Volume 1: The Earlier Presocractics and the Pythagoreans, by W. K. C. Guthrie, and The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, ed. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. Don’t forget to support Human Voices Wake Us on Substack, where you can also get our newsletter and other extras. You can also support the podcast by ordering any of my books: Notes from the Grid, To the House of the Sun, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old, and Bone Antler Stone. Any comments, or suggestions for readings I should make in later episodes, can be emailed to humanvoiceswakeus1@gmail.com — Send in a voice message: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/humanvoiceswakeus/message Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/humanvoiceswakeus/support
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Here are excerpts from the last book of Wordsworth’s 1805 PreludeOther excerpts  are here.


In one of these excursions, travelling then
Through Wales on foot and with a youthful friend,
I left Bethkelet’s huts at couching-time,
And westward took my way to see the sun
Rise from the top of Snowdon. Having reading
The cottage at the mountain’s foot, we there
Rouzed up the shepherd who by ancient right
Of office is the stranger’s usual guide,
And after a short refreshment sallied forth.

It was a summer’s night, a close warm night,
Wan, dull, and glaring, with a dripping mist
Low-hung and thick that covered all the sky,
Half threatening storm and rain; but on we went
Unchecked, being full of heart and having faith
In our tried pilot. Little could we see,
Hemmed round on every side with fog and damp,
And, after ordinary travellers’ chat
With our conductor, silently we sunk
Each into commerce with his private thoughts.
Thus did we breast the ascent, and by myself
Was nothing either seen or heard the while
Which took me from my musings, save that once
The shepherd’s cur did to his own great joy
Unearth a hedgehog in the mountain-crags,
Round which he made a barking turbulent.
This small adventure – for even such it seemed
In that wild place and at the dead of night –
Being over and forgotten, on we wound
In silence as before. With forehead bent
Earthward, as if in opposition set
Against an enemy, I panted up
With eager pace, and no less eager thoughts,
Thus might we wear perhaps an hour away,
Ascending at loose distance each from each,
And I, as chanced, the foremost of the band –
When at my feet the ground appeared to brighten,
And with a step or two seemed brighter still;
Nor had I time to ask the cause of this,
For instantly a light upon the turf
Fell like a flash. I looked about, and lo,
The moon stood naked in the heavens at height
Immense above my head, and on the shore
I found myself of a huge sea of mist,
Which meek and silent rested at my feet.
A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved
All over this still ocean, and beyond,
Far, far beyond, the vapours shot themselves
In headlands, tongues, and promontory shapes,
Into the sea, the real sea, that seemed
To dwindle and give up its majesty,
Usurped upon as far as sight could reach.
Meanwhile, the moon looked down upon this shew
In single glory, and we stood, the mist
Touching our very feet; and from the shore
At distance not the third part of a mile
Was a blue chasm, a fracture in the vapour,
A deep and gloomy breathing-place, through which
Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams
Innumerable, roaring with one voice.
The universal spectacle throughout
Was shaped for admiration and delight,
Grand in itself alone, but in that breach
Through which the homeless voice of waters rose,
That dark deep thoroughfare, had Nature lodged
The soul, the imagination of the whole.

A meditation rose in me that night
Upon the lonely mountain when the scene
Had passed away, and it appeared to me
The perfect image of a mighty mind,
Of one that feeds upon infinity,
That is exalted by an under-presence
The sense of God, or whatsoe’er is dim
Or vast in its own being – above all,
One function of such mind had Nature there
Exhibited by putting forth, and that
Which circumstance most awful and sublime:
That domination which she oftentimes
Exerts upon the outward face of things,
So moulds them, and endues, abstracts, combines,
Or by abrupt and unhabitual influence
Doth make one object so impress itself
Upon all others, and pervades them so,
That even the grossest minds must see and hear,
And cannot chuse but feel.

Book 13, 1-84

Oh, who is he that hath his whole life long
Preserved, enlarged, this freedom in himself? –
For this alone is genuine liberty.

Book 13, 120-122


From love, for here
Do we begin and end, all grandeur comes,
All truth and beauty – from pervading love –
That gone, we are as dust. Behold the fields
In balmy springtime, full of rising flowers
And happy creatures; see that pair, the lamb
And the lamb’s mother, and their tender ways
Shall touch thee to the heart; in some green bower
Rest, and be not alone, but have thou there
The one who is thy choice of all the world –
There linger, lulled, and lost, and rapt away –
Be happy to thy fill; thou call’st this love,
And so it is, but there is higher love
Than this, a love that comes into the heart
With awe and a diffusive sentiment.
Thy love is human merely: this proceeds
More from the brooding soul, and is divine.

This love more intellectual cannot be
Without imagination, which in truth
Is but another name for absolute strength
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,
And reason in her most exalted mood.
This faculty hath been the moving soul
Of our long labour: we have traced the stream
From darkness, and the very place of birth
In its blind cavern, whence is faintly heard
The sound of waters; followed it to light
And open day, accompanied its course
Among the ways of Nature, afterwards
Lost sight of it bewildered and engulphed,
Then given it greeting as it rose once more
With strength, reflecting in its solemn breast
The works of man, and face of human life;
And lastly, from its progress have we drawn
The feeling of life endless, the one thought
By which we live, infinity and God.

Imagination having been our theme,
So also hath that intellectual love,
For they are each in each, and cannot stand
Dividually. Here must thou be, O man,
Strength to thyself – no helper hast thou here –
Here keepest thou thy individual state:
No other can divide with thee this work,
No secondary hand can intervene
To fashion this ability. ’Tis thine,
The prime and vital principle is thine
In the recesses of thy nature, far
From any reach of outward fellowship,
Else ’tis not thine at all. But joy to him,
O, joy to him who here hath sown – hath laid
Here the foundations of his future years –
For all that friendship, all that love can do,
All that a darling countenance can look
Or dear voice utter, to complete the man,
Perfect him, made imperfect in himself,
All shall be his. And he whose soul hath risen
Up to the height of feeling intellect
Shall want no humbler tenderness, his heart
Be tender as a nursing mother’s heart;
Of female softness shall his life be full,
Of little loves and delicate desires,
Mild interests and gentlest sympathies.

Book 13, 149-210

And now, O friend, this history is brought
To its appointed close: the discipline
And consummation of the poet’s mind
In every thing that stood most prominent
Have faithfully been pictured. We have reached
The time, which was our object from the first,
When we may (not presumptuously, I hope)
Suppose my powers so far confirmed, and such
My knowledge, as to make me capable
Of building up a work that should endure.

Book 13, 268-278

Let one word more of personal circumstance –
Not needless, as it seems – be added here.
Since I withdrew unwillingly from France,
The story hath demanded less regard
To time and place; and where I lived, and how,
Hath been no longer scrupulously marked.
Three years, until a permanent abode
Received me with that sister of my heart
Who ought by rights the dearest to have been
Conspicuous through this biographic verse –
Star seldom utterly concealed from view –
I led an undomestic wanderer’s life.
In London chiefly was my home, and thence
Excursively, as personal friendships, chance
Or inclination led, or slender means
Gave leave, I roamed about from place to place,
Tarrying in pleasant nooks, wherever found,
Through England or through Wales.

Book 13, 332-350

Whether to me shall be allotted life,
And with life power to accomplish aught of worth
Sufficient to excuse me in men’s sight
For having given this record of myself,
Is all uncertain; but, belovèd friend,
When looking back thou seest, in clearer view
Than any sweetest sight of yesterday,
That summer when on Quantock’s grass hills
Far ranging, and among the sylvan coombs,
Thou in delicious words, with happy heart,
Didst speak the vision of that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner, and rueful woes
Didst utter of the Lady Christabel;
And I, associate in such labour, walked
Murmuring of him, who – joyous hap – was found,
After the perils of his moonlight ride,
Near the loud waterfall, or her who sate
In misery near the miserable thorn;
When thou dost to that summer turn thy thoughts,
And hast before thee all which then we were,
To thee, in memory of that happiness,
It will be known – by thee at least, my friend,
Felt – that the history of a poet’s mind
Is labour not unworthy of regard:
To thee the work shall justify itself.

The last and later portions of this gift
Which I for thee design have been prepared
In times which have from those wherein we first
Together wandered in wild poesy
Differed thus far, that they have been, my friend,
Times of much sorrow, of a private grief
Keen and enduring, which the frame of mind
That in this meditative history
Hath been described, more deeply makes me feel,
Yet likewise hath enabled me to bear
More firmly; and a comfort now, a hope,
One of the dearest which this life can give,
Is mine: that thou art near, and wilt be soon
Restored to us in renovated health –
When, after the first mingling of our tears,
’Mong other consolations, we may find
Some pleasure from this offering of my love.

Oh, yet a few short years of useful life,
And all will be complete – thy race be run,
Thy monument of glory will be raised.
Then, though too weak to tread the ways of truth,
This age fall back to old idolatry,
Though men return to servitude as fast
As the tide ebbs, to ignominy and shame
By nations sink together, we shall still
Find solace in the knowledge which we have,
Blessed with true happiness if we may be
United helpers forward of a day
Of firmer trust, joint labourers in the work –
Should Providence such grace to us vouchsafe –
Of their redemption, surely yet to come.
Prophets of Nature, we to them will speak
A lasting inspiration, sanctified
By reason and by truth; what we have loved
Others will love, and we may teach them how:
Instruct them how the mind of man becomes
A thousand times more beautiful than the earth
On which he dwells, above this frame of things
(Which, ’mid all revolutions in the hopes
And fears of men, doth still remain unchanged)
In beauty exalted, as it is itself
Of substance and of fabric more divine.

Book 13, 386-452