William Wordsworth's the Prelude

Topics: The Prelude, William Wordsworth, The Climax Pages: 6 (1800 words) Published: March 7, 2011
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) completed two main versions of his autobiographical epic poem The Prelude, the original version in 1805, and a revised version which was published in 1850. The 1805 version is the one usually studied, and usually considered the better of the two, being more melodic and spontaneous than the more laboured version of 1850. In this essay I shall be discussing the 1805 version, with one or two references to differences in the 1850 version. Book Vl, entitled, 'Cambridge and the Alps', is structured as a narrative, telling a story which is complete in itself, as well as being part of The Prelude as a whole. The story has an introduction, a climax, and a dénouement. The basic purpose of the story is the same as the purpose throughout The Prelude - as indicated in its subtitle - to chart the 'growth of a poet's mind', with particular emphasis on the importance of nature, which is always at the heart of Wordsworth's philosophy and poetry. The book starts by picking up the narrative which was left off at the end of book lV, 'Summer Vacation', in which Wordsworth recounts a spiritual turning point in his life. I made no vows, but vows

Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly,
A dedicated spirit. (lV 341-4)
This passage shows the poet having found a deep-seated vocation within himself, which is the source of the inner confidence and certitude which pervades the opening section of book Vl. We should note the passive aspect to this spiritual experience, 'Vows were then made for me'. This is an important indication of the receptive attitude of mind which allows the poet to have the kinds of experience he has in book Vl. The poets attitude towards nature is that he goes out to experience it, and in return nature gives him inspiration, insight, education, and delight. It is a two-way process, in which the poet's mind grows and develops. The book opens with a valediction for his home district, and in the first lines we see the importance of nature: The leaves were yellow when to Furness Fells,

The haunt of Shepherds, and to cottage life
I bade adieu; (Vl 1-3)
The poet speaks of the landscape as if it were a close friend or relation. At Cambridge he returns to his 'unlovely cell', the phrase conveying the sense of confinement he feels there, particularly in contrast to the mountains and open spaces of 'rocky Cumberland'. But he is not dejected, he is in 'lightsome mood'. Even when not actually in the landscape of his home he retains the glad feeling which were nourished there, and the revelation that he was to be a 'dedicated spirit' has stayed with him and grown in his soul. The poet's soul was with me at that time,

Sweet meditations, the still overflow
Of happiness and truth. A thousand hopes
were mine, a thousand tender dreams, (Vl 55-58)
One of the most important effects university has on him 'melt away' the awe he felt towards great writers. . . . The instinctive humbleness,
Upheld even by the very name and thought
Of printed books and authorship, began
To melt away, and further the dread awe
Of mighty names, was softened down and seem'd
Approachable, admitting fellowship (Vl 69-74)
But he feels restricted and unfulfilled at university. He feels he has a vocation other than academic work and he conveys a sense of being contained within boundaries until the end of his studies brings him 'liberty' (Vl 338) and he and a fellow student set off for the Alps. When his trip begins there is a distinct change of mood. Although this is a retrospective account he seems to re-experience the gladness and freedom he felt upon beginning his journey, and as readers we share the experience with him. The narrative becomes free-flowing and exuberant. Where his account of university life was only 'shadow'd forth, as far as there is need' (Vl 337) he now lingers over his experiences and responses, filling his verse with colourful details of place as he...
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