This is a piece of poetry about Wordsworth’s childhood. In the extract the young Wordsworth takes a boat, without permission, for a row on Ullswater at night. His feelings of guilt summon up a vision of the mountain opposite looming out of the darkness as if to punish him. Although Wordsworth quickly returns the boat, he is haunted for many nights by the memory. The extract comes from Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem The Prelude. There are many manuscripts of the poem and this lesson concentrates on investigating three of them: the earliest (1799), the earliest complete version of the whole 13 Book poem (1805) and the first published version after the poet's death in 14 Books (1850). The earliest version in manuscript is held in MS JJ. Teacher Advice
Set the scene by explaining a little bit about The Prelude and the extract they will be looking at. Split the class into 4 smaller groups. Each group receives a different coloured segment of the poem, with the three versions on it. Ask them to discuss their segment and make notes, using the following as a guide: Drafting
Find places where Wordsworth has made changes to the text.
Why do you think Wordsworth made changes?
Do you think they are successful?
Which of the three versions do you prefer, and why?
Language and imagery
Are there any images that you think are particularly powerful? Try and say why you think this is. Is it to do with the visual description of the words, the feelings of the boy, or the sound of the words? Do you think anything is unsuccessful?
Can you find any literary techniques Wordsworth has used?
Think about use of simile (a comparison using "like" or "as"); metaphor (a description of one thing as if it were another); repetition; and other effects. Using the Extracts
Give out sheets with all the segments on them to compare and read a single version of any one of the texts. Ask each group to report back on what they have discovered. Use their comments to stimulate general discussion. You could read the 1799 version from each segment before you get feedback, or get a volunteer from each group to do so. Sum up the themes: nature, imagination, childhood. Identify and anticipate images used. Finally, look at the manuscript of the poem. This manuscript is a letter in the hand of Dorothy Wordsworth (the poet’s sister), written from the German town of Goslar where William and Dorothy spent the winter of 1798/9. It was written to their friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and contains the first versions of several extracts that became part of The Prelude, including boat stealing. See if the class can find and read the extract, and the little bit of prose that Dorothy writes above it. The stolen boat
The poem ‘The Stolen Boat’ is an extract taken from Wordsworth’s long autobiographical poem ‘The Prelude’ consisting of fourteen books. This poem has been taken from Book I. the subtitle of ‘The Prelude’: ‘The Growth of a Poet’s Mind’ hints at the autobiographical nature of the poem. The poet describes his inner life out of which his poetry grew. The given poem ‘The Stolen Boat’ is related to one memorable incident of his boyhood. The poet describes that one summer evening led by the promptings of Nature he found a little boat tied to a willow tree within a rocky cave where it was usually tied. He immediately untied the chain and after getting into the boat pushed it away from the shore. It was an act of theft and his pleasure was mixed with anxiety. When the boat moved on, there came echoing sounds (of warning) from the mountain sides. The boat left small circles of water gleaming idly under the light of the moon till all of them were mixed up and dissolved giving way to one single track of glittering light. But then, like a person who rows with a sense of pride in his skill to reach straight to a selected spot without any deviation, I fixed up my gaze on the peak of an uneven mountain range which formed the farthest boundary on the distant...
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