On Wordsworth's Prelude I and II
Generally speaking, The Prelude is a historical record of the growth of Wordsworth’s poetic imagination. It can be called an epic expansion of many poems like the Recluse, and The Excursion and, of course, the Tintern Abbey. The poem derived from many a thing: from the projected Recluse, from Coleridge’s suggestion about the French Revolution and, above all, from Wordsworth’s strenuous introspection. The end-product was a poem in which the poet furnished detailed record of the conditions in which he grew up and of the processes out of which he emerged as a poet of man and nature. In this the poem seems to have strong affinity with Wordsworth’s much read poem Tintern Abbey, which traces the development of his poetic career. But it must be stated here that The prelude is not an autobiography in the ordinary sense though he himself described the poem as “the story of my life; it is an autobiography in the sense that it offers in the poem the story of making of a poet. In this, it can be called a spiritual autobiography of the poet. The other aspect of Wordsworth’s philosophy of nature expressed in the poem can be comprehended in terms of growth. It is found—also in greater detail in The Prelude—that in his earlier poetry nature had no exotic significance. A humanitarian phase had followed, exemplified at its best in The Ruined Cottage. After a period of disillusionment with poetic struggle and theory he was convinced that mankind’s malady in body and heart could be cured only by Nature’s “holy plan”. So this poem illustrates the “religious love”, in which Wordsworth walked with Nature, “the sentiment of being spread over all that moves and all that seemth still”. In Book I and II of the Prelude wordsworth describes his childhood and boyhood experiences amid lovely natural surroundings. He traces the influence of nature on his personality since his babyhood on the banks of the river Derwent: “That one of the fairest of all rivers loved, To blend his murmurs with my nurse’s song.” The he proceeds to describe the kind of influence he came under during his boyhood in “that beloved Vale” of Hawkshead in Esthwaite: “Fair seed time had my soul, and I grew up Fostered alike by beauty and fear...” However, during his boyhood as a mere boy, his delight in Nature was coarse and animalistic, a delight in the lap of Nature, which was quite usual with a boy of his age. In the Tintern Abbey Wordsworth calls his delight “the coarser pleasure of my boyish days”. This stage can be termed as instinctual one. In the Books I and II he recreates his childhood involvement in physical activities—bathing, bird-snaring, birds-nesting, an expedition in a stolen boat, skating, kite-sailing, noughts and crosses and cards, all are also followed by their corresponding joys and fears. Wordsworth deliberately describes these activities in order to illustrate those innumerable ways through which Nature influenced him on his way to becoming a poet; for instance, in the stolen boat episode he describes the impressions he gathered, “I heard among solitary hills Low breathing coming after me, and sounds, Of undistinguishable motion...” Thus Wordsworth presents the preludes to the growth of his love of nature. In the final stage we find the poet’s love maturing up to a religious love. Unlike during his early youth when he was interested only in aesthetic judgement and analysis, to the exclusion of Nature’s deeper impulses, now in his mature state Wordsworth has lost his “aching joys” and “dizzy raptures”, as he describes his feelings in Tintern Abbey. As he looks on Nature, he finds that now he is able to think of Nature in single perception, “...An auxiliary light Came from mind, which on the setting sun Bestowed new splendour...” This is Wordsworth’s pantheistic creed of Nature that stands on the verge of being called mysticism. But he differs from the familiar mysticism as he can understand that he is a lover of Nature. However, he looks to Nature as the best teacher and guide: “One impulse from a vernal wood, May teach you more of man Of moral evil and good Than all the sages can.”So, in a gradual process Wordsworth has turned into ‘creator and receiver— his sense perception has combined with the moral influence of nature to produce poetry of epical excellence. If Prelude is to be considered an epic, it should be remembered that it is a very modern epic, which also illustrates along with other things modern man’s search for spiritual freedom from the vagaries of civilisation.