William Wordsworth 
(1770-1850)
The Prelude : Book II : Schooltime

Wordsworth and Coleridge
Wordsworth and Coleridge, his philosophical dancing master

Book II School-Time

Lines 1-47 He takes up once again his schooldays.

Thus far, O Friend! have we, though leaving much
Unvisited, endeavoured to retrace
The simple ways in which my childhood walked;
Those chiefly that first led me to the love
Of rivers, woods and fields.

Lines 47-56 He finds that he now feels a 'regular desire / For calmer pleasures'.

Lines 56-78 He describes races on Lake Windermere, and links healthy exercise and competition with the development of virtue:

Lines 69-74
Thus the pride of strength,
And the vain-glory of superior skill
Were interfused with objects which subdued
And tempered them, and gradually produced
A quiet independence of the heart.

Lines 79-98 Part of the sound upbringing is, of course, a healthy diet, and here, we hear:

Lines 79-82 
No delicate viands sapped our bodily strength;
More than we wished we knew the blessing then
Of vigorous hunger, for our daily meals
Were frugal, Sabine fare!

Lines 99-121 Further description of country sports on horseback.

Lines 122-144 More healthy outdoor exercise, during which he finds himself moving towards a more philosophic appreciation of nature::

Lines 139-144
Oh! ye Rocks and Streams,
And that still Spirit of the evening air!
Even in this joyous time I sometimes felt
Your presence, when with slackened step we breathed
Along the sides of the steep hills, or when,
Lighted by gleams of moonlight from the sea,
We beat with thundering hooves the level sand.

Lines 146-180 He describes an old pub with a bowling green, playing bowls, and eating strawberries and cream.

Lines 170-180
But ere the fall
Of night, when in our pinnace we returned
Over the dusky lake, and to the beach
Of some small island steered our course with one,
The Minstrel of the Troop, and left him there,
And rowed off gently, while he blew his flute
Alone upon the rock - oh! then, the calm
And dead still water lay upon my mind
Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky,
Never before so beautiful, sank down
Into my heart, and held me like a dream.

Lines 181-202 He apostrophises the sun.

Lines 181-194
Thus daily were my sympathies enlarged,
And thus the common range of visible things
Grew dear to me: already I began
To love the sun; a Boy I loved the sun,
Not as I since have loved him, as a pledge
And surety of our earthly life, a light
Which we view we feel we are alive;
But for this cause, that I had seen him lay
His beauty on the morning hills, had seen
The western mountain touch his setting orb,
In many a thoughtless hour, when, from excess
Of happiness, my blood appeared to flow
For its own pleasure, and I breathed with joy.

Woman before rising sun, Caspar David Friedrich
Woman before rising sun, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)

And then the moon.

Lines 195-202
And, from like feelings, humble though intense,
To patriotic and domestic love
Analogous, the moon to me was dear;
For I would dream away my purposes,
Standing to look upon her while she hung
Midway between the hills, as if she knew
No other region, but belonged to thee,
Yea, appertained by a peculiar right
To thee and thy grey huts, thou one dear Vale.

 

Lines 203-236 Some lavish praise for Coleridge.

Lines 237-280 He makes an attempt at describing the development of the child in abstruse, technical language eg lines 250-252  Thus day by day, /Subjected to the discipline of love, / His organs and recipient faculties Are quickened... concluding:

 Lines 276-280
Such, verily, is the first
Poetic spirit of our human life;
By uniform control of after years
In most abated or suppressed, in some,
Through every change of growth or of decay,
Pre-eminent till death.

ie most people lose this 'poetic spirit', but in some, it becomes pre-eminent to the end.

Lines 281-341 He claims to have traced how the beginnings of poetic sensibility were 'augmented and sustained' in him. But now a harder task awaits:

Lines 291-296
For now a trouble came into my mind
From unknown causes. I was left alone,
Seeking the visible world, nor knowing why.
The props of my affections were removed,
And yet the building stood, as if sustained
By its own spirit.

It is difficult to know where we would locate the 'props' to our affections. No doubt it was something to which Coleridge frequently referred in his conversations and would be understood immediately by him.

His experiences of nature become more complex, and begin to more resemble experiences of 'our purer mind and intellect'.

Lines 332-341
I deem not profitless those fleeting moods
Of shadowy exultation: not for this,
That they are kindred to our purer mind
And intellectual life; but that the soul,
Remembering how she felt, but what she felt
Remembering not, retains an obscure sense
Of possible sublimity, to which,
With growing faculties she doth aspire,
With faculties still growing, feeling still
That whatsoever point they gain, they still
Have something to pursue.

Lines 341-371 He recounts his feelings walking to school in the early morning, coming close to expressing an idea of mystic oneness with nature. But mystic oneness with nature is out of bounds. He must restrain himself within Hartleyan and Kantian pseudo-philosophy, a constraint which destroys what poetry lurks within these ill-defined blocks of phrases with uncertain referents.

Lines 366-371
Oft in those moments such a holy calm
Did overspread my soul, that I forgot
That I had bodily eyes, and what I saw
Appeared like something in myself, a dream,
A prospect in my mind.

Lines 371-396 Ordinary commerce with nature serves to 'nurse / That spirit of religious love in which / I walked with Nature.'

Lines 376-385
But let this at least
Be not forgotten, that I still retained
My first creative sensibility,
That by the regular action of the world
My soul was unsubdued. A plastic power
Abode with me, a forming hand,
At times rebellious, acting in a devious mood
A local spirit of its own, at war
With general tendency, but for the most
Subservient strictly to the external things
With which it communed.

Lines 395-435 He now launches on another track, complimenting himself on having raised

Lines 402-406
that interminable building reared
By observation of affinities
In objects where no brotherhood exists
To common minds.

At the age of seventeen he began to converse 'with things that really are', he began to see 'blessings spread around' him like a sea and

Lines 418-424
I was only then
Contented when with bliss ineffable
I felt the sentiment of Being spread
O'er all that moves, and all that seemeth still,
O'er all, that, lost beyond the reach of thought
And human knowledge, to the human eye
Invisible, yet liveth to the heart....

Lines 436-466 The following summary offers the clearest statement of the simple truth that he has been trying to explain clothed in pseudo scientific language for the last two hundred lines. Everybody can understand this passage, and its message is simple: the simple pursuits he followed as a boy and young man enabled him to avoid many of the pitfalls of later life by instilling in him a healthy sense of honesty.

Ullswater, morning, Charles Leslie
Ullswater, morning, Charles Leslie

Lines 436-466
If this be error, and another faith
Find easier access to the pious mind,
Yet were I grossly destitute of all
Those human sentiments which make this earth
So dear, if I shoul fail, with grateful voice
To speak of you, Ye Mountains and Ye Lakes,
And sounding Cataracts! Ye Mists and Winds
That dwell among the hills where I was born.
If, in my youth, I have been pure in heart,
If, mingling with the world, I am content
With my own modest pleasures, and have lived,
With God and Nature communing, removed
From little emnities and low desires,
The gift is yours; if in these times of fear,
This melancholy waste of hopes o'erthrown,
If, 'mid indifference and apathy
And wicked exultation, when good men,
On every side fall off we know not how,
To selfishness, disguised in gentle names
Of peace, and quiet, and domestic love,
Yet mingled, not unwillingly, with sneers
On visionary minds; if in this time
Of dereliction and dismay, I yet
Despair not of our nature; but retain
A more than Roman confidence, a faith
That fails not, in all sorrow my support,
The blessing of my life, the gift is yours,
Ye mountains! thine, O Nature! Thou hast fed
My lofty speculations; and in thee
For this uneasy heart of ours I find
A never-failing principle of joy,
And purest passion.

Lines 465-476 A final salute to Coleridge, hailing him as his own equal, even though he has arrived at the position of poet/seer by a different route.

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