William Wordsworth 
(1770-1850)
The Prelude : Book IV : Summer Vacation

Wordsworth and Coleridge
Wordsworth and Coleridge, his philosophical dancing master

Book IV Summer Vacation

Lines 1-67 He describes his return to the Lakes, in particular to Hawkshead, where he was at school, and where he lodged with the sympathetic Ann Tyson.

Lines 68-84 He describes his feelings on sleeping in his own bed once more.

Hawkshead
Hawkshead Village, the church no longer white

Lines 84-120 He describes a dog, a terrier, he had.

Lines 121-180 He goes for a walk.

Lines 132-142
Ths sun was set, or setting, when I left
Our cottage door, and evening soon brought on
A sober hour, not winning or serene,
For cold and raw the air was, and untuned:
But, as a face we love is sweetest then
When sorrow damps it, or, whatever look
It chance to wear is sweetest if the heart
Have fulness in itself, even so with me
It fared that evening. Gently did my soul
Put off her veil, and, self transmuted stood
Naked as in the presence of her God.

Lines 181-199 He notes some changes in the local people.

Lines 200-220 Observations concerning Ann Tyson and her piety.

Lines 222-247 He notes a subtle transformation in his feelings towards known objects.

Lines 247-304 He senses a change in himself.

Lines 293-305
The very garments that I wore appeared
To prey upon my strength, and stopped the course
And quiet stream of self-forgetfulness.
Something there was about me that perplexed
The authentic sight of reason, pressed too closely
On that religious dignity of mind,
That is the very faculty of truth;
Which wanting, either, from the very first,
A function never lighted up, or else
Extinguished, Man, a creature great and good,
Seems but a pageant plaything with wild claws,
And this great frame of breathing elements
A senseless Idol.

It is difficult to sympathise with these florid circumlocutions when it makes what he wants to say, essentially not very complicated, so complicated. There is much that is clearly ludicrous in this: garments that prey on his strength, something about him that perplexed the 'authentic sight of reason', pressing too closely on the 'religious dignity of mind' that is the 'very faculty of truth'. And man described as a 'great frame of breathing elements'. Better perhaps is Man conceived as a 'pageant plaything with wild claws', but only because it has the appeal of the bizarre. But it appears that, just as at Cambridge, where siren voices seduced him away from the true path towards the shining light, so certain elements of his reaction to his home surroundings operate in the same manner. In some ways, the whole thing is a bit of a Pilgrim's Progress where he passes through the various temptations of human society and is subjected to various trials of his manhood, truth, honesty etc. Or one could think of him as a knight errant being challenged by various threats, real or imaginery, in the manner of one of Spenser's heroes or Cervantes, but without the humour, and his sidekick, Coleridge, is only an occasional presence and will not bear comparison with the inimitable Sancho Panza.

Lines 306-346 He regrets once again chasing pleasure.

Lines 306-309
That vague heartless chace
Of trivial pleasure was a poor exchange
For Books and Nature at that early age.

But remembers nonetheless one occasion when the 'chace of trivial pleasure' during which he stayed out all night led him to experience an exceptional morning:

Lines 333-346
The sea was laughing at a distance; all
The solid mountains were as bright as clouds,
Grain-tinctured, drenched in empyrean light,
And, in the meadows and the lower grounds,
Was all the sweetness of a common dawn,
Dews, vapours, and the melody of birds,
And Labourers going forth into the fields.
- Ah! need I say, dear Friend, that to the brim
My heart was full? 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. On I walked
In blessedness, which even yet remains.

Lines 346-359 He reviews the state of his mind at this time and finds it a strange mixture of 'grave and gay, solid and light, short-sighted and profound, of inconsiderate habits and sedate'.

Lines 360-463 A strange encounter with a tall man on the road at night.

Lines 464-503 The same, continued. Make of it what you will. There are certainly links to Wordsworth's previous preoccupation with the poor, with itinerants, and with unfortunate people in general, though it is difficult to make out exactly where the fascination lay. The subject matter is close to the gothic horror themes with which he was much occupied and much impressed during his youth - Salisbury Plain, The Abandoned Cottage and so on. The interest was initially purely literary: in eighteenth century poetry generally a starving beggar or two added poignancy to many a poem, and, of course, the genre sold. The reader was required to do no more than sigh, and pour another cup of tea, secure in his or her middle-class bubble. For a period, Wordsworth tried to link descriptions of the poor with social phenomena, and rouse the social conscience of his readers: we can perhaps see this as his 'revolutionary' period during which he was enthused by the ideas of the French Revolution, but this idea did not prove very popular. All that this episode retains is a strangeness. Why it is included is uncertain, except to say that the effect of foreign wars on the English poor was one of Wordsworth's hobby horses. And he was probably quite right, it was just that nobody was very interested. So here we have this ghostly figure, a tall man, a soldier, who mutters to himself and whom the young Wordsworth leads to a labourer's cottage where he knows he will be given food and shelter. In fact, we get a strong sense that Wordsworth is washing his hands of old soldiers and ruined cottages, passing off responsibility to a sympathetic member of the labouring classes. Is this the right way to deal with the problem?

At all events, the wisdom that the tall man imparts at the finish, said with a 'ghastly mildness', is:

Lines 495-496
My trust is in the God of Heaven
And in the eye of him that passes me.

He is perhaps a bit of an Ancient Mariner figure.

book III

book V

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