William Wordsworth 
(1770-1850)
The Prelude : Book V : Books

Wordsworth and Coleridge
Wordsworth and Coleridge, his philosophical dancing master

Book V Books

Lines 1-48 He meditates a little obscurely on the frailty of human achievements.

Lines 49-166 He recounts the dream of a friend, who tells him that he has had similar feelings of anxiety with regard to the frailty of human achievement. The friend describes himself going to sleep in a cave by the sea musing on 'poetry and geometric truth'. In a dream, he is transported to an Arabian waste, where he encounters an Arab of the Bedouin tribe on a Dromedary holding a Stone underneath one arm and a Shell in the opposite hand. The Arab explains that the Stone represents Euclid's geometry and tells him to put the shell to his ear.

Lines 93-98 
I did so,
And heard that instant in an unknown Tongue,
Which yet I understood, articulate sounds,
A loud prophetic blast of harmony,
An Ode, in passion uttered, which foretold
Destruction to the Children of the Earth
By deluge now at hand.

The Arab refers to the two objects now as 'books' and says he is going to bury them to preserve them. He begins to morph into Don Quixote. In fact, he was 'neither, and both at once'. The Arab / Don Quixote hurries away, chased by the 'waters of the deep' and the dreamer wakes 'in terror'. Wordsworth summarises by saying that the image of the Arab has haunted him ever since: 'I methinks / Could share that Maniac's anxiousness, could go / Upon like errand.'

It is Thomas De Quincey who records (The Works of Thomas de Quincey, Grevel Lindop et al, vol III page 138) that a strange character called John 'Walking' Stewart, famous for the fact that he succeeded in walking huge distances around the world, and who met Wordsworth in Paris in November 1792, had the idea of encouraging readers of his pamphlets to bury them after having read them in order to preserve them for posterity. The idea that dreams could possibly be philosophically significant is conceivably taken from Descartes (Descartes' Dreams, Alice Brown, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol 40 No 77) who recounted three dreams in a work now lost of 1619, but mentioned in detail by Baillet in his Vie de M Des-Cartes. In his third dream, he mentions two books, one of science and one of poetry which have disconcerting properties.

So Wordsworth's friend's dream does not appear to come from one source, but several, with aspects added from his own, or his friend's experience. It is interesting to note that in the 1850 version of The Prelude, the friend is eliminated and the dream becomes Wordsworth's own dream.

At all events, this is clearly an example of the idea that poetry is a combination of memory, perception and imagination. To try to fit the narrative to one specific event would therefore seem to be missing the point.

Lines 166-192 He decides to pass over the relationship between his childhood and the innocent poetry of those times, and his mature poetic genius.

Lines 184-188
Yet wherefore should I speak,
Why call upon a few weak words to say
What is already written in the hearts
Of all that breathe?

Lines 193-222 He expresses the view that all poets should be honoured.

Lines 223-246 He expresses gratitude that neither he nor Coleridge was 'Stringed like a poor man's heifer to its feed,' ie prevented from reading from all sorts of different sources unhindered and unfettered.

Lines 246-290 A homage to his mother:

Lines 285-290
Such was she; not from faculties more strong
Than others have, but from the times, perhaps,
And spot in which she lived, and through a grace
Of modest meekness, simple-mindedness,
A heart that found benignity and hope,
Being itself benign.

Lines 290-349 He now gives us a character of modern times which could have come out of Pope's Dunciad.

Lines 350-369 This man, this hollow man, is but vanity.

Lines 370-388 He turns to those who seek to tutor and remove all chance things from the lives of their charges, taxing them that Nature is a better tutor than they.

Lines 389-413 He tells the story of the boy who 'blew mimic hootings to the silent owls'.

Lines 413-449 He records briefly that this boy died 'ere he was full ten years old'. He has already likened the church to a 'thronèd lady' (Bk IV line 14) who oversees the motley lives of the boys who play in the local school:

Lines 432-44
May she long
Behold a race of young Ones like to those
With whom I herded!

And concludes:

Lines 445-449
Simplicity in habit, truth in speech,
Be these the daily strengtheners of their minds!
May books and nature be their early joy!
And knowledge, rightly honored with that name,
Knowledge not purchased with the loss of power!

Lines 450-480 A macabre interlude where a dead body is found in the lake. But Wordsworth's infant imagination transforms it:

Lines 474-480
and yet no vulgar fear,
Young as I was, a Child not nine years old,
Possessed me, for my inner eye had seen
Such sights before, among the shining streams
Of Fairy Land, the Forests of Romance:
Thence came a spirit hallowing what I saw
With decoration and ideal grace;
A dignity, a smoothness, like the works
Of Grecian Art, and purest Poesy.

Lines 481-500 He has a small book of Arabian Tales, and is overjoyed to learn that there are four large volumes full of such tales. He makes a pact with one of his friends to save their money until they can buy the book, but despite their efforts, they were 'never masters of their wish'.

Lines 500-516 He rediscovers the books in his father's library.

Lines 516-558 He extols the poetic faculty.

Lines 558-568 He describes the growth of this childish appetite for the marvellous into a love for 'sober truth, experience, sympathy'.

Lines 569-608 He is saddened by the fact that poetry which entranced him as a child no longer moves him in the same way, but perceives that his appreciation has moved towards an appreciation for 'words in tuneful order'. He remembers time spent roaming the lake shores in the hours before school (which started at 6:00 am) with his friend (John Fleming, 1768-1835), reciting verses.

Lines 590-602
Well might we be glad,
Lifted above the ground by airy fancies
More bright than madness or the dreams of wine,
And, though full oft the objects of our love
Were false, and in their splendour overwrought;
Yet, surely, at such time no vulgar power
Was working in us, nothing less, in truth,
Than that most noble attribute of man,
Though yet untutored and inordinate,
That wish for something loftier, more adorned,
Than is the common aspect, daily garb
Of human life.

Lines 608-629

Lines 608-618
Here I must pause: this only will I add,
From heart experience, and in the humblest sense
Of modesty, that he, who, in his youth
A wanderer among the woods and fields,
With living Nature hath been intimate,
Not only in that raw unpractised time
Is stirred to ecstasy, as others are,
By glittering verse; but, he doth furthermore,
In measure only dealt out to himself,
Receive enduring touches of deep joy
From the great Nature that exists in works
Of mighty Poets.

And more mystically:

Lines 618-629
Visionary power
Attends upon the motions of the winds
Embodied in the mystery of words;
There darkness makes abode, and all the host
Of shadowy things do work their changes there,
As in a mansion like their proper home;
Even forms and substances are circumfused
By that transparent veil with light divine;
And through the turnings intricate of Verse,
Present themselves as objects recognised,
In flashes, and with a glory scarce their own.

Lines 630-636 Thus he records his indebtedness to books.

book IV

book VI

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