William Wordsworth 
(1770-1850)
The Prelude : Book VI : Cambridge and the Alps

Wordsworth and Coleridge
Wordsworth and Coleridge, his philosophical dancing master

Book VI Cambridge and the Alps

Lines 1-18 He goes back to Cambridge 'gay and undepressed / In spirit as when I thnce had taken flight / A few short months before.'

Lines 19-54 He keeps himself to himself more:

Lines 22-25
I lived henceforth
More to myself, read more, reflected more,
Felt more, and settled daily into habits
More promising.

He does not feel a part of the academic community. He 'wished to be a lodger in that house / Of Letters, and no more', though he confesses to feeling inhibited by various factors from adopting his own independent course of study, not the least his own 'overlove of freedom' planted in him from the very first, and indolence, by force of which he rejected regulations, even his own. But, he comments, maybe this was a good thing.

Lines 55-134 He fondly reflects that:

Lines 55-57
The Poet's soul was with me at that time,
Sweet meditations, the still overflow
Of happiness and truth. A thousand hopes
Were mine, a thousand tender dreams, of which
No few have since been realised, and some
Do yet remain, hopes for my future life.

He is now thirty-four, and he remarks:

Lines 64-68
Those were the days
Which also first encouraged me to trust
With firmness, hitherto but lightly touched
With such a daring thought, that I might leave
Some monument behind me which pure hearts
Should reverence.

He remembers a particular Ash tree beneath which he stood marvelling. He comments that his reading was directed by the fact that he was 'versed in living Nature'.

Lines 136-159 He also took great pleasure in geometry, where he found much to 'exalt' and 'chear' him.

Lines 150-159
..from this source more frequently I drew
A pleasure calm and deeper, a still sense
Of permanent and universal sway
And paramount endowment of the mind,
An image not unworthy of the one
Surpassing Life, which out of space and time,
Nor touched by welterings of passion, is
And hath the name of God. Transcendent peace
And silence did await upon these thoughts
That were a frequent comfort to my youth.

Lines 160-187 He makes reference to a man shipwrecked on an island who takes delight in his one book, a book of geometry (a reference to John Newton, author of An Authentic Narrative of some Remarkable and Interesting Particulars in the Life of *******  published in 1764).

Lines 178-187
Mighty is the charm
Of those abstractions to a mind beset
With images, and haunted by itself;
And specially delightful to me
Was that clear Synthesis built up aloft
So gracefully, even then when it appeared
No more than as a plaything, or a toy
Embodied to the sense, not what it is
In verity, an independent world
Created out of pure Intelligence.

Lines 188-207 He adds to these qualities of character already mentioned a certain melancholy that 'loved / A pensive sky, sad days, and piping winds, / The twilight more than dawn, Autumn than Spring;' which he sees as 'the mere / Redundancy of youth's contentedness', and remembers 'a multitude of hours / pilfered away by .... Good-natured lounging.'

Lines 208-260 He speaks of his sister, Dorothy, recalls walking with her, exploring Brougham Castle, '..listening to the wild flowers and the grass, / As they gave out their whispers to the wind.' and of his future wife, Mary Hutchinson,

Brougham Castle, Turner
Brougham Castle, JMW Turner

Lines 139-146
O'er paths and fields
In all that neighbourhood, through narrow lanes
Of eglantine, and through the shady woods,
And o'er the Border Beacon and the Waste
Of naked Pools and common Crags that lay
Exposed on the bare Fell, was scattered love,
A spirit of pleasure and youth's golden gleam.

He mentions that Coleridge was not with them at that time, and that he is now far away (it is 1804 and Coleridge is in Malta), in search of health, but reflects that there can be no absence for 'those / Who love as we do.'

Lines 261-331 He addresses Coleridge, detailing their similarities, and the equivalence of their poetic genius, though he remarks that it came from different sources. He wonders how things might have evolved differently had they met at Cambridge (Coleridge entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1791).

Lines 332-426 He turns to his own wanderings and his tour of France and the Alps in 1790 with his friend Jones. He was conscious of doing something which constituted '..an open slight / Of College cares and study..'

Lines 346-355
But Nature then was sovereign in my heart,
And mighty forms seizing a youthful Fancy
Had given a Charter to irregular hopes.
In any age, without an impulse sent
From work of Nations, and their goings-on
I should have been possessed by like desire:
But 'twas a time when Europe was rejoiced,
France standing on top of golden hours,
And human nature seeming born again.

On their walk through France, they find 'benevolence and blessedness / spread like a fragrance everywhere' and a festive atmosphere.

Lines 427-468 He passes Mont Blanc and the Vale of Chamouny.

Lines 468-487 The landscape acts on him like a book:

Lines 474-478
With such a book
Before our eyes, we could not chuse but read
A frequent lesson of sound tenderness,
The universal reason of mankind,
The truth of Young and Old.

and they experience 'Dejection taken up for pleasure's sake'.

Lines 488-525 They lose their way, retrace their steps and are then told by a peasant that they have crossed the Alps.

Lines 526-548 He interrupts his tale of wandering with a paean to the Imagination:

Lines 526-531
Imagination! lifting up itself
Before the eye and progress of my Song
Like an unfathered vapour; here that Power,
In all the might of its endowments, came
Athwart me; I was lost as in a cloud,
Halted, without a struggle to break through.
And now recovering, to my Soul I say
'I recognise thy glory'. In such strength
Of usurpation, in such visitings
Of awful promise, when the light of sense
Goes out in flashes that have shewn to us
The invisible world, doth Greatness make abode,
There harbours whether we be young or old.
Our destiny, our nature, and our home,
Is with infinitude, and only there;
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.

Lines 549-572 They make their way downward through a pass:

Lines 556-572
The immeasurable height
Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
And every where along the hollow rent
Winds thwarting winds, bewildered and forlorn,
The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
The rocks that muttered close upon our ears,
Black drizzling crags that spake by the way-side
As if a voice were in them, the sick sight
And giddy prospect of the raving stream,
The unfettered clouds and region of the heavens,
Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light
Were all like workings of one mind, the features
Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree,
Characters of the great Apocalypse,
The types and symbols of Eternity,
Of first and last, and midst, and without end.

Via Mala

 

Lines 573-580 They spend the night in a 'dreary Mansion' where the noise of waters made 'innocent Sleep / Lie melancholy among weary bones.'

Lines 581-616 They arrive at Lake Locarno, then Lake Como:

Lines 591-599
..a treasure by the earth
Kept to itself, a darling bosomed up
In Abyssinian privacy, I spake
Of thee, thy chestnut woods, and garden plots
Of Indian corn tended by dark-eyed Maids,
Thy lofty steeps, and pathways roofed with vines
Winding from house to house, from town to town,
Sole link that binds them to each other, walks
League after league, and cloistral avenues
Where silence is, if music be not there:

Lines 617-656 They get lost in the woods early in the morning before daybreak.

Lines 657-680 He notes that he must now break off this account of his wanderings, that it should not be understood that he was 'a mean pensioner / On outward forms', and that:

Lines 672-680
..whate'er
I saw or heard, or felt, was but a stream
That flowed into a kindred stream, a gale
That helped me forwards, did administer
To grandeur and to tenderness, to the one
Directly, but to tender thoughts by means
Less often instantaneous in effect;
Conducted me to these along a path
Which in the main was more circuitous.

Lines 681-706 Returning towards England, he reflects that he did not feel a part of the general enthusiasm for social change:

Lines 694-699
I looked upon these things
As from a distance, heard, and saw, and felt,
Was touched, but with no intimate concern;
I seemed to move among them as a bird
Moves through the air, or as a fish pursues
Its business, in its proper element.

book V

book VII 

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