The Prelude: Book 1: Childhood and School-time

Original Text: 
William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805). The Prelude: or, Growth of a Poet's Mind (Text of 1805), ed. Ernest De Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1933). PR 5864 A12 D (University College Library, Toronto).
272That one, the fairest of all Rivers, lov'd
273To blend his murmurs with my Nurse's song,
274And from his alder shades and rocky falls,
275And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice
276That flow'd along my dreams? For this, didst Thou,
277O Derwent! travelling over the green Plains
279Make ceaseless music through the night and day
280Which with its steady cadence, tempering
281Our human waywardness, compos'd my thoughts
282To more than infant softness, giving me,
283Among the fretful dwellings of mankind,
284A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm
285That Nature breathes among the hills and groves.
286When, having left his Mountains, to the Towers
287Of Cockermouth that beauteous River came,
288Behind my Father's House he pass'd, close by,
289Along the margin of our Terrace Walk.
290He was a Playmate whom we dearly lov'd.
291Oh! many a time have I, a five years' Child,
292A naked Boy, in one delightful Rill,
293A little Mill-race sever'd from his stream,
294Made one long bathing of a summer's day,
295Bask'd in the sun, and plunged, and bask'd again
296Alternate all a summer's day, or cours'd
297Over the sandy fields, leaping through groves
300Were bronz'd with a deep radiance, stood alone
301Beneath the sky, as if I had been born
302On Indian Plains, and from my Mother's hut
303Had run abroad in wantonness, to sport,
304A naked Savage, in the thunder shower.
305     Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up
306Foster'd alike by beauty and by fear;
307Much favour'd in my birthplace, and no less
309I was transplanted. Well I call to mind
310('Twas at an early age, ere I had seen
311Nine summers) when upon the mountain slope
312The frost and breath of frosty wind had snapp'd
313The last autumnal crocus, 'twas my joy
314To wander half the night among the Cliffs
315And the smooth Hollows, where the woodcocks ran
316Along the open turf. In thought and wish
318I was a fell destroyer. On the heights
319Scudding away from snare to snare, I plied
320My anxious visitation, hurrying on,
321Still hurrying, hurrying onward; moon and stars
322Were shining o'er my head; I was alone,
323And seem'd to be a trouble to the peace
324That was among them. Sometimes it befel
325In these night-wanderings, that a strong desire
326O'erpower'd my better reason, and the bird
327Which was the captive of another's toils
328Became my prey; and, when the deed was done
329I heard among the solitary hills
330Low breathings coming after me, and sounds
331Of undistinguishable motion, steps
332Almost as silent as the turf they trod.
333Nor less in springtime when on southern banks
334The shining sun had from his knot of leaves
335Decoy'd the primrose flower, and when the Vales
336And woods were warm, was I a plunderer then
337In the high places, on the lonesome peaks
338Where'er, among the mountains and the winds,
339The Mother Bird had built her lodge. Though mean
340My object, and inglorious, yet the end
341Was not ignoble. Oh! when I have hung
342Above the raven's nest, by knots of grass
343And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock
344But ill sustain'd, and almost, as it seem'd,
345Suspended by the blast which blew amain,
346Shouldering the naked crag; Oh! at that time,
347While on the perilous ridge I hung alone,
348With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind
349Blow through my ears! the sky seem'd not a sky
350Of earth, and with what motion mov'd the clouds!
351     The mind of Man is fram'd even like the breath
352And harmony of music. There is a dark
353Invisible workmanship that reconciles
354Discordant elements, and makes them move
355In one society. Ah me! that all
356The terrors, all the early miseries
357Regrets, vexations, lassitudes, that all
358The thoughts and feelings which have been infus'd
359Into my mind, should ever have made up
360The calm existence that is mine when I
361Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!
362Thanks likewise for the means! But I believe
363That Nature, oftentimes, when she would frame
364A favor'd Being, from his earliest dawn
365Of infancy doth open out the clouds,
366As at the touch of lightning, seeking him
367With gentlest visitation; not the less,
368Though haply aiming at the self-same end,
369Does it delight her sometimes to employ
370Severer interventions, ministry
371More palpable, and so she dealt with me.
372     One evening (surely I was led by her)
373I went alone into a Shepherd's Boat,
374A Skiff that to a Willow tree was tied
375Within a rocky Cave, its usual home.
376'Twas by the shores of Patterdale, a Vale
377Wherein I was a Stranger, thither come
378A School-boy Traveller, at the Holidays.
379Forth rambled from the Village Inn alone
380No sooner had I sight of this small Skiff,
381Discover'd thus by unexpected chance,
382Than I unloos'd her tether and embark'd.
383The moon was up, the Lake was shining clear
384Among the hoary mountains; from the Shore
386In cadence, and my little Boat mov'd on
387Even like a Man who walks with stately step
388Though bent on speed. It was an act of stealth
389And troubled pleasure; not without the voice
390Of mountain-echoes did my Boat move on,
391Leaving behind her still on either side
392Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
393Until they melted all into one track
394Of sparkling light. A rocky Steep uprose
395Above the Cavern of the Willow tree
396And now, as suited one who proudly row'd
397With his best skill, I fix'd a steady view
398Upon the top of that same craggy ridge,
399The bound of the horizon, for behind
400Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
401She was an elfin Pinnace; lustily
402I dipp'd my oars into the silent Lake,
403And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat
404Went heaving through the water, like a Swan;
405When from behind that craggy Steep, till then
406The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,
407As if with voluntary power instinct,
408Uprear'd its head. I struck, and struck again
409And, growing still in stature, the huge Cliff
410Rose up between me and the stars, and still,
411With measur'd motion, like a living thing,
412Strode after me. With trembling hands I turn'd,
413And through the silent water stole my way
414Back to the Cavern of the Willow tree.
415There, in her mooring-place, I left my Bark,
416And, through the meadows homeward went, with grave
417And serious thoughts; and after I had seen
418That spectacle, for many days, my brain
419Work'd with a dim and undetermin'd sense
420Of unknown modes of being; in my thoughts
421There was a darkness, call it solitude,
422Or blank desertion, no familiar shapes
423Of hourly objects, images of trees,
424Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
426Like living men mov'd slowly through the mind
427By day and were the trouble of my dreams.
429Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought!
430That giv'st to forms and images a breath
431And everlasting motion! not in vain,
432By day or star-light thus from my first dawn
433Of Childhood didst Thou intertwine for me
434The passions that build up our human Soul,
435Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man,
436But with high objects, with enduring things,
437With life and nature, purifying thus
438The elements of feeling and of thought,
439And sanctifying, by such discipline,
440Both pain and fear, until we recognize
441A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.
442     Nor was this fellowship vouchsaf'd to me
443With stinted kindness. In November days,
444When vapours, rolling down the valleys, made
445A lonely scene more lonesome; among woods
446At noon, and 'mid the calm of summer nights,
447When, by the margin of the trembling Lake,
448Beneath the gloomy hills I homeward went
449In solitude, such intercourse was mine;
450'Twas mine among the fields both day and night,
451And by the waters all the summer long.
453Was set, and visible for many a mile
454The cottage windows through the twilight blaz'd,
455I heeded not the summons:--happy time
456It was, indeed, for all of us; to me
457It was a time of rapture: clear and loud
458The village clock toll'd six; I wheel'd about,
459Proud and exulting, like an untired horse,
460That cares not for its home.--All shod with steel,
461We hiss'd along the polish'd ice, in games
462Confederate, imitative of the chace
463And woodland pleasures, the resounding horn,
464The Pack loud bellowing, and the hunted hare.
465So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
466And not a voice was idle; with the din,
467Meanwhile, the precipices rang aloud,
468The leafless trees, and every icy crag
469Tinkled like iron, while the distant hills
470Into the tumult sent an alien sound
471Of melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars,
472Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the west
473The orange sky of evening died away.
474     Not seldom from the uproar I retired
475Into a silent bay, or sportively
476Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,
477To cut across the image of a star
478That gleam'd upon the ice: and oftentimes
479When we had given our bodies to the wind,
480And all the shadowy banks, on either side,
481Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still
482The rapid line of motion; then at once
483Have I, reclining back upon my heels,
484Stopp'd short, yet still the solitary Cliffs
485Wheeled by me, even as if the earth had roll'd
486With visible motion her diurnal round;
487Behind me did they stretch in solemn train
488Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watch'd
489Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep.
490     Ye Presences of Nature, in the sky
491And on the earth! Ye Visions of the hills!
492And Souls of lonely places! can I think
493A vulgar hope was yours when Ye employ'd
494Such ministry, when Ye through many a year
495Haunting me thus among my boyish sports,
496On caves and trees, upon the woods and hills,
497Impress'd upon all forms the characters
498Of danger or desire, and thus did make
499The surface of the universal earth
500With triumph, and delight, and hope, and fear,
501Work like a sea?
502                            Not uselessly employ'd,
503I might pursue this theme through every change
504Of exercise and play, to which the year
505Did summon us in its delightful round.
506     We were a noisy crew, the sun in heaven
507Beheld not vales more beautiful than ours,
508Nor saw a race in happiness and joy
509More worthy of the ground where they were sown.
510I would record with no reluctant voice
511The woods of autumn and their hazel bowers
512With milk-white clusters hung; the rod and line,
513True symbol of the foolishness of hope,
514Which with its strong enchantment led us on
515By rocks and pools, shut out from every star
516All the green summer, to forlorn cascades
517Among the windings of the mountain brooks.
518--Unfading recollections! at this hour
519The heart is almost mine with which I felt
520From some hill-top, on sunny afternoons
521The Kite high up among the fleecy clouds
522Pull at its rein, like an impatient Courser,
523Or, from the meadows sent on gusty days,
524Beheld her breast the wind, then suddenly
525Dash'd headlong; and rejected by the storm.
527A ministration of your own was yours,
528A sanctity, a safeguard, and a love!
529Can I forget you, being as ye were
530So beautiful among the pleasant fields
531In which ye stood? Or can I here forget
532The plain and seemly countenance with which
533Ye dealt out your plain comforts? Yet had ye
534Delights and exultations of your own.
535Eager and never weary we pursued
536Our home amusements by the warm peat-fire
537At evening; when with pencil and with slate,
538In square divisions parcell'd out, and all
539With crosses and with cyphers scribbled o'er,
540We schemed and puzzled, head opposed to head
541In strife too humble to be named in Verse.
543Cherry or maple, sate in close array,
544And to the combat, Lu or Whist, led on
545thick-ribbed Army; not as in the world
546Neglected and ungratefully thrown by
547Even for the very service they had wrought,
548But husbanded through many a long campaign.
549Uncouth assemblage was it, where no few
550Had changed their functions, some, plebeian cards,
551Which Fate beyond the promise of their birth
552Had glorified, and call'd to represent
553The persons of departed Potentates.
554Oh! with what echoes on the Board they fell!
555Ironic Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, Diamonds, Spades,
556A congregation piteously akin.
557Cheap matter did they give to boyish wit,
558Those sooty knaves, precipitated down
559With scoffs and taunts, like Vulcan out of Heaven,
560The paramount Ace, a moon in her eclipse,
561Queens, gleaming through their splendour's last decay,
562And Monarchs, surly at the wrongs sustain'd
563By royal visages. Meanwhile, abroad
564The heavy rain was falling, or the frost
565Raged bitterly, with keen and silent tooth,
566And, interrupting oft the impassion'd game,
567From Esthwaite's neighbouring Lake the splitting ice,
568While it sank down towards the water, sent,
569Among the meadows and the hills, its long
570And dismal yellings, like the noise of wolves
571When they are howling round the Bothnic Main.
572     Nor, sedulous as I have been to trace
573How Nature by extrinsic passion first
574Peopled my mind with beauteous forms or grand,
575And made me love them, may I well forget
576How other pleasures have been mine, and joys
577Of subtler origin; how I have felt,
578Not seldom, even in that tempestuous time,
579Those hallow'd and pure motions of the sense
580Which seem, in their simplicity, to own
581An intellectual charm, that calm delight
582Which, if I err not, surely must belong
583To those first-born affinities that fit
584Our new existence to existing things,
585And, in our dawn of being, constitute
586The bond of union betwixt life and joy.
587     Yes, I remember, when the changeful earth,
588And twice five seasons on my mind had stamp'd
589The faces of the moving year, even then,
590A Child, I held unconscious intercourse
591With the eternal Beauty, drinking in
592A pure organic pleasure from the lines
593Of curling mist, or from the level plain
594Of waters colour'd by the steady clouds.
595     The Sands of Westmoreland, the Creeks and Bays
596Of Cumbria's rocky limits, they can tell
597How when the Sea threw off his evening shade
598And to the Shepherd's huts beneath the crags
599Did send sweet notice of the rising moon,
600How I have stood, to fancies such as these,
601Engrafted in the tenderness of thought,
602A stranger, linking with the spectacle
603No conscious memory of a kindred sight,
604And bringing with me no peculiar sense
605Of quietness or peace, yet I have stood,
606Even while mine eye has mov'd o'er three long leagues
607Of shining water, gathering, as it seem'd,
608Through every hair-breadth of that field of light,
609New pleasure, like a bee among the flowers.
610     Thus, often in those fits of vulgar joy
611Which, through all seasons, on a child's pursuits
612Are prompt attendants, 'mid that giddy bliss
613Which, like a tempest, works along the blood
614And is forgotten; even then I felt
615Gleams like the flashing of a shield; the earth
616And common face of Nature spake to me
617Rememberable things; sometimes, 'tis true,
618By chance collisions and quaint accidents
619Like those ill-sorted unions, work suppos'd
620Of evil-minded fairies, yet not vain
621Nor profitless, if haply they impress'd
622Collateral objects and appearances,
623Albeit lifeless then, and doom'd to sleep
624Until maturer seasons call'd them forth
625To impregnate and to elevate the mind.
626--And if the vulgar joy by its own weight
627Wearied itself out of the memory,
628The scenes which were a witness of that joy
629Remained, in their substantial lineaments
630Depicted on the brain, and to the eye
631Were visible, a daily sight; and thus
632By the impressive discipline of fear,
633By pleasure and repeated happiness,
634So frequently repeated, and by force
635Of obscure feelings representative
636Of joys that were forgotten, these same scenes,
637So beauteous and majestic in themselves,
638Though yet the day was distant, did at length
639Become habitually dear, and all
640Their hues and forms were by invisible links
641Allied to the affections.
642                                     I began
643My story early, feeling as I fear,
644The weakness of a human love, for days
645Disown'd by memory, ere the birth of spring
646Planting my snowdrops among winter snows.
648In sympathy, that I have lengthen'd out,
649With fond and feeble tongue, a tedious tale.
650Meanwhile, my hope has been that I might fetch
651Invigorating thoughts from former years,
652Might fix the wavering balance of my wind,
653And haply meet reproaches, too, whose power
655To honorable toil. Yet should these hopes
656Be vain, and thus should neither I be taught
657To understand myself, nor thou to know
658With better knowledge how the heart was fram'd
659Of him thou lovest, need I dread from thee
660Harsh judgments, if I am so loth to quit
661Those recollected hours that have the charm
662Of visionary things, and lovely forms
663And sweet sensations that throw back our life
664And almost make our Infancy itself
665A visible scene, on which the sun is shining?
667My mind hath been revived, and if this mood
668Desert me not, I will forthwith bring down,
669Through later years, the story of my life.
670The road lies plain before me; 'tis a theme
671Single and of determined bounds; and hence
672I chuse it rather at this time, than work
673Of ampler or more varied argument.


271] The Prelude was first published in 1850, shortly after the poet's death. It had been completed in 1805, though revised on three occasions afterwards. It was composed to accompany and form part of a more extensive and ambitious work, The Recluse, which was never finished. The Prelude remained without a title until the poet's widow named it, shortly before publication. Wordsworth had referred to it as "the poem on my life" or "the poem to Coleridge." The earliest passages in the poem go back to the beginning of 1798; the earliest and briefest version of the poem was completed, in two parts, in 1799-1800. This earliest version, in its extent, general subject, and to a considerable degree in its episodes and phrasing, corresponds to the part of The Prelude printed here. The text used is that of the poem as first finished in its longest form in 1805. Selections are reprinted here by the permission of The Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Was it for this, etc. In all early manuscripts (1798-1800), the poem begins in this way, the broken line and the initial phrase implying a preceding passage and a known meaning for this. The earliest surviving manuscript for what is now the first 270 lines of the poem belongs to 1804. Back to Line
278] my 'sweet Birthplace': Cockermouth, in Cumberland. The quotation is from Coleridge's Frost at Midnight composed early in 1798. Wordsworth, writing towards the end of the same year, associates his own memories of childhood with those recorded by his friend. Back to Line
298] grunsel: groundsel, a common European weed. Back to Line
299] Skiddaw: a mountain about ten miles east of Cockermouth. Back to Line
308] That beloved Vale: the vale of Esthwaite with its village of Hawkshead where Wordsworth attended the Grammar School, 1779-87. Back to Line
317] springes: snares. Back to Line
385] struck: pulled on the oars; cf. stroke, a single pull on the oars. Back to Line
425] H. W. Garrod suggested that there should be a comma at the end of the line to make the true meaning clear. Back to Line
428] First published in Coleridge's periodical, The Friend, Dec. 28, 1809, and then in Poems, 1815. Back to Line
452] Dorothy Wordsworth quoted this passage, as recently composed, in a letter to Coleridge on Dec. 21 (?), 1798. Back to Line
526] Ye lowly Cottages, etc. The students at Hawkshead Grammar School lodged and boarded with the villagers. Wordsworth and his brothers lived in the cottage of a widow, Ann Tyson, in the near-by hamlet of Colthouse. Back to Line
542] Wordsworth plainly had in mind the famous game of cards in The Rape of the Lock; "plebeian cards" (549) echoes a phrase in Pope's poem (III, 54). Back to Line
647] my Friend: Coleridge, to whom The Prelude was addressed. Back to Line
654] The Prelude was to be preliminary to a more ambitious work, The Recluse. Back to Line
666] These lines were composed early in 1804, at least four years after the preceding passage. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. R. MacGillivray
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.336.