The Prelude: Book 2: School-time (Continued)

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).
2Unvisited, endeavour'd to retrace
3My life through its first years, and measured back
4The way I travell'd when I first began
5To love the woods and fields; the passion yet
6Was in its birth, sustain'd, as might befal,
7By nourishment that came unsought, for still,
8From week to week, from month to month, we liv'd
9A round of tumult: duly were our games
10Prolong'd in summer till the day-light fail'd;
11No chair remain'd before the doors, the bench
12And threshold steps were empty; fast asleep
13The Labourer, and the old Man who had sate,
14A later lingerer, yet the revelry
15Continued, and the loud uproar: at last,
16When all the ground was dark, and the huge clouds
17Were edged with twinkling stars, to bed we went,
18With weary joints, and with a beating mind.
19Ah! is there one who ever has been young,
20Nor needs a monitory voice to tame
21The pride of virtue, and of intellect?
22And is there one, the wisest and the best
23Of all mankind, who does not sometimes wish
24For things which cannot be, who would not give,
25If so he might, to duty and to truth
26The eagerness of infantine desire?
27A tranquillizing spirit presses now
29The vacancy between me and those days,
30Which yet have such self-presence in my mind
31That, sometimes, when I think of them, I seem
32Two consciousnesses, conscious of myself
33And of some other Being. A grey Stone
34Of native rock, left midway in the Square
35Of our small market Village, was the home
37After long absence, thither I repair'd,
38I found that it was split, and gone to build
39A smart Assembly-room that perk'd and flar'd
40With wash and rough-cast elbowing the ground
41Which had been ours. But let the fiddle scream,
42And be ye happy! yet, my Friends! I know
43That more than one of you will think with me
44Of those soft starry nights, and that old Dame
45From whom the stone was nam'd who there had sate
46And watch'd her Table with its huckster's wares
47Assiduous, thro' the length of sixty years.
48     We ran a boisterous race; the year span round
49With giddy motion. But the time approach'd
50That brought with it a regular desire
52Of Nature were collaterally attach'd
53To every scheme of holiday delight,
54And every boyish sport, less grateful else,
55And languidly pursued.
56                                     When summer came
57It was the pastime of our afternoons
59With rival oars, and the selected bourne
60Was now an Island musical with birds
61That sang for ever; now a Sister Isle
62Beneath the oaks' umbrageous covert, sown
63With lillies of the valley, like a field;
64And now a third small Island where remain'd
65An old stone Table, and a moulder'd Cave,
66A Hermit's history. In such a race,
67So ended, disappointment could be none,
68Uneasiness, or pain, or jealousy:
69We rested in the shade, all pleas'd alike,
70Conquer'd and Conqueror. Thus the pride of strength,
71And the vain-glory of superior skill
72Were interfus'd with objects which subdu'd
73And temper'd them, and gradually produc'd
74A quiet independence of the heart.
75And to my Friend, who knows me, I may add,
76Unapprehensive of reproof, that hence
77Ensu'd a diffidence and modesty,
78And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much,
79The self-sufficing power of solitude.
80     No delicate viands sapp'd our bodily strength;
81More than we wish'd we knew the blessing then
82Of vigorous hunger, for our daily meals
83Were frugal, Sabine fare! and then, exclude
84A little weekly stipend, and we lived
85Through three divisions of the quarter'd year
86In pennyless poverty. But now, to School
87Return'd, from the half-yearly holidays,
88We came with purses more profusely fill'd,
89Allowance which abundantly suffic'd
90To gratify the palate with repasts
91More costly than the Dame of whom I spake,
92That ancient Woman, and her board supplied.
93Hence inroads into distant Vales, and long
94Excursions far away among the hills,
95Hence rustic dinners on the cool green ground,
96Or in the woods, or near a river side,
97Or by some shady fountain, while soft airs
98Among the leaves were stirring, and the sun
99Unfelt, shone sweetly round us in our joy.
100     Nor is my aim neglected, if I tell
101How twice in the long length of those half-years
102We from our funds, perhaps, with bolder hand
103Drew largely, anxious for one day, at least,
104To feel the motion of the galloping Steed;
105And with the good old Inn-keeper, in truth,
106On such occasion sometimes we employ'd
107Sly subterfuge; for the intended bound
108Of the day's journey was too distant far
110Beyond its neighbourhood, the antique Walls
111Of that large Abbey which within the vale
112Of Nightshade, to St. Mary's honour built,
113Stands yet, a mouldering Pile, with fractured Arch,
114Belfry, and Images, and living Trees,
115A holy Scene! along the smooth green turf
116Our Horses grazed: to more than inland peace
117Left by the sea wind passing overhead
118(Though wind of roughest temper) trees and towers
119May in that Valley oftentimes be seen,
120Both silent and both motionless alike;
121Such is the shelter that is there, and such
122The safeguard for repose and quietness.
123     Our steeds remounted, and the summons given,
124With whip and spur we by the Chauntry flew
126And the stone-Abbot, and that single Wren
127Which one day sang so sweetly in the Nave
128Of the old Church, that, though from recent showers
129The earth was comfortless, and, touch'd by faint
130Internal breezes, sobbings of the place,
131And respirations, from the roofless walls
132The shuddering ivy dripp'd large drops, yet still,
133So sweetly 'mid the gloom the invisible Bird
134Sang to itself, that there I could have made
135My dwelling-place, and liv'd for ever there
136To hear such music. Through the Walls we flew
137And down the valley, and a circuit made
138In wantonness of heart, through rough and smooth
139We scamper'd homeward. Oh! ye Rocks and Streams,
140And that still Spirit of the evening air!
141Even in this joyous time I sometimes felt
142Your presence, when with slacken'd step we breath'd
143Along the sides of the steep hills, or when,
144Lighted by gleams of moonlight from the sea,
146     Upon the Eastern Shore of Windermere,
147Above the crescent of a pleasant Bay,
149Brother of the surrounding Cottages,
150But 'twas a splendid place, the door beset
151With Chaises, Grooms, and Liveries, and within
152Decanters, Glasses, and the blood-red Wine.
153In ancient times, or ere the Hall was built
154On the large Island, had this Dwelling been
155More worthy of a Poet's love, a Hut,
156Proud of its one bright fire, and sycamore shade.
157But though the rhymes were gone which once inscribed
158The threshold, and large golden characters
159On the blue-frosted Signboard had usurp'd
160The place of the old Lion, in contempt
161And mockery of the rustic painter's hand,
162Yet to this hour the spot to me is dear
163With all its foolish pomp. The garden lay
164Upon a slope surmounted by the plain
165Of a small Bowling-green; beneath us stood
166A grove; with gleams of water through the trees
167And over the tree-tops; nor did we want
168Refreshment, strawberries and mellow cream.
169And there, through half an afternoon, we play'd
170On the smooth platform, and the shouts we sent
171Made all the mountains ring. But ere the fall
172Of night, when in our pinnace we return'd
173Over the dusky Lake, and to the beach
174Of some small Island steer'd our course with one,
175The Minstrel of our troop, and left him there,
176And row'd off gently, while he blew his flute
177Alone upon the rock; Oh! then the calm
178And dead still water lay upon my mind
179Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky
180Never before so beautiful, sank down
181Into my heart, and held me like a dream.
182     Thus daily were my sympathies enlarged,
183And thus the common range of visible things
184Grew dear to me: already I began
185To love the sun, a Boy I lov'd the sun,
186Not as I since have lov'd him, as a pledge
187And surety of our earthly life, a light
188Which while we view we feel we are alive;
189But, for this cause, that I had seen him lay
190His beauty on the morning hills, had seen
191The western mountain touch his setting orb,
192In many a thoughtless hour, when, from excess
193Of happiness, my blood appear'd to flow
194With its own pleasure, and I breath'd with joy.
195And from like feelings, humble though intense,
196To patriotic and domestic love
197Analogous, the moon to me was dear;
198For I would dream away my purposes,
199Standing to look upon her while she hung
200Midway between the hills, as if she knew
201No other region; but belong'd to thee,
202Yea, appertain'd by a peculiar right
203To thee and thy grey huts, my darling Vale!
204     Those incidental charms which first attach'd
205My heart to rural objects, day by day
206Grew weaker, and I hasten on to tell
207How Nature, intervenient till this time,
208And secondary, now at length was sought
209For her own sake. But who shall parcel out
210His intellect, by geometric rules,
211Split, like a province, into round and square?
212Who knows the individual hour in which
213His habits were first sown, even as a seed,
214Who that shall point, as with a wand, and say,
215'This portion of the river of my mind
216Came from yon fountain?' Thou, my Friend! art one
217More deeply read in thy own thoughts; to thee
219Not as our glory and our absolute boast,
221To our infirmity. Thou art no slave
222Of that false secondary power, by which,
223In weakness, we create distinctions, then
224Deem that our puny boundaries are things
225Which we perceive, and not which we have made.
226To thee, unblinded by these outward shows,
227The unity of all has been reveal'd
228And thou wilt doubt with me, less aptly skill'd
230Of their sensations, and, in voluble phrase,
231Run through the history and birth of each,
232As of a single independent thing.
233Hard task to analyse a soul, in which,
234Not only general habits and desires,
235But each most obvious and particular thought,
236Not in a mystical and idle sense,
237But in the words of reason deeply weigh'd,
238Hath no beginning.
239                               Bless'd the infant Babe,
240(For with my best conjectures I would trace
241The progress of our Being) blest the Babe,
242Nurs'd in his Mother's arms, the Babe who sleeps
243Upon his Mother's breast, who, when his soul
244Claims manifest kindred with an earthly soul,
245Doth gather passion from his Mother's eye!
246Such feelings pass into his torpid life
247Like an awakening breeze, and hence his mind
248Even [in the first trial of its powers]
249Is prompt and watchful, eager to combine
250In one appearance, all the elements
251And parts of the same object, else detach'd
252And loth to coalesce. Thus, day by day,
253Subjected to the discipline of love,
254His organs and recipient faculties
255Are quicken'd, are more vigorous, his mind spreads,
256Tenacious of the forms which it receives.
257In one beloved presence, nay and more,
258In that most apprehensive habitude
259And those sensations which have been deriv'd
260From this beloved Presence, there exists
261A virtue which irradiates and exalts
262All objects through all intercourse of sense.
263No outcast he, bewilder'd and depress'd;
264Along his infant veins are interfus'd
266Of nature, that connect him with the world.
267Emphatically such a Being lives,
268An inmate of this active universe;
269From nature largely he receives; nor so
270Is satisfied, but largely gives again,
271For feeling has to him imparted strength,
272And powerful in all sentiments of grief,
273Of exultation, fear, and joy, his mind,
274Even as an agent of the one great mind,
275Creates, creator and receiver both,
276Working but in alliance with the works
277Which it beholds.--Such, verily, is the first
278Poetic spirit of our human life;
279By uniform control of after years
280In most abated or suppress'd, in some,
281Through every change of growth or of decay,
282Pre-eminent till death.
283                                   From early days,
284Beginning not long after that first time
285In which, a Babe, by intercourse of touch,
286I held mute dialogues with my Mother's heart
287I have endeavour'd to display the means
288Whereby this infant sensibility,
289Great birthright of our Being, was in me
290Augmented and sustain'd. Yet is a path
291More difficult before me, and I fear
292That in its broken windings we shall need
293The chamois' sinews, and the eagle's wing:
295From unknown causes. I was left alone,
296Seeking the visible world, nor knowing why.
297The props of my affections were remov'd,
298And yet the building stood, as if sustain'd
299By its own spirit! All that I beheld
300Was dear to me, and from this cause it came,
301That now to Nature's finer influxes
302My mind lay open, to that more exact
303And intimate communion which our hearts
304Maintain with the minuter properties
305Of objects which already are belov'd,
306And of those only. Many are the joys
307Of youth; but oh! what happiness to live
308When every hour brings palpable access
309Of knowledge, when all knowledge is delight,
310And sorrow is not there. The seasons came,
311And every season to my notice brought
312A store of transitory qualities
313Which, but for this most watchful power of love
314Had been neglected, left a register
315Of permanent relations, else unknown,
316Hence life, and change, and beauty, solitude
318Society made sweet as solitude
319By silent inobtrusive sympathies,
320And gentle agitations of the mind
321From manifold distinctions, difference
322Perceived in things, where to the common eye,
323No difference is; and hence, from the same source
324Sublimer joy; for I would walk alone,
325In storm and tempest, or in starlight nights
326Beneath the quiet Heavens; and, at that time,
327Have felt whate'er there is of power in sound
328To breathe an elevated mood, by form
329Or image unprofaned; and I would stand,
330Beneath some rock, listening to sounds that are
331The ghostly language of the ancient earth,
332Or make their dim abode in distant winds.
333Thence did I drink the visionary power.
334I deem not profitless those fleeting moods
335Of shadowy exultation: not for this,
336That they are kindred to our purer mind
337And intellectual life; but that the soul,
338Remembering how she felt, but what she felt
339Remembering not, retains an obscure sense
340Of possible sublimity, to which,
341With growing faculties she doth aspire,
342With faculties still growing, feeling still
343That whatsoever point they gain, they still
344Have something to pursue.
345                                         And not alone,
346In grandeur and in tumult, but no less
347In tranquil scenes, that universal power
348And fitness in the latent qualities
349And essences of things, by which the mind
350Is mov'd by feelings of delight, to me
351Came strengthen'd with a superadded soul,
353Were early; oft, before the hours of School
355Of pleasant wandering, happy time! more dear
357Then passionately lov'd; with heart how full
358Will he peruse these lines, this page, perhaps
359A blank to other men! for many years
360Have since flow'd in between us; and our minds,
361Both silent to each other, at this time
362We live as if those hours had never been.
363Nor seldom did I lift our cottage latch
364Far earlier, and before the vernal thrush
365Was audible, among the hills I sate
366Alone, upon some jutting eminence
367At the first hour of morning, when the Vale
368Lay quiet in an utter solitude.
369How shall I trace the history, where seek
370The origin of what I then have felt?
371Oft in these moments such a holy calm
372Did overspread my soul, that I forgot
373That I had bodily eyes, and what I saw
374Appear'd like something in myself, a dream,
375A prospect in my mind.
376                                     'Twere long to tell
377What spring and autumn, what the winter snows,
378And what the summer shade, what day and night,
379The evening and the morning, what my dreams
380And what my waking thoughts supplied, to nurse
382I walked with Nature. But let this, at least
384My first creative sensibility,
385That by the regular action of the world
386My soul was unsubdu'd. A plastic power
387Abode with me, a forming hand, at times
388Rebellious, acting in a devious mood,
389A local spirit of its own, at war
390With general tendency, but for the most
391Subservient strictly to the external things
392With which it commun'd. An auxiliar light
393Came from my mind which on the setting sun
394Bestow'd new splendor, the melodious birds,
395The gentle breezes, fountains that ran on,
396Murmuring so sweetly in themselves, obey'd
397A like dominion; and the midnight storm
398Grew darker in the presence of my eye.
399Hence by obeisance, my devotion hence,
400And hence my transport.
401                                       Nor should this, perchance,
402Pass unrecorded, that I still have lov'd
403The exercise and produce of a toil
404Than analytic industry to me
405More pleasing, and whose character I deem
406Is more poetic as resembling more
407Creative agency. I mean to speak
408Of that interminable building rear'd
409By observation of affinities
410In objects where no brotherhood exists
411To common minds. My seventeenth year was come
412And, whether from this habit, rooted now
413So deeply in my mind, or from excess
414Of the great social principle of life,
415Coercing all things into sympathy,
416To unorganic natures I transferr'd
417My own enjoyments, or, the power of truth
418Coming in revelation, I convers'd
419With things that really are, I, at this time
420Saw blessings spread around me like a sea.
422From Nature and her overflowing soul
423I had receiv'd so much that all my thoughts
424Were steep'd in feeling; I was only then
425Contented when with bliss ineffable
426I felt the sentiment of Being spread
427O'er all that moves, and all that seemeth still,
428O'er all, that, lost beyond the reach of thought
429And human knowledge, to the human eye
430Invisible, yet liveth to the heart,
431O'er all that leaps, and runs, and shouts, and sings,
432Or beats the gladsome air, o'er all that glides
433Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself
434And mighty depth of waters. Wonder not
435If such my transports were; for in all things
436I saw one life, and felt that it was joy.
437One song they sang, and it was audible,
438Most audible then when the fleshly ear,
439O'ercome by grosser prelude of that strain,
440Forgot its functions, and slept undisturb'd.
441     If this be error, and another faith
442Find easier access to the pious mind,
443Yet were I grossly destitute of all
444Those human sentiments which make this earth
445So dear, if I should fail, with grateful voice
446To speak of you, Ye Mountains and Ye Lakes,
447And sounding Cataracts! Ye Mists and Winds
448That dwell among the hills where I was born.
449If, in my youth, I have been pure in heart,
450If, mingling with the world, I am content
451With my own modest pleasures, and have liv'd,
452With God and Nature communing, remov'd
453From little enmities and low desires,
455This melancholy waste of hopes o'erthrown,
456If, 'mid indifference and apathy
457And wicked exultation, when good men,
458On every side fall off we know not how,
459To selfishness, disguis'd in gentle names
460Of peace, and quiet, and domestic love,
461Yet mingled, not unwillingly, with sneers
462On visionary minds; if in this time
463Of dereliction and dismay, I yet
464Despair not of our nature; but retain
465A more than Roman confidence, a faith
466That fails not, in all sorrow my support,
467The blessing of my life, the gift is yours,
468Ye mountains! thine, O Nature! Thou hast fed
469My lofty speculations; and in thee,
470For this uneasy heart of ours I find
471A never-failing principle of joy,
472And purest passion.
474In the great City, 'mid far other scenes;
475But we, by different roads at length have gain'd
477I speak, unapprehensive of contempt,
478The insinuated scoff of coward tongues,
479And all that silent language which so oft
480In conversation betwixt man and man
481Blots from the human countenance all trace
482Of beauty and of love. For Thou hast sought
483The truth in solitude, and Thou art one,
484The most intense of Nature's worshippers
485In many things my Brother, chiefly here
486In this my deep devotion.
488Health, and the quiet of a healthful mind
489Attend thee! seeking oft the haunts of men,
490And yet more often living with Thyself,
491And for Thyself, so haply shall thy days
492Be many, and a blessing to mankind.


1] 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. Back to Line
28] corporeal frame: cf. Tintern Abbey, 43. Back to Line
36] When, return'd After long absence. Wordsworth revisited Hawkshead, accompanied by Coleridge, on Nov. 2, 1799, after an absence of ten years. These lines were composed shortly after, in the winter of 1799-1800. Back to Line
51] beauteous forms: Cf. Tintern Abbey, 22. Back to Line
58] Windermere: the largest of the English lakes, about three miles to the east of Hawkshead. Back to Line
109] a Structure famed: Furness Abbey, near the sea-coast of Lancashire, about twenty miles south-west of Hawkshead. Back to Line
125] the cross-legg'd Knight. The posture indicates that the knight represented had been on a crusade. Back to Line
145] Wordsworth refers again to this expedition to Furness Abbey and uses this identical line later in the poem, at X, 560-67. Back to Line
148] an Inn: The White Lion, at Bowness. Back to Line
218] Science: systematic knowledge or learning. Back to Line
220] succedaneum: substitute. Back to Line
229] to class the cabinet/Of their sensations: to classify their sensations as if they were objects to be arranged and displayed in a cabinet. Back to Line
265] The gravitation and the filial bond of nature. Wordsworth is suggesting an analogy between Newton's law of universal gravitation and the attractive and unifying force to be experienced in the love both for human beings and for the natural world. Back to Line
294] For now a trouble came into my mind, etc. The reference seems to be to the death of his mother (1778) and his father (1783): "the props of my affections were remov'd," yet the loss of human objects for love strengthened his love for nature. Back to Line
317] 'best society': cf. Paradise Lost, IX, 249: "For solitude sometimes is best society." Back to Line
352] before the hours of School. Archbishop Sandys, who founded Hawkshead Grammar School in 1585 and drew up the statutes to govern it, decreed that teaching must begin not later than 7:30 A.M. between September 29 and March 25 and 6:30 during the rest of the year. Back to Line
354] Our little Lake: Esthwaite. Back to Line
356] a Friend: elsewhere identified as John Fleming, of Rayrigg. Their friendship is mentioned in one of Wordsworth's juvenile poems, The Vale of Esthwaite. Back to Line
381] That spirit of religious love in which/I walked with Nature. The phrasing, if not the meaning, is biblical. Cf. Ephesians 5: 1-2: "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love...." Back to Line
383] I still retain'd my first creative sensibility, etc.: referring back to II, 275-80. Back to Line
421] This is the climax of the story of his imaginative development in childhood and early youth, down to his seventeenth year (405) to the time when he first tried seriously to write poetry. This passage had been composed as early as Feb. 1798 for another poem, "The Ruined Cottage." Back to Line
454] if in these times of fear,/This melancholy waste of hopes o'erthrown, etc. Wordsworth is touching on a theme which Coleridge recommended to him in September 1799: ". . . I wish you would write a poem, in blank verse, addressed to those, who, in consequence of the complete failure of the French Revolution, have thrown up all hopes of the amelioration of mankind, and are sinking into an almost epicurean selfishness, disguising the same under the soft titles of domestic attachment and contempt for visionary philosophes." Back to Line
473] Thou, my Friend! wert rear'd/ln the great City, etc.: cf. Coleridge's Frost at Midnight, 51-52: "For I was reared/In the great city...." Back to Line
476] The self-same bourne: the same imaginative region; they had become poets with similar ideas of their art. Back to Line
487] This passage, written in the winter of 1799-1800, is not only a formal conclusion of the first and briefest version of the poem that became The Prelude, but is a farewell in a literal sense, for towards the end of 1799 the friends went their separate ways, Coleridge to settle in London, and Wordsworth to return to the north to live in Grasmere. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. R. MacGillivray
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.345.