Summer Vacation: A Recollection - Summary & Analysis

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(The Prelude Book IV: Lines 297 to 338)

Yes, that heartless chase
Of trivial pleasure was a poor exchange
For books and nature at that early age.
It is true, some casual knowledge might be gained
Of character or life; but at that time,
Of manners put to school I took small note,
And all my deeper passions lay elsewhere.
Far better had it been to exalt the mind
By solitary study, to uphold
Intense desire through meditative peace;
And yet, for chastisement of these regrets,
The memory of one particular hour
Doth here rise up against me. Mid a throng
Of maids and youths, old men, and matrons staid,
A medley of all tempers, I had passed
The night in dancing, gaiety, and mirth,
With din of instruments and shuffling feet,
And glancing forms, and tapers glittering,
And unaimed prattle flying up and down;
Spirits upon the stretch, and here and there
Slight shocks of young love-liking interspersed,
Whose transient pleasure mounted to the head,
And tingled through the veins. Ere we retired,
The cock had crowed, and now the eastern sky
Was kindling, not unseen, from humble copse
And open field, through which the pathway wound, And homeward led by steps. Magnificent
The morning rose, in memorable pomp,
Glorious as e’er I had beheld—in front,
The sea lay laughing at a distance; near,
The solid mountains shone, bright as the 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 to till 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 thankful blessedness, which yet survives.


      These lines are taken from Book IV of The Prelude entitled “Summer Vacation”. Wordsworth describes one of the moments during which he became conscious of his own powers. Once he was walking home alone early one morning, after spending the night at a dance in a nearby village. At the beginning of the passage, as he starts to describe his walk, Wordsworth is critical of himself for spending too much time at “trivial pleasures” and hardly any at “solitary study” or in “meditative peace”. But as he walks on, the beauty of the natural surroundings drenched in the crimson of dawn and bathed in glorious Heavenly light has a valedictory effect on him. He becomes, unconsciously as it were, filled with a sense of blessedness. A sense of responsibility and awareness of what his vocation is comes upon the poet. He knows that he must live up to himself - “vows were.....made for me.” 


      The Prelude, on the whole, records the influence of Nature on the growth of a poet’s mind. The magnificence of the natural scene in the light of the rising sun somehow makes the poet aware of his poetic power. He goes through a semi-deliberate self-consecration to the task of poetry. As is usual in The Prelude a period of communal revelry is immediately followed by a moment of solitary meditation and joy in communion with nature. The experience described in this passage is not rational—it has its basis in the subconscious and the irrational. There is no “reason” for Wordsworth having been born a poet—it is not his own doing, arid this is why he feels that the bonds are made / or him and not by him. Wordsworth is very convincing in describing what he felt, mainly because he incorporates in the description all the circumstances which led to the sense of “blessedness”—the place, the time of day, the mood in which he began the walk home. There is the freshness of real dawn in his description. As Margaret Drabble says “what he says he has seen, and what he says he has felt, he has really felt; the one helps to convince us of the other”.

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