The Prelude: Book 2 - Critical Summary

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      In the very opening lines of The Prelude Book II Wordsworth tells Coleridge that ‘thus far’ that is in Book I he has tried to describe the simple ways in which he passed his day of childhood and retrace how this life led him to love the beautiful sights and sounds of nature, such a babbling brooks, vernal woods or vast stretch of green fields. He continues this account in Book II and his main purpose is to trace the growth and development of his love of nature and its bracing influence on his mind and creative sensibility.

Love of Nature in its Infancy

      We know from the poet that during the first period of his life of childhood days his passion for Nature was in its infancy and kept enthused and nourished by his surroundings without any conscious or deliberate effort on his part—By nourishment that came unsought’. In those days their exciting life full of noisy games and sports continued from week to week and month to month; and in summer such games went on till darkness prevailed over land and sky—“when all the ground was dark, and the twinkling stars/Edged the black clouds, home and to bed we went”.

Not to be Proud of Maturity

      Next, the poet tells us that we should never have any feeling of pride for the improved powers of our mind or considerable intellectual development or for an enhanced sense of virtue which the years of maturity bring. Nothing can be compared with the thrills and excitement of youth, and even the wisest human beings sometimes yearn for uniting the verve and zest of boyhood days with the earnestness of later years of life.

Two-fold Existence and Recollections

      The poet also feels at this grown up stage some sort of change in him. A soothing spirit seems to bring comfort and solace to his bodily frame. But his life at Hawkshead school was sportive and boisterous. When he meditates upon them, he becomes conscious of two-fold existence his present life as a grown-up person and the vague existence of his childhood days. He then recalls with some sort of nostalgia the rough piece of rock, now usurped by an assembly-room, round which their boyhood games were held on starlit nights and also remembers the old dame after whom they named that piece of rock.

Second Stage of Attitude Towards Nature

      The poet’s life in those days was, no doubt, boisterous; but slowly his attitude toward nature underwent some changes. He longed for calmer and sober type of pleasures and only those sports and games that were closely attached to the beautiful sights and forms of nature seemed to be really pleasing and enjoyable to him. In the previous stage he was not very much conscious of his natural surroundings. But now he consciously felt a desire to have Nature ‘collaterally attached’ to all their plans for all sorts of games and pleasures. This may be called the second stage of Wordsworth’s attitude towards Nature.

Rowing Competition with Happy Endings

      Next, we find Wordsworth describing his rowing competitions over the Windermere Lake—their principal means of recreation at the advent of the summer. They used to row to various islands—one resounding with songs of melodious birds or another famous for the ruins of a well-known church dedicated to Virgin Mary. But such rowing competitions with happy endings never gave rise to any undesirable sense of rivalry or jealousy, of grief or dejection. The pride of the winner in his strength and vanity for his superior tact in rowing were curbed and controlled. As a result of this, they gathered a calm and serene independence of the heart; and due to such experiences some sort of quiet bashfulness and modesty began to grow in poet’s mind and he learnt to sustain himself quite well even in solitude, experiencing “The self-sufficing power of solitude.”

Riding Excursions

      In the next few lines (78-137) Wordsworth talks of his exciting pleasures of horse-riding and their joyful journeys to distant places fully enjoying their simple but nourishing meals, their ‘Sabine fare’. When they had more pocket money to hire horses from the in-keeper they sometimes would spur them on to a distant place where stood the ruins of an ancient temple. Even during such hours fraught with boisterous delights he could feel the calm and serenity of a holy place like that. The return journey was also equally exciting. But even at such delightful moments, the poet was quite aware of the lovely sights and sounds of nature. Whenever he slowed down the speed of the horse just to have a bit of rest or galloped hard with a thundering noise rising from the hoofs over the even sand lit up by the gleaming moon-beams, the poet was conscious of a personality permeating all the beautiful and sublime sights of nature:

Even in these joyous time I sometimes felt your Presence

Visit to a Tavern: Nature Sought for Her on Sake

      Next Wordsworth goes on to describe his memorable visits to a tavern, the White Lion, that, stood half-way on the eastern hank of long Winander, within a sickle-shaped lovely bay and tells us about another stage of development in the growth of his love for nature (Lines: 198-203). This spot with its lovely surroundings, with the memories of by-gone days full of various pleasures and pastime, remained very dear to the poet through-out his life. There was a nice garden on a slope and a small wood below them and through the leaves of the trees and over the tree tops glimpses of water were visible. There they took part in many games and had also refreshments in plenty. After a day’s exciting games and sports, just before night-fall, they used to row back in their light boat over the lake in a lazy mood. Sometimes they left the musician of their party, Robert Greenwood, on some island. He would sit alone on a rock and play upon his flute. At such hours, the quiet scene with the calm water of the lake filled his soul with serene pleasure and the world seemed to be bathed in a dream-like beauty. In this way, Wordsworth’s sympathies or spiritual powers enlarged and familiar and common objects of nature became clearer to him day by day. He then began to love the sun not for its life-giving power but because it bathed the hill in its raid ant beauty at dawn and touched the western hills with its golden fingers before it set in the west. Due to such feelings the moon also, gloriously hanging mid-way between the hills, became very dear to him. At such ecstatic moments, he could forget all his aims and purposes of life and due to overwhelming happiness, even his blood seemed to flow in his veins for the sake of its own pleasure. And then the poet very clearly speaks of another great change in his attitude towards Nature. In his earlier years of life, Nature held a secondary position; he was attached to the beautiful objects of nature because they were the background of his sports and pastimes. But this attachment became weaker clay by day and now Nature “was sought for her own sake.” We may call this the third stage in the growth of Wordsworth’s love for Nature. In the first stage, particularly in Book 1, we found the poet loving the beautiful objects and scenes of nature only through the sports and pastimes and adventures of his boyhood clays. At the beginning of the second Book (in lines 48-54) the poet has already spoken about the second stage of development:

.... when the winning forms of Nature were collaterally attached to every scheme of holiday delight.

      That is, in this second stage the poet would derive the pleasure only from those sports and pastimes that were connected with the objects of nature.

Mind can not be Divided into Water Tight Compartments

      Then comes some passages with high philosophical observations, rather a short digression from the main theme (203-65). The poet emphatically tells us that it is not at all possible for him to fix a particular date or time at which this change (the third stage) took place in his mind. It is beyond our power to trace a thought or feeling to its precise origin. It is not at all possible to analyze human mind by applying the rules of geometry. It would be vain and foolish on anybody’s part to try to point with a wand and say that this part of the river of his mind came from that particular fountain. Thus according to the poet consciousness is a unity. He ends by expressing his hope that his friend, Coleridge, will understand and appreciate his point of view that our mind or feeling can never be divided and sub-divided into water-tight compartments.

Observation on the Childhood and the Child-mind

      Next in the same high philosophic mood, the poet makes a few observations on childhood and the child-mind. The child can imbibe with all his soul, the feelings that find expression in his mother’s eyes. The central attractive force of his mother’s love that seems to spread through his veins and the close link with his mother help the child to establish a relationship with his new world. Feeling has endowed the infant with power which in unison with the developing faculties of the sense creates, working as it were like an agent of God’s mind. So the child may be taken as the creator as well as the receiver, as an active as well as a passive agent. Hence, according to Wordsworth childhood is, in truth, the first stage of poetic spirit in human life. In most cases the poetic spirit or poetic activity begins to dwindle and decay in later years due to control of custom or conventions; but in some this poetic spirit continues to assert itself through all the ups and downs of life.

More Intimate Contact with Nature and the Visionary Power

      Next Wordsworth comes again to his main theme or central thought. The poet tells us that he has tried his best to show the means, that is his boyish games and sports, through which the child’s vivid sense-impressions, a noble gift received at the time of his birth as a matter of right, were enhanced and sustained in his case. Now he feels that there lies a still more difficult path before him. He felt some sort of pangs and uneasiness from mysterious causes. The main supports—sports and adventures of boyhood days—of his affections were gone, but his love for Nature still remained unharmed, as if supported by its own lively spirit. Whatever he saw had supreme attraction for him and hence his mind lay open to more delicate and pleasing influences of Nature and he could have a more intimate contact with Nature. Due to his vigilant power of love he could observe the evanescent qualities of nature in the course of changing seasons and permanent relations between natural objects. Living things, changing seasons and the enchanting beauties of nature were so much liked by him that during this period of life they made the poet’s solitude more effective. Thus he experienced a joy of a much-exalted kind. Often he walked alone under the serene star-lit sky and then he realized the power of sounds not marred by any visible sight. He would, sometimes, stand under the shelter of a rock and listen to the distant sounds of the impending storm—sounds that seemed to be the mysterious and supernatural language of the primeval earth. All these sublime sounds and objects of nature engendered in him an exalted and ecstatic mood and thence poet drank ‘the visionary power’ or creative sensibility. And as his faculties went on maturing, the poet felt that to whatever extent these powers might develop there was still something great to aspire and pursue.

Realisation of Unity in Diversity

      Then the poet tells us (Lines 322-329) about the benign influence of calm and serene scenes of nature upon his mind. Not only in the midst of gloomy and noisy scenes but also among lovely and serene aspects of nature he had had a feeling of the existence of a visionary power or creative sensibility and of the unity and harmony underlying all the diversities of nature. These mystic experiences by Wordsworth very much resemble those by the Vedantic philosophers believing in absolute monism. And this consciousness, ‘strengthened with a super added soul’, filled his heart with ecstatic delight.

A Dream—A Prospect in the Mind

      Wordsworth then recalls his early morning walks in the company of his friend, John Fleming. Often the poet used to leave his cottage very early. No fire-place in the cottages was lighted at such an early hour and even the little thrush had not started its matins. He would be sitting by himself on some projecting hillock and the lonely valley seemed to be still lying in a peaceful slumber. At such times a sacred quietness pervaded his soul, and he would completely lose the sense of his body and bodily eyes. After that whatever was visible seemed to be something within himself, something vague like a dream and seen only with the mind’s eye—‘a dream—a prospect in the mind’. Is not this blissful mystic mood of the poet-priest of nature very much akin to that of ‘Samadhi’ mentioned in our Vedanta’! In some of the lofty lines of Tintern Abbey also we find the poet in the same mood:

And the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep,
In body, and. become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
(Lines 45 to 50)

Visionary Power Adding New Glory to the Beauty of Nature

      In those days Wordsworth moved in the midst of lovely scenes of nature with a feeling of deep religious love which was fed and strengthened by the changing seasons of nature with its sunshine or snow, with its shade or showers during all the hours of day or night. But he still retained his creative ability of his earlier days and his contact with the work-a-day world could never weaken the power of his soul. A light or visionary power emanated from his soul and added a new glory and grandeur to the beauty of the setting sun and a fresh charm to the sweet melody of the birds, the resting breeze or the flowing fountains softly babbling to one another. And this inner light was chiefly responsible for his attitude of worship towards the objects of nature and the ecstatic delight that he derived from them. This ‘spirit of religious love’ may be taken to be the fourth or final phase of the poet’s attitude towards nature.

Mystic Experience: A Thread of Unity Running through All Objects of Nature

      The poet now speaks about the ever-continuing process (of love for Nature) which was strengthened by observing or realizing the common thread of unity running through all the different forms and objects of this universe. These affinities cannot be perceived by minds devoid of creative sensibility. The poet was then only seventeen years old. At this stage of life, he saw blessings spread around him ‘like sea’. He received so much from Nature with her overflowing soul that all his thoughts were ‘steeped in feeling’. He felt like sharing all his emotions even with the inanimate objects of nature. He was really happy when he felt the sentiment of being spread over all things, animate or inanimate, in this universe. And he experienced supreme joy or bliss communing with every form of creature on earth or in the sky. It seemed all these beings sang the same song and this could be heard distinctly when the bodily ear forgot its physical function and became absolutely inactive. It is the spirit or mind of the poet which became aware of one and the same life shared by all the creatures of this universe.

Expressing Grate fullness to Nature for Moulding his Character on Right Lines

      Then the poet asserts that even if some pious mind does not believe in his sacred faith in nature, he would be failing in his duty as a human being if he does not express his deep sense of gratitude to the various forms and objects of nature—the lakes, the mountains, the sounding cataracts and so many other sights and sounds of nature. From his very childhood, Nature has fostered and nurtured his mind an senses, has been ‘a safe guide to wisdom and goodness’. If he has been pure in heart in his youth, if he has been able to rise above petty desires and mean jealousies in spite of the his constant contact with the dusty world, it is all due to the benign influence of the gracious nature. If during a period of depression and disappointment as a result of the horrors of the French Revolution, he has been able to retain a ‘Roman confidence’ in the ultimate good and greatness of humanity, this is also due to the elevating influence of nature. Nature has always fed his ‘lofty’ speculations and has all through been a source of solace and joy for his troubled and distressed soul.

Both Coleridge and Wordsworth Equally Diligent in their Devotion to Nature

      The closing lines (451-71) conclude with a respectful address to his friend, Coleridge. Coleridge was brought up in the big city of London and the poet was nurtured in the lap of Nature; and though they had to travel by different roads, both of them reached one and the same goal, Coleridge had been a very earnest worshipper of Nature and the chief bond of kinship between them is that both of them are equally diligent in their devotion to Nature. Finally, the poet wishes him a long and happy life expressing a sincere hope that his life would be a great  blessing to mankind.

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