The Prelude: Summary of The Book 1 to 14

Also Read


      The Prelude is a long poem of personal epic of Wordsworth traces the growth of the poet’s mind and soul from his infant and childhood days at Cockermouth in Cumberland and in the Grammar School at Hawkshead down to his settlement at Grasmere, when his mind attained its full maturity. The poem consists of fourteen books.

      In Books I and II: We have mainly Wordsworth’s childhood and boyhood experiences amid lovely sights and sounds of nature in the Lake District. In them we find the poet’s early love of Nature and his growing consciousness of this attachment as well as of its benign influence on his mind and nature. In the beginning, this love was purely animal or sensuous. In Book I we find the child deriving great delight from common sports and pastimes like fishing, bathing, bird-nesting, bird-snaring, skating, kite-sailing, expedition in a stolen boat, and noughts-and-crosses and cards. Almost all these pastimes would take place amidst lovely or sublime surroundings of nature. But even at this stage, slowly and almost imperceptibly the boy’s sensuous love of Nature began to change into some sort of spiritual or mystical love. Discipline of nature ensued:

Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up
Fostered alike by beauty and by fear (1-301-2)

      The best illustration of the discipline of fear would be found in those wonderful lines describing the poet’s expedition in a stolen boat with a guilty conscience when:

.... the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stare, and, still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me (1-381-85)

      And gradually our poet, still a boy at school, could commune with the spirt of Nature:

When, by the margin of the trembling lake,
Beneath the gloomy hills homeward I went
In solitude, such intercourse was mine;

      The first ten years of the poet’s childhood is covered by the first book. During this period the ‘Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe’ has been intervenient only. The animal happiness of the boy was, as it were, casually solemnized.

      In The Second Book we get the second stage in the relation of the child to Nature. Still, they were running a boisterous course taking part in boating, bowling and riding excursions. But during this period (from ten to seventeen) change came over his appreciation of Nature. Nature is, more or less, consciously sought by him for her own sake.

“.....and I hasten on to tell
How Nature, intervenient till this time
And secondary, now at length was sought
For her own sake.” (11-200-03),

      He began to love the sun:

“But for this cause that I had seen him lay
His beauty on the morning hills...” (II;183-84)

      Gradually he felt some visionary power or creative sensibility within himself and this visionary power like a light emanating from within ‘on the setting sun bestowed new splendor’ and lent greater enchantment to the sweet-singing birds, the murmuring fountain and to all other glorious aspects of nature. Ultimately the boy of seventeen through deep mystic experiences, when bodily eyes were utterly forgotten or the fleshy ear .... Forgot her function attained a condition of supreme bliss to realize the reality behind nature or the unity in diversity in this universe just like the saints and seers of our Vedic age.

      Book III deals with the poet’s actual residence at Cambridge. He relates his experiences and tells us that he cared not much to be a scholar. It was a period of ‘submissive idleness’ and uncalled for captivity. He abhorred the prescribed routine of the university. Here, we also find the poet giving a higher place to the element of passion or imagination.

      Book IV gives an account of the long summer vacation when he returned to well-known scenes of his native hills and to his old friends and companions. In this book, we get those beautiful lines that tell us about his realization that he was ‘a dedicated spirit’.

      Book V: Book I to IV may be taken as the first movement of this long poem. After this the narrative is suspended and in Book V he tells about his indebtedness to books and reading in early life. The poet’s famous tribute to the great English poets is included in this Book and we get such fine lines as:

.....And the gentle Bard,
Chosen by the Muses for their Page of State
Sweet Spenser, moving through his clouded heaven
With the Moon’s beauty and the moon’s soft pace,
I called him brother, Englishman and friend:

      Book VI: Again, in this Book we get an account of the rest of his university days; but he passes over it lightly. In these days he felt more lonely, but still, Nature was sovereign in his mind.’ In this Book we also find the poet emboldened to cherish:

.....that I might leave
Some monument behind me.

      The poet tells us that he passed his second summer vacation quite happily with Dorothy and Mary Hutchinson and also gives an account of the walking tour of France and Switzerland during the third summer vacation. He had the good luck of landing in France at a time when:

Should reverence.
Europe at the time was thrilled by joy,
France standing at the top of golden hours,
And human nature seeming born again.

      Alas ! the great disappointment was to come not at a very later date.

      Book VII: In this Book, the account of his walking tour is continued for some time. Then the poet gives us the account of his residence in London where he moved after taking his degree in January, 1791. Here we find the poet more interested in people around. Unfortunately, this Book contains, probably, the dullest part of the poem with the description of his dull life in London.

      Book VIII: We have the second pause of the poem with the poet’s retrospective survey of his childhood and growing maturity and with its strange sub-title “Love of Nature Leading to Love of Man.” It signifies that Love of Nature leads the poet to Love of Man.

      Book IX and X: The third movement of the poem begins. In these two Books, we find Wordsworth’s zeal and enthusiasm for the French Revolution and his, strange and exciting experiences during his subsequent visit to France.

      “He also tells about his great intimacy with Beaupouis who inspired the poet with his great revolutionary enthusiasm. But soon came the great disillusionment. He was deeply shocked at the terrible course of events that followed and his faith in the great Revolution was shaken to the foundation.”

      Book XI: Disillusionment continued and it was complete when all the great ideals of the French Revolution were doomed and France entered upon a policy of great military aggression. He was overwhelmed and probably faced the bitterest spiritual crisis of his life. He tried to tide over the crisis by deriving strength from Godwinism, but without any effect.

      Book XII to XIVThe fourth and last movement of the poem may be said to have started from Book XI. In the last three books we find how the gradual restoration of the poet’s faith in humanity was ushered in. This happened mainly through the agency of Dorothy, Coleridge and the benign influence of Nature. In these Books we find the poet telling us how the imagination, absorbing all experience and transcending it, links mankind with the divine. “Finally in the last book of The Prelude, he reveals it in its various aspects as the faculty of creation, the poetic faculty par excellence.

      We can also discern some didactic tone in the closing sections of the poem. The voice of a wise sage seems to have started dominating over the thrilling note of the child of Nature.

Previous Post Next Post