Universal Interest of the Poem The Prelude

Also Read

Long Poem on Wordsworth’s Education

      The Prelude was addressed to Coleridge who described it in the verse written in acknowledgment:

An orphic song indeed
A song divine of high and passionate thoughts
To their own music chanted.

      The story of Wordsworth’s earlier life is told in The Prelude. It is “the long poem on my education,” he says. It is a study in the growth of a poet’s mind. It is of utmost interest to know what molded the mind of Wordsworth before we study his works. The Prelude shows the way; it is a sign-board on which is written in bold letters: “This is the way to the chamber of Wordsworth’s mind. This is the way to that workshop wherein great thoughts were given the shape of great poem”. Every student of Wordsworth’s poems is bound to be interested to have a glimpse inside that chamber. Poets educate mankind but let us see who educates those who educate us; poets inspire us through their spontaneous utterances and heart-stirring feelings; but let us also see who inspires them to utter what affects the inner springs of human heart.

Universal Interest of the Poem; Its Message: ‘Child is Father of Man’

      “The Prelude has a message,” says Wren Gardiner, “for future generations; and that is, the influence of childhood on after life. Think back of your childhood, says Wordsworth, as an explanation of the problems of your life. The child is father of the man. Modern psychology has no other lesson. Thus what was intended to be purely personal became universal; that is, in fact, the test of a greater writer; he begins from himself and then stretches on his personality to include the lives of many. It is a test of every great writer that though this starting point with him is his own life what he writes has comprehensiveness. One person’s experiences become experiences to which each human heart returns an echo. That is how great poetry becomes universal in its appeal.

Wordsworth Describes the Common Lot of Man

      His poetry is a charm that takes us back to those golden times, when we, too, saw freshly and spontaneously and when our blood ran free. He summons us constantly with the finger of imagination to enjoy in spirit those early experiences and emotions on which he insists that the true life of man must be based.

      Here are quoted some passages in which the poet speaks of childhood in moving terms and affirms how it is the very base on which the edifice of one’s life can stand.

Dumb yearnings, hidden appetites are ours.
And they must have their food. Our childhood sits,
Our simple childhood sits upon a Throne
That hath more power than all elements.
(‘The Prelude’: Book V. Lines: 506-509)

Oh! mystery of man, from what a depth,
Proceed thy honours I am lost, but see
In simple childhood something of the base
On which thy greatness stands; but this I feel
That from thyself it comes, that thou must give
Else never canst receive
(The Prelude Book XII: Lines: 272-277)

      Wordsworth’s small poem ‘Rainbow’ contains the thought similar to the one expressed throughout in The Prelude. In fact that thought born of early experiences on the basis of this long poem. Manhood is the infant of childhood. This truth is not applicable to Wordsworth only; it is true for each one of us. Whatever we are when children, goes a long way to indicate what we shall be as grown-ups. “Child shows the man as morning shows the day.” Childhood is the golden period, the most impressionable period of one’s life and it is then that though unperceived, man’s future life is in the making.

      A reference to childhood, as a moulder of maturer years and an inspirer of man in the later years of his life, is made by Wordsworth at the end of Book I of The Prelude:

Meanwhile, my hope has been that I might, fetch
Invigorating thoughts from former years,
Might fix the wavering balance of my mind
And haply meet reproaches, too, whose power
May spur me on, in manhood now mature,
To honorable toil. Yet should these hopes
Be Vain, and thus should neither I be taught
To understand myself, nor thou to know
With better knowledge, how the heart was framed.
Of him thou lovest; need I dread from thee
Harsh judgements, if I am so loth to quit
Those recollected hours that have the charm
Of visionary things, and lovely forms
And sweet, sensations that throw back our life
A visible scene, on which the sun is shining,
(Book I: LI. 630-635)

      Those early experiences, in which the expanding spirit is disciplined and inspired by awe and wonder, are the common lot of man. Every boy has experienced the same feelings of awe and reverence which both afflicted and consoled the boy Wordsworth, as he stole a boat and rowed out stealthily into the lake.

Attainment of Just and Noble Life Through Nature

      The Prelude describes the attainment of a just and noble life through contemplation of nature, in which, as in man, the ‘Infinite’ stands revealed. Nature in Wordsworth’s poetry is not regarded as a background for his pictures of men and women or as a mere mirror reflecting the feelings of human beings, (Tennyson does that), but souls. In the words of Herbert Read, “Wordsworth’s philosophy is not restricted to a philosophy of Nature; it is the theory of the Mind and its relation to the external world. The individual mind is exquisitely fitted to the external world and no less exquisitely the external world fitted to the Mind. It is a marriage of distinct essences; and indeed the whole of Wordsworth’s conception of Man and Nature can be conceived under such an analogy. The exquisite functioning of this inter-locked universe of Mind and Nature is for Wordsworth the highest theme for poetry.” And that is the theme of The Prelude, which poem is a sure pointer to this problem of Wordsworth’s poetical philosophy. To grasp this point is to have the key to Wordsworth’s entire interpretation of nature; to miss it is to miss everything that is the most characteristic in that interpretation.

      To Wordsworth, “Nature appears as a formative influence superior to any other, the educator of senses and mind alike, the sower in our hearts of the deep laid seeds of our feelings and beliefs. It speaks to the child in terms of emotions of its early years, and stirs the young poet to an ecstasy, the glow of which illuminates all his work and the rest of his life .... this nature is a safe guide to wisdom and goodness; it is instinct with the irradiating presence of the divine; in his adoration of it, Wordsworth’s creed is a mystical pantheism. Besides nature, the concrete humanity of the humble, of those who live in contact with it, is source of happy exaltation for the social philosophy of the poet.” (Louis Cazamian)

      For Wordsworth it is because of the essential kinship between the spiritual faculty in man and the indwelling soul of the universe — because the external world and the Mind are exquisitely fitted each to the other—that communion with Nature is possible, and through such a communion we find, as Myer observes, ‘an opening, if indeed thereby an opening, with the transcendental world’:

Ah not in vain Ye Beings of the hills,
And ye that walk, the wood, and open heaths
By moon or star light, thus from my first dawn
Of childhood, did we love to intertwine
The passions that build, up our human soul
Not with mean and vulgar works of man
But with high objects, with external things
With life ad nature purifying thus
The elements of feeling and thought
And sanctifying, by such discipline.
Both pain and fear, until we recognize
A grandeur in the beating of the heart
(The Prelude Book I LI, 403-413)

      Wordsworth lays down a principle that Nature many a time chooses one from among the human beings, as she did in the case of Lucy, and under her special care brings up that creature in an atmosphere, simple and calm, with a quiet mind in this world of turmoil:

Three years she grew in sun and shower.
Then Nature said A lovlier flower
On earth was never sown;
This child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine and I will make
A lady of my own.

      Then the poet tells us of a Nature’s plan to bring up the child in the midst of rock and plain:

In earth and heaven in glade and bower.

      By ‘silent sympathy’ shall the ‘floating clouds’ and ‘the motions of the storms’ lend to her state and grace respectively. The similar thought Wordsworth has expressed:

But I believe
That Nature, often times, when she would frame
A favoured Being, from his earliest dawn
Of infancy doth open up the clouds,
As at the touch of lightning, seeking him
With gentlest visitations; and the less
Though haply aiming at the self-same end
Does it delight for sometimes to employ
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable, and so she dealt with me
(The Prelude Book LI 362-71)

The Prelude Speaks of the Poet’s Genius in General

      The Prelude undoubtedly deals with one poet, Wordsworth. But it would not be an untruth to assert that in addition to self-portraiture, the poet, as conceived in the poem, is one ideal character progressing towards a state of blessedness in which we shall be fit to write a great philosophical poem. Note these lines:

‘The poet gentle creature as he is,
Hath, like the lover,
His fit when he is neither sick or well,
Though no distress be near him but his own
Unmanageable thoughts.’

      This passage could be of interest to every writer of poems who must have experienced difficulty in the management of his thoughts.

Poet’s Sincerity

      To assert that the poem has a universal appeal is not to question Wordsworth’s sincerity; it is, on the contrary, to establish his greatness as a poet, A great poem—like The Prelude, could never have been written without the deepest sense of sincerity. It is the sincerity of great art that it does not limit itself merely to the narrow field of a writer’s personality; it extends its limits widely and touches the border lines of life in general. Let us end with the remark of Legouis: “The Prelude is the unique autobiographical poem. It forms a necessary introduction to all work in the wider field, not only of Wordsworth’s poetry as a whole, but also of modern English poetry in general.”

Previous Post Next Post