Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
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CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


THE PRELUDE

BOOK SECOND

SCHOOL-TIME (continued)

          THUS far, O Friend! have we, though leaving much
          Unvisited, endeavoured to retrace
          The simple ways in which my childhood walked;
          Those chiefly that first led me to the love
          Of rivers, woods, and fields. The passion yet
          Was in its birth, sustained as might befall
          By nourishment that came unsought; for still
          From week to week, from month to month, we lived
          A round of tumult. Duly were our games
          Prolonged in summer till the daylight failed:               10
          No chair remained before the doors; the bench
          And threshold steps were empty; fast asleep
          The labourer, and the old man who had sate
          A later lingerer; yet the revelry
          Continued and the loud uproar: at last,
          When all the ground was dark, and twinkling stars
          Edged the black clouds, home and to bed we went,
          Feverish with weary joints and beating minds.
          Ah! is there one who ever has been young,
          Nor needs a warning voice to tame the pride                 20
          Of intellect and virtue's self-esteem?
          One is there, though the wisest and the best
          Of all mankind, who covets not at times
          Union that cannot be;--who would not give
          If so he might, to duty and to truth
          The eagerness of infantine desire?
          A tranquillising spirit presses now
          On my corporeal frame, so wide appears
          The vacancy between me and those days
          Which yet have such self-presence in my mind,               30
          That, musing on them, often do I seem
          Two consciousnesses, conscious of myself
          And of some other Being. A rude mass
          Of native rock, left midway in the square
          Of our small market village, was the goal
          Or centre of these sports; and when, returned
          After long absence, thither I repaired,
          Gone was the old grey stone, and in its place
          A smart Assembly-room usurped the ground
          That had been ours. There let the fiddle scream,            40
          And be ye happy! Yet, my Friends! I know
          That more than one of you will think with me
          Of those soft starry nights, and that old Dame
          From whom the stone was named, who there had sate,
          And watched her table with its huckster's wares
          Assiduous, through the length of sixty years.

            We ran a boisterous course; the year span round
          With giddy motion. But the time approached
          That brought with it a regular desire
          For calmer pleasures, when the winning forms                50
          Of Nature were collaterally attached
          To every scheme of holiday delight
          And every boyish sport, less grateful else
          And languidly pursued.
                                  When summer came,
          Our pastime was, on bright half-holidays,
          To sweep along the plain of Windermere
          With rival oars; and the selected bourne
          Was now an Island musical with birds
          That sang and ceased not; now a Sister Isle
          Beneath the oaks' umbrageous covert, sown                   60
          With lilies of the valley like a field;
          And now a third small Island, where survived
          In solitude the ruins of a shrine
          Once to Our Lady dedicate, and served
          Daily with chaunted rites. In such a race
          So ended, disappointment could be none,
          Uneasiness, or pain, or jealousy:
          We rested in the shade, all pleased alike,
          Conquered and conqueror. Thus the pride of strength,
          And the vain-glory of superior skill,                       70
          Were tempered; thus was gradually produced
          A quiet independence of the heart;
          And to my Friend who knows me I may add,
          Fearless of blame, that hence for future days
          Ensued a diffidence and modesty,
          And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much,
          The self-sufficing power of Solitude.

            Our daily meals were frugal, Sabine fare!
          More than we wished we knew the blessing then
          Of vigorous hunger--hence corporeal strength                80
          Unsapped by delicate viands; for, exclude
          A little weekly stipend, and we lived
          Through three divisions of the quartered year
          In penniless poverty. But now to school
          From the half-yearly holidays returned,
          We came with weightier purses, that sufficed
          To furnish treats more costly than the Dame
          Of the old grey stone, from her scant board, supplied.
          Hence rustic dinners on the cool green ground,
          Or in the woods, or by a river side                         90
          Or shady fountains, while among the leaves
          Soft airs were stirring, and the mid-day sun
          Unfelt shone brightly round us in our joy.
          Nor is my aim neglected if I tell
          How sometimes, in the length of those half-years,
          We from our funds drew largely;--proud to curb,
          And eager to spur on, the galloping steed;
          And with the courteous inn-keeper, whose stud
          Supplied our want, we haply might employ
          Sly subterfuge, if the adventure's bound                   100
          Were distant: some famed temple where of yore
          The Druids worshipped, or the antique walls
          Of that large abbey, where within the Vale
          Of Nightshade, to St. Mary's honour built,
          Stands yet a mouldering pile with fractured arch,
          Belfry, and images, and living trees;
          A holy scene!--Along the smooth green turf
          Our horses grazed. To more than inland peace,
          Left by the west wind sweeping overhead
          From a tumultuous ocean, trees and towers                  110
          In that sequestered valley may be seen,
          Both silent and both motionless alike;
          Such the deep shelter that is there, and such
          The safeguard for repose and quietness.

            Our steeds remounted and the summons given,
          With whip and spur we through the chauntry flew
          In uncouth race, and left the cross-legged knight,
          And the stone-abbot, and that single wren
          Which one day sang so sweetly in the nave
          Of the old church, that--though from recent showers        120
          The earth was comfortless, and, touched by faint
          Internal breezes, sobbings of the place
          And respirations, from the roofless walls
          The shuddering ivy dripped large drops--yet still
          So sweetly 'mid the gloom the invisible bird
          Sang to herself, that there I could have made
          My dwelling-place, and lived for ever there
          To hear such music. Through the walls we flew
          And down the valley, and, a circuit made
          In wantonness of heart, through rough and smooth           130
          We scampered homewards. Oh, ye rocks and streams,
          And that still spirit shed from evening air!
          Even in this joyous time I sometimes felt
          Your presence, when with slackened step we breathed
          Along the sides of the steep hills, or when
          Lighted by gleams of moonlight from the sea
          We beat with thundering hoofs the level sand.

            Midway on long Winander's eastern shore,
          Within the crescent of pleasant bay,
          A tavern stood; no homely-featured house,                  140
          Primeval like its neighbouring cottages,
          But 'twas a splendid place, the door beset
          With chaises, grooms, and liveries, and within
          Decanters, glasses, and the blood-red wine.
          In ancient times, and ere the Hall was built
          On the large island, had this dwelling been
          More worthy of a poet's love, a hut,
          Proud of its own bright fire and sycamore shade.
          But--though the rhymes were gone that once inscribed
          The threshold, and large golden characters,                150
          Spread o'er the spangled sign-board, had dislodged
          The old Lion and usurped his place, in slight
          And mockery of the rustic painter's hand--
          Yet, to this hour, the spot to me is dear
          With all its foolish pomp. The garden lay
          Upon a slope surmounted by a plain
          Of a small bowling-green; beneath us stood
          A grove, with gleams of water through the trees
          And over the tree-tops; nor did we want
          Refreshment, strawberries and mellow cream.                160
          There, while through half an afternoon we played
          On the smooth platform, whether skill prevailed
          Or happy blunder triumphed, bursts of glee
          Made all the mountains ring. But, ere night-fall,
          When in our pinnace we returned at leisure
          Over the shadowy lake, and to the beach
          Of some small island steered our course with one,
          The Minstrel of the Troop, and left him there,
          And rowed off gently, while he blew his flute
          Alone upon the rock--oh, then, the calm                    170
          And dead still water lay upon my mind
          Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky,
          Never before so beautiful, sank down
          Into my heart, and held me like a dream!
          Thus were my sympathies enlarged, and thus
          Daily the common range of visible things
          Grew dear to me: already I began
          To love the sun; a boy I loved the sun,
          Not as I since have loved him, as a pledge
          And surety of our earthly life, a light                    180
          Which we behold and feel we are alive;
          Nor for his bounty to so many worlds--
          But for this cause, that I had seen him lay
          His beauty on the morning hills, had seen
          The western mountain touch his setting orb,
          In many a thoughtless hour, when, from excess
          Of happiness, my blood appeared to flow
          For its own pleasure, and I breathed with joy.
          And, from like feelings, humble though intense,
          To patriotic and domestic love                             190
          Analogous, the moon to me was dear;
          For I could dream away my purposes,
          Standing to gaze upon her while she hung
          Midway between the hills, as if she knew
          No other region, but belonged to thee,
          Yea, appertained by a peculiar right
          To thee and thy grey huts, thou one dear Vale!

            Those incidental charms which first attached
          My heart to rural objects, day by day
          Grew weaker, and I hasten on to tell                       200
          How Nature, intervenient till this time
          And secondary, now at length was sought
          For her own sake. But who shall parcel out
          His intellect by geometric rules,
          Split like a province into round and square?
          Who knows the individual hour in which
          His habits were first sown, even as a seed?
          Who that shall point as with a wand and say
          "This portion of the river of my mind
          Came from yon fountain?" Thou, my Friend! art one          210
          More deeply read in thy own thoughts; to thee
          Science appears but what in truth she is,
          Not as our glory and our absolute boast,
          But as a succedaneum, and a prop
          To our infirmity. No officious slave
          Art thou of that false secondary power
          By which we multiply distinctions, then
          Deem that our puny boundaries are things
          That we perceive, and not that we have made.
          To thee, unblinded by these formal arts,                   220
          The unity of all hath been revealed,
          And thou wilt doubt, with me less aptly skilled
          Than many are to range the faculties
          In scale and order, class the cabinet
          Of their sensations, and in voluble phrase
          Run through the history and birth of each
          As of a single independent thing.
          Hard task, vain hope, to analyse the mind,
          If each most obvious and particular thought,
          Not in a mystical and idle sense,                          230
          But in the words of Reason deeply weighed,
          Hath no beginning.
                              Blest the infant Babe,
          (For with my best conjecture I would trace
          Our Being's earthly progress,) blest the Babe,
          Nursed in his Mother's arms, who sinks to sleep
          Rocked on his Mother's breast; who with his soul
          Drinks in the feelings of his Mother's eye!
          For him, in one dear Presence, there exists
          A virtue which irradiates and exalts
          Objects through widest intercourse of sense.               240
          No outcast he, bewildered and depressed:
          Along his infant veins are interfused
          The gravitation and the filial bond
          Of nature that connect him with the world.
          Is there a flower, to which he points with hand
          Too weak to gather it, already love
          Drawn from love's purest earthly fount for him
          Hath beautified that flower; already shades
          Of pity cast from inward tenderness
          Do fall around him upon aught that bears                   250
          Unsightly marks of violence or harm.
          Emphatically such a Being lives,
          Frail creature as he is, helpless as frail,
          An inmate of this active universe:
          For, feeling has to him imparted power
          That through the growing faculties of sense
          Doth like an agent of the one great Mind
          Create, creator and receiver both,
          Working but in alliance with the works
          Which it beholds.--Such, verily, is the first              260
          Poetic spirit of our human life,
          By uniform control of after years,
          In most, abated or suppressed; in some,
          Through every change of growth and of decay,
          Pre-eminent till death.
                                   From early days,
          Beginning not long after that first time
          In which, a Babe, by intercourse of touch
          I held mute dialogues with my Mother's heart,
          I have endeavoured to display the means
          Whereby this infant sensibility,                           270
          Great birthright of our being, was in me
          Augmented and sustained. Yet is a path
          More difficult before me; and I fear
          That in its broken windings we shall need
          The chamois' sinews, and the eagle's wing:
          For now a trouble came into my mind
          From unknown causes. I was left alone
          Seeking the visible world, nor knowing why.
          The props of my affections were removed,
          And yet the building stood, as if sustained                280
          By its own spirit! All that I beheld
          Was dear, and hence to finer influxes
          The mind lay open to a more exact
          And close communion. Many are our joys
          In youth, but oh! what happiness to live
          When every hour brings palpable access
          Of knowledge, when all knowledge is delight,
          And sorrow is not there! The seasons came,
          And every season wheresoe'er I moved
          Unfolded transitory qualities,                             290
          Which, but for this most watchful power of love,
          Had been neglected; left a register
          Of permanent relations, else unknown.
          Hence life, and change, and beauty, solitude
          More active ever than "best society"--
          Society made sweet as solitude
          By silent inobtrusive sympathies,
          And gentle agitations of the mind
          From manifold distinctions, difference
          Perceived in things, where, to the unwatchful eye,         300
          No difference is, and hence, from the same source,
          Sublimer joy; for I would walk alone,
          Under the quiet stars, and at that time
          Have felt whate'er there is of power in sound
          To breathe an elevated mood, by form
          Or image unprofaned; and I would stand,
          If the night blackened with a coming storm,
          Beneath some rock, listening to notes that are
          The ghostly language of the ancient earth,
          Or make their dim abode in distant winds.                  310
          Thence did I drink the visionary power;
          And deem not profitless those fleeting moods
          Of shadowy exultation: not for this,
          That they are kindred to our purer mind
          And intellectual life; but that the soul,
          Remembering how she felt, but what she felt
          Remembering not, retains an obscure sense
          Of possible sublimity, whereto
          With growing faculties she doth aspire,
          With faculties still growing, feeling still                320
          That whatsoever point they gain, they yet
          Have something to pursue.
                                     And not alone,
          'Mid gloom and tumult, but no less 'mid fair
          And tranquil scenes, that universal power
          And fitness in the latent qualities
          And essences of things, by which the mind
          Is moved with feelings of delight, to me
          Came strengthened with a superadded soul,
          A virtue not its own. My morning walks
          Were early;--oft before the hours of school                330
          I travelled round our little lake, five miles
          Of pleasant wandering. Happy time! more dear
          For this, that one was by my side, a Friend,
          Then passionately loved; with heart how full
          Would he peruse these lines! For many years
          Have since flowed in between us, and, our minds
          Both silent to each other, at this time
          We live as if those hours had never been.
          Nor seldom did I lift our cottage latch
          Far earlier, ere one smoke-wreath had risen                340
          From human dwelling, or the vernal thrush
          Was audible; and sate among the woods
          Alone upon some jutting eminence,
          At the first gleam of dawn-light, when the Vale,
          Yet slumbering, lay in utter solitude.
          How shall I seek the origin? where find
          Faith in the marvellous things which then I felt?
          Oft in these moments such a holy calm
          Would overspread my soul, that bodily eyes
          Were utterly forgotten, and what I saw                     350
          Appeared like something in myself, a dream,
          A prospect in the mind.
                                  'Twere long to tell
          What spring and autumn, what the winter snows,
          And what the summer shade, what day and night,
          Evening and morning, sleep and waking, thought
          From sources inexhaustible, poured forth
          To feed the spirit of religious love
          In which I walked with Nature. But let this
          Be not forgotten, that I still retained
          My first creative sensibility;                             360
          That by the regular action of the world
          My soul was unsubdued. A plastic power
          Abode with me; a forming hand, at times
          Rebellious, acting in a devious mood;
          A local spirit of his own, at war
          With general tendency, but, for the most,
          Subservient strictly to external things
          With which it communed. An auxiliar light
          Came from my mind, which on the setting sun
          Bestowed new splendour; the melodious birds,               370
          The fluttering breezes, fountains that run on
          Murmuring so sweetly in themselves, obeyed
          A like dominion, and the midnight storm
          Grew darker in the presence of my eye:
          Hence my obeisance, my devotion hence,
          And hence my transport.
                                   Nor should this, perchance,
          Pass unrecorded, that I still had loved
          The exercise and produce of a toil,
          Than analytic industry to me
          More pleasing, and whose character I deem                  380
          Is more poetic as resembling more
          Creative agency. The song would speak
          Of that interminable building reared
          By observation of affinities
          In objects where no brotherhood exists
          To passive minds. My seventeenth year was come
          And, whether from this habit rooted now
          So deeply in my mind, or from excess
          In the great social principle of life
          Coercing all things into sympathy,                         390
          To unorganic natures were transferred
          My own enjoyments; or the power of truth
          Coming in revelation, did converse
          With things that really are; I, at this time,
          Saw blessings spread around me like a sea.
          Thus while the days flew by, and years passed on,
          From Nature and her overflowing soul,
          I had received so much, that all my thoughts
          Were steeped in feeling; I was only then
          Contented, when with bliss ineffable                       400
          I felt the sentiment of Being spread
          O'er all that moves and all that seemeth still;
          O'er all that, lost beyond the reach of thought
          And human knowledge, to the human eye
          Invisible, yet liveth to the heart;
          O'er all that leaps and runs, and shouts and sings,
          Or beats the gladsome air; o'er all that glides
          Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself,
          And mighty depth of waters. Wonder not
          If high the transport, great the joy I felt,               410
          Communing in this sort through earth and heaven
          With every form of creature, as it looked
          Towards the Uncreated with a countenance
          Of adoration, with an eye of love.
          One song they sang, and it was audible,
          Most audible, then, when the fleshly ear,
          O'ercome by humblest prelude of that strain
          Forgot her functions, and slept undisturbed.

            If this be error, and another faith
          Find easier access to the pious mind,                      420
          Yet were I grossly destitute of all
          Those human sentiments that make this earth
          So dear, if I should fail with grateful voice
          To speak of you, ye mountains, and ye lakes
          And sounding cataracts, ye mists and winds
          That dwell among the hills where I was born.
          If in my youth I have been pure in heart,
          If, mingling with the world, I am content
          With my own modest pleasures, and have lived
          With God and Nature communing, removed                     430
          From little enmities and low desires--
          The gift is yours; if in these times of fear,
          This melancholy waste of hopes o'erthrown,
          If, 'mid indifference and apathy,
          And wicked exultation when good men
          On every side fall off, we know not how,
          To selfishness, disguised in gentle names
          Of peace and quiet and domestic love
          Yet mingled not unwillingly with sneers
          On visionary minds; if, in this time                       440
          Of dereliction and dismay, I yet
          Despair not of our nature, but retain
          A more than Roman confidence, a faith
          That fails not, in all sorrow my support,
          The blessing of my life--the gift is yours,
          Ye winds and sounding cataracts! 'tis yours,
          Ye mountains! thine, O Nature! Thou hast fed
          My lofty speculations; and in thee,
          For this uneasy heart of ours, I find
          A never-failing principle of joy                           450
          And purest passion.
                               Thou, my Friend! wert reared
          In the great city, 'mid far other scenes;
          But we, by different roads, at length have gained
          The selfsame bourne. And for this cause to thee
          I speak, unapprehensive of contempt,
          The insinuated scoff of coward tongues,
          And all that silent language which so oft
          In conversation between man and man
          Blots from the human countenance all trace
          Of beauty and of love. For thou hast sought                460
          The truth in solitude, and, since the days
          That gave thee liberty, full long desired,
          To serve in Nature's temple, thou hast been
          The most assiduous of her ministers;
          In many things my brother, chiefly here
          In this our deep devotion.
                                      Fare thee well!
          Health and the quiet of a healthful mind
          Attend thee! seeking oft the haunts of men,
          And yet more often living with thyself,
          And for thyself, so haply shall thy days                   470
          Be many, and a blessing to mankind.


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