Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
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CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


THE PRELUDE

BOOK FIFTH

BOOKS

          WHEN Contemplation, like the night-calm felt
          Through earth and sky, spreads widely, and sends deep
          Into the soul its tranquillising power,
          Even then I sometimes grieve for thee, O Man,
          Earth's paramount Creature! not so much for woes
          That thou endurest; heavy though that weight be,
          Cloud-like it mounts, or touched with light divine
          Doth melt away; but for those palms achieved
          Through length of time, by patient exercise
          Of study and hard thought; there, there, it is              10
          That sadness finds its fuel. Hitherto,
          In progress through this Verse, my mind hath looked
          Upon the speaking face of earth and heaven
          As her prime teacher, intercourse with man
          Established by the sovereign Intellect,
          Who through that bodily image hath diffused,
          As might appear to the eye of fleeting time,
          A deathless spirit. Thou also, man! hast wrought,
          For commerce of thy nature with herself,
          Things that aspire to unconquerable life;                   20
          And yet we feel--we cannot choose but feel--
          That they must perish. Tremblings of the heart
          It gives, to think that our immortal being
          No more shall need such garments; and yet man,
          As long as he shall be the child of earth,
          Might almost "weep to have" what he may lose,
          Nor be himself extinguished, but survive,
          Abject, depressed, forlorn, disconsolate.
          A thought is with me sometimes, and I say,--
          Should the whole frame of earth by inward throes            30
          Be wrenched, or fire come down from far to scorch
          Her pleasant habitations, and dry up
          Old Ocean, in his bed left singed and bare,
          Yet would the living Presence still subsist
          Victorious, and composure would ensue,
          And kindlings like the morning--presage sure
          Of day returning and of life revived.
          But all the meditations of mankind,
          Yea, all the adamantine holds of truth
          By reason built, or passion, which itself                   40
          Is highest reason in a soul sublime;
          The consecrated works of Bard and Sage,
          Sensuous or intellectual, wrought by men,
          Twin labourers and heirs of the same hopes;
          Where would they be? Oh! why hath not the Mind
          Some element to stamp her image on
          In nature somewhat nearer to her own?
          Why, gifted with such powers to send abroad
          Her spirit, must it lodge in shrines so frail?

            One day, when from my lips a like complaint               50
          Had fallen in presence of a studious friend,
          He with a smile made answer, that in truth
          'Twas going far to seek disquietude;
          But on the front of his reproof confessed
          That he himself had oftentimes given way
          To kindred hauntings. Whereupon I told,
          That once in the stillness of a summer's noon,
          While I was seated in a rocky cave
          By the sea-side, perusing, so it chanced,
          The famous history of the errant knight                     60
          Recorded by Cervantes, these same thoughts
          Beset me, and to height unusual rose,
          While listlessly I sate, and, having closed
          The book, had turned my eyes toward the wide sea.
          On poetry and geometric truth,
          And their high privilege of lasting life,
          From all internal injury exempt,
          I mused; upon these chiefly: and at length,
          My senses yielding to the sultry air,
          Sleep seized me, and I passed into a dream.                 70
          I saw before me stretched a boundless plain
          Of sandy wilderness, all black and void,
          And as I looked around, distress and fear
          Came creeping over me, when at my side,
          Close at my side, an uncouth shape appeared
          Upon a dromedary, mounted high.
          He seemed an Arab of the Bedouin tribes:
          A lance he bore, and underneath one arm
          A stone, and in the opposite hand a shell
          Of a surpassing brightness. At the sight                    80
          Much I rejoiced, not doubting but a guide
          Was present, one who with unerring skill
          Would through the desert lead me; and while yet
          I looked and looked, self-questioned what this freight
          Which the new-comer carried through the waste
          Could mean, the Arab told me that the stone
          (To give it in the language of the dream)
          Was "Euclid's Elements," and "This," said he,
          "Is something of more worth;" and at the word
          Stretched forth the shell, so beautiful in shape,           90
          In colour so resplendent, with command
          That I should hold it to my ear. I did so,
          And heard that instant in an unknown tongue,
          Which yet I understood, articulate sounds,
          A loud prophetic blast of harmony;
          An Ode, in passion uttered, which foretold
          Destruction to the children of the earth
          By deluge, now at hand. No sooner ceased
          The song, than the Arab with calm look declared
          That all would come to pass of which the voice             100
          Had given forewarning, and that he himself
          Was going then to bury those two books:
          The one that held acquaintance with the stars,
          And wedded soul to soul in purest bond
          Of reason, undisturbed by space or time;
          The other that was a god, yea many gods,
          Had voices more than all the winds, with power
          To exhilarate the spirit, and to soothe,
          Through every clime, the heart of human kind.
          While this was uttering, strange as it may seem,           110
          I wondered not, although I plainly saw
          The one to be a stone, the other a shell;
          Nor doubted once but that they both were books,
          Having a perfect faith in all that passed.
          Far stronger, now, grew the desire I felt
          To cleave unto this man; but when I prayed
          To share his enterprise, he hurried on
          Reckless of me: I followed, not unseen,
          For oftentimes he cast a backward look,
          Grasping his twofold treasure.--Lance in rest,             120
          He rode, I keeping pace with him; and now
          He, to my fancy, had become the knight
          Whose tale Cervantes tells; yet not the knight,
          But was an Arab of the desert too;
          Of these was neither, and was both at once.
          His countenance, meanwhile, grew more disturbed;
          And, looking backwards when he looked, mine eyes
          Saw, over half the wilderness diffused,
          A bed of glittering light: I asked the cause:
          "It is," said he, "the waters of the deep                  130
          Gathering upon us;" quickening then the pace
          Of the unwieldy creature he bestrode,
          He left me: I called after him aloud;
          He heeded not; but, with his twofold charge
          Still in his grasp, before me, full in view,
          Went hurrying o'er the illimitable waste,
          With the fleet waters of a drowning world
          In chase of him; whereat I waked in terror,
          And saw the sea before me, and the book,
          In which I had been reading, at my side.                   140

            Full often, taking from the world of sleep
          This Arab phantom, which I thus beheld,
          This semi-Quixote, I to him have given
          A substance, fancied him a living man,
          A gentle dweller in the desert, crazed
          By love and feeling, and internal thought
          Protracted among endless solitudes;
          Have shaped him wandering upon this quest!
          Nor have I pitied him; but rather felt
          Reverence was due to a being thus employed;                150
          And thought that, in the blind and awful lair
          Of such a madness, reason did lie couched.
          Enow there are on earth to take in charge
          Their wives, their children, and their virgin loves,
          Or whatsoever else the heart holds dear;
          Enow to stir for these; yea, will I say,
          Contemplating in soberness the approach
          Of an event so dire, by signs in earth
          Or heaven made manifest, that I could share
          That maniac's fond anxiety, and go                         160
          Upon like errand. Oftentimes at least
          Me hath such strong entrancement overcome,
          When I have held a volume in my hand,
          Poor earthly casket of immortal verse,
          Shakespeare, or Milton, labourers divine!

            Great and benign, indeed, must be the power
          Of living nature, which could thus so long
          Detain me from the best of other guides
          And dearest helpers, left unthanked, unpraised,
          Even in the time of lisping infancy;                       170
          And later down, in prattling childhood even,
          While I was travelling back among those days,
          How could I ever play an ingrate's part?
          Once more should I have made those bowers resound,
          By intermingling strains of thankfulness
          With their own thoughtless melodies; at least
          It might have well beseemed me to repeat
          Some simply fashioned tale, to tell again,
          In slender accents of sweet verse, some tale
          That did bewitch me then, and soothes me now.              180
          O Friend! O Poet! brother of my soul,
          Think not that I could pass along untouched
          By these remembrances. Yet wherefore speak?
          Why call upon a few weak words to say
          What is already written in the hearts
          Of all that breathe?--what in the path of all
          Drops daily from the tongue of every child,
          Wherever man is found? The trickling tear
          Upon the cheek of listening Infancy
          Proclaims it, and the insuperable look                     190
          That drinks as if it never could be full.

            That portion of my story I shall leave
          There registered: whatever else of power
          Or pleasure sown, or fostered thus, may be
          Peculiar to myself, let that remain
          Where still it works, though hidden from all search
          Among the depths of time. Yet is it just
          That here, in memory of all books which lay
          Their sure foundations in the heart of man,
          Whether by native prose, or numerous verse,                200
          That in the name of all inspired souls--
          From Homer the great Thunderer, from the voice
          That roars along the bed of Jewish song,
          And that more varied and elaborate,
          Those trumpet-tones of harmony that shake
          Our shores in England,--from those loftiest notes
          Down to the low and wren-like warblings, made
          For cottagers and spinners at the wheel,
          And sun-burnt travellers resting their tired limbs,
          Stretched under wayside hedge-rows, ballad tunes,          210
          Food for the hungry ears of little ones,
          And of old men who have survived their joys--
          'Tis just that in behalf of these, the works,
          And of the men that framed them, whether known
          Or sleeping nameless in their scattered graves,
          That I should here assert their rights, attest
          Their honours, and should, once for all, pronounce
          Their benediction; speak of them as Powers
          For ever to be hallowed; only less,
          For what we are and what we may become,                    220
          Than Nature's self, which is the breath of God,
          Or His pure Word by miracle revealed.

            Rarely and with reluctance would I stoop
          To transitory themes; yet I rejoice,
          And, by these thoughts admonished, will pour out
          Thanks with uplifted heart, that I was reared
          Safe from an evil which these days have laid
          Upon the children of the land, a pest
          That might have dried me up, body and soul.
          This verse is dedicate to Nature's self,                   230
          And things that teach as Nature teaches: then,
          Oh! where had been the Man, the Poet where,
          Where had we been, we two, beloved Friend!
          If in the season of unperilous choice,
          In lieu of wandering, as we did, through vales
          Rich with indigenous produce, open ground
          Of Fancy, happy pastures ranged at will,
          We had been followed, hourly watched, and noosed,
          Each in his several melancholy walk
          Stringed like a poor man's heifer at its feed,             240
          Led through the lanes in forlorn servitude;
          Or rather like a stalled ox debarred
          From touch of growing grass, that may not taste
          A flower till it have yielded up its sweets
          A prelibation to the mower's scythe.

            Behold the parent hen amid her brood,
          Though fledged and feathered, and well pleased to part
          And straggle from her presence, still a brood,
          And she herself from the maternal bond
          Still undischarged; yet doth she little more               250
          Than move with them in tenderness and love,
          A centre to the circle which they make;
          And now and then, alike from need of theirs
          And call of her own natural appetites,
          She scratches, ransacks up the earth for food,
          Which they partake at pleasure. Early died
          My honoured Mother, she who was the heart
          And hinge of all our learnings and our loves:
          She left us destitute, and, as we might,
          Trooping together. Little suits it me                      260
          To break upon the sabbath of her rest
          With any thought that looks at others' blame;
          Nor would I praise her but in perfect love.
          Hence am I checked: but let me boldly say,
          In gratitude, and for the sake of truth,
          Unheard by her, that she, not falsely taught,
          Fetching her goodness rather from times past,
          Than shaping novelties for times to come,
          Had no presumption, no such jealousy,
          Nor did by habit of her thoughts mistrust                  270
          Our nature, but had virtual faith that He
          Who fills the mother's breast with innocent milk,
          Doth also for our nobler part provide,
          Under His great correction and control,
          As innocent instincts, and as innocent food;
          Or draws, for minds that are left free to trust
          In the simplicities of opening life,
          Sweet honey out of spurned or dreaded weeds.
          This was her creed, and therefore she was pure
          From anxious fear of error or mishap,                      280
          And evil, overweeningly so called;
          Was not puffed up by false unnatural hopes,
          Nor selfish with unnecessary cares,
          Nor with impatience from the season asked
          More than its timely produce; rather loved
          The hours for what they are, than from regard
          Glanced on their promises in restless pride.
          Such was she--not from faculties more strong
          Than others have, but from the times, perhaps,
          And spot in which she lived, and through a grace           290
          Of modest meekness, simple-mindedness,
          A heart that found benignity and hope,
          Being itself benign.
                                My drift I fear
          Is scarcely obvious; but, that common sense
          May try this modern system by its fruits,
          Leave let me take to place before her sight
          A specimen pourtrayed with faithful hand.
          Full early trained to worship seemliness,
          This model of a child is never known
          To mix in quarrels; that were far beneath                  300
          Its dignity; with gifts he bubbles o'er
          As generous as a fountain; selfishness
          May not come near him, nor the little throng
          Of flitting pleasures tempt him from his path;
          The wandering beggars propagate his name,
          Dumb creatures find him tender as a nun,
          And natural or supernatural fear,
          Unless it leap upon him in a dream,
          Touches him not. To enhance the wonder, see
          How arch his notices, how nice his sense                   310
          Of the ridiculous; not blind is he
          To the broad follies of the licensed world,
          Yet innocent himself withal, though shrewd,
          And can read lectures upon innocence;
          A miracle of scientific lore,
          Ships he can guide across the pathless sea,
          And tell you all their cunning; he can read
          The inside of the earth, and spell the stars;
          He knows the policies of foreign lands;
          Can string you names of districts, cities, towns,          320
          The whole world over, tight as beads of dew
          Upon a gossamer thread; he sifts, he weighs;
          All things are put to question; he must live
          Knowing that he grows wiser every day
          Or else not live at all, and seeing too
          Each little drop of wisdom as it falls
          Into the dimpling cistern of his heart:
          For this unnatural growth the trainer blame,
          Pity the tree.--Poor human vanity,
          Wert thou extinguished, little would be left               330
          Which he could truly love; but how escape?
          For, ever as a thought of purer birth
          Rises to lead him toward a better clime,
          Some intermeddler still is on the watch
          To drive him back, and pound him, like a stray,
          Within the pinfold of his own conceit.
          Meanwhile old grandame earth is grieved to find
          The playthings, which her love designed for him,
          Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers
          Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn.                 340
          Oh! give us once again the wishing-cap
          Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat
          Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,
          And Sabra in the forest with St. George!
          The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap
          One precious gain, that he forgets himself.

            These mighty workmen of our later age,
          Who, with a broad highway, have overbridged
          The froward chaos of futurity,
          Tamed to their bidding; they who have the skill            350
          To manage books, and things, and make them act
          On infant minds as surely as the sun
          Deals with a flower; the keepers of our time,
          The guides and wardens of our faculties,
          Sages who in their prescience would control
          All accidents, and to the very road
          Which they have fashioned would confine us down,
          Like engines; when will their presumption learn,
          That in the unreasoning progress of the world
          A wiser spirit is at work for us,                          360
          A better eye than theirs, most prodigal
          Of blessings, and most studious of our good,
          Even in what seem our most unfruitful hours?

            There was a Boy: ye knew him well, ye cliffs
          And islands of Winander!--many a time
          At evening, when the earliest stars began
          To move along the edges of the hills,
          Rising or setting, would he stand alone
          Beneath the trees or by the glimmering lake,

          And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands             370
          Pressed closely palm to palm, and to his mouth
          Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
          Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,
          That they might answer him; and they would shout
          Across the watery vale, and shout again,
          Responsive to his call, with quivering peals,
          And long halloos and screams, and echoes loud,
          Redoubled and redoubled, concourse wild
          Of jocund din; and, when a lengthened pause
          Of silence came and baffled his best skill,                380
          Then sometimes, in that silence while he hung
          Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
          Has carried far into his heart the voice
          Of mountain torrents; or the visible scene
          Would enter unawares into his mind,
          With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
          Its woods, and that uncertain heaven, received
          Into the bosom of the steady lake.

            This Boy was taken from his mates, and died
          In childhood, ere he was full twelve years old.            390
          Fair is the spot, most beautiful the vale
          Where he was born; the grassy churchyard hangs
          Upon a slope above the village school,
          And through that churchyard when my way has led
          On summer evenings, I believe that there
          A long half hour together I have stood
          Mute, looking at the grave in which he lies!
          Even now appears before the mind's clear eye
          That self-same village church; I see her sit
          (The throned Lady whom erewhile we hailed)                 400
          On her green hill, forgetful of this Boy
          Who slumbers at her feet,--forgetful, too,
          Of all her silent neighbourhood of graves,
          And listening only to the gladsome sounds
          That, from the rural school ascending, play
          Beneath her and about her. May she long
          Behold a race of young ones like to those
          With whom I herded!--(easily, indeed,
          We might have fed upon a fatter soil
          Of arts and letters--but be that forgiven)--               410
          A race of real children; not too wise,
          Too learned, or too good; but wanton, fresh,
          And bandied up and down by love and hate;
          Not unresentful where self-justified;
          Fierce, moody, patient, venturous, modest, shy;
          Mad at their sports like withered leaves in winds;
          Though doing wrong and suffering, and full oft
          Bending beneath our life's mysterious weight
          Of pain, and doubt, and fear, yet yielding not
          In happiness to the happiest upon earth.                   420
          Simplicity in habit, truth in speech,
          Be these the daily strengtheners of their minds;
          May books and Nature be their early joy!
          And knowledge, rightly honoured with that name--
          Knowledge not purchased by the loss of power!

            Well do I call to mind the very week
          When I was first intrusted to the care
          Of that sweet Valley; when its paths, its shores,
          And brooks were like a dream of novelty
          To my half-infant thoughts; that very week,                430
          While I was roving up and down alone,
          Seeking I knew not what, I chanced to cross
          One of those open fields, which, shaped like ears,
          Make green peninsulas on Esthwaite's Lake:
          Twilight was coming on, yet through the gloom
          Appeared distinctly on the opposite shore
          A heap of garments, as if left by one
          Who might have there been bathing. Long I watched,
          But no one owned them; meanwhile the calm lake
          Grew dark with all the shadows on its breast,              440
          And, now and then, a fish up-leaping snapped
          The breathless stillness. The succeeding day,
          Those unclaimed garments telling a plain tale
          Drew to the spot an anxious crowd; some looked
          In passive expectation from the shore,
          While from a boat others hung o'er the deep,
          Sounding with grappling irons and long poles.
          At last, the dead man, 'mid that beauteous scene
          Of trees and hills and water, bolt upright
          Rose, with his ghastly face, a spectre shape               450
          Of terror; yet no soul-debasing fear,
          Young as I was, a child not nine years old,
          Possessed me, for my inner eye had seen
          Such sights before, among the shining streams
          Of faery land, the forest of romance.
          Their spirit hallowed the sad spectacle
          With decoration of ideal grace;
          A dignity, a smoothness, like the works
          Of Grecian art, and purest poesy.

            A precious treasure had I long possessed,                460
          A little yellow, canvas-covered book,
          A slender abstract of the Arabian tales;
          And, from companions in a new abode,
          When first I learnt, that this dear prize of mine
          Was but a block hewn from a mighty quarry--
          That there were four large volumes, laden all
          With kindred matter, 'twas to me, in truth,
          A promise scarcely earthly. Instantly,
          With one not richer than myself, I made
          A covenant that each should lay aside                      470
          The moneys he possessed, and hoard up more,
          Till our joint savings had amassed enough
          To make this book our own. Through several months,
          In spite of all temptation, we preserved
          Religiously that vow; but firmness failed,
          Nor were we ever masters of our wish.

            And when thereafter to my father's house
          The holidays returned me, there to find
          That golden store of books which I had left,
          What joy was mine! How often in the course                 480
          Of those glad respites, though a soft west wind
          Ruffled the waters to the angler's wish,
          For a whole day together, have I lain
          Down by thy side, O Derwent! murmuring stream,
          On the hot stones, and in the glaring sun,
          And there have read, devouring as I read,
          Defrauding the day's glory, desperate!
          Till with a sudden bound of smart reproach,
          Such as an idler deals with in his shame,
          I to the sport betook myself again.                        490

            A gracious spirit o'er this earth presides,
          And o'er the heart of man; invisibly
          It comes, to works of unreproved delight,
          And tendency benign, directing those
          Who care not, know not, think not, what they do.
          The tales that charm away the wakeful night
          In Araby, romances; legends penned
          For solace by dim light of monkish lamps;
          Fictions, for ladies of their love, devised
          By youthful squires; adventures endless, spun              500
          By the dismantled warrior in old age,
          Out of the bowels of those very schemes
          In which his youth did first extravagate;
          These spread like day, and something in the shape
          Of these will live till man shall be no more.
          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 the elements.
          I guess not what this tells of Being past,                 510
          Nor what it augurs of the life to come;
          But so it is; and, in that dubious hour--
          That twilight--when we first begin to see
          This dawning earth, to recognise, expect,
          And, in the long probation that ensues,
          The time of trial, ere we learn to live
          In reconcilement with our stinted powers;
          To endure this state of meagre vassalage,
          Unwilling to forego, confess, submit,
          Uneasy and unsettled, yoke-fellows                         520
          To custom, mettlesome, and not yet tamed
          And humbled down--oh! then we feel, we feel,
          We know where we have friends. Ye dreamers, then,
          Forgers of daring tales! we bless you then,
          Impostors, drivellers, dotards, as the ape
          Philosophy will call you: 'then' we feel
          With what, and how great might ye are in league,
          Who make our wish, our power, our thought a deed,
          An empire, a possession,--ye whom time
          And seasons serve; all Faculties to whom                   530
          Earth crouches, the elements are potter's clay,
          Space like a heaven filled up with northern lights,
          Here, nowhere, there, and everywhere at once.

            Relinquishing this lofty eminence
          For ground, though humbler, not the less a tract
          Of the same isthmus, which our spirits cross
          In progress from their native continent
          To earth and human life, the Song might dwell
          On that delightful time of growing youth,
          When craving for the marvellous gives way                  540
          To strengthening love for things that we have seen;
          When sober truth and steady sympathies,
          Offered to notice by less daring pens,
          Take firmer hold of us, and words themselves
          Move us with conscious pleasure.
                                            I am sad
          At thought of rapture now for ever flown;
          Almost to tears I sometimes could be sad
          To think of, to read over, many a page,
          Poems withal of name, which at that time
          Did never fail to entrance me, and are now                 550
          Dead in my eyes, dead as a theatre
          Fresh emptied of spectators. Twice five years
          Or less I might have seen, when first my mind
          With conscious pleasure opened to the charm
          Of words in tuneful order, found them sweet
          For their own 'sakes', a passion, and a power;
          And phrases pleased me chosen for delight,
          For pomp, or love. Oft, in the public roads
          Yet unfrequented, while the morning light
          Was yellowing the hill tops, I went abroad                 560
          With a dear friend, and for the better part
          Of two delightful hours we strolled along
          By the still borders of the misty lake,
          Repeating favourite verses with one voice,
          Or conning more, as happy as the birds
          That round us chaunted. Well might we be glad,
          Lifted above the ground by airy fancies,
          More bright than madness or the dreams of wine;
          And, though full oft the objects of our love
          Were false, and in their splendour overwrought,            570
          Yet was there surely then no vulgar power
          Working within us,--nothing less, in truth,
          Than that most noble attribute of man,
          Though yet untutored and inordinate,
          That wish for something loftier, more adorned,
          Than is the common aspect, daily garb,
          Of human life. What wonder, then, if sounds
          Of exultation echoed through the groves!
          For, images, and sentiments, and words,
          And everything encountered or pursued                      580
          In that delicious world of poesy,
          Kept holiday, a never-ending show,
          With music, incense, festival, and flowers!

            Here must we pause: this only let me add,
          From heart-experience, and in humblest sense
          Of modesty, that he, who in his youth
          A daily wanderer among woods and fields
          With living Nature hath been intimate,
          Not only in that raw unpractised time
          Is stirred to ecstasy, as others are,                      590
          By glittering verse; but further, doth receive,
          In measure only dealt out to himself,
          Knowledge and increase of enduring joy
          From the great Nature that exists in works
          Of mighty Poets. Visionary power
          Attends the motions of the viewless winds,
          Embodied in the mystery of words:
          There, darkness makes abode, and all the host
          Of shadowy things work endless changes,--there,
          As in a mansion like their proper home,                    600
          Even forms and substances are circumfused
          By that transparent veil with light divine,
          And, through the turnings intricate of verse,
          Present themselves as objects recognised,
          In flashes, and with glory not their own.


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