Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


THE PRELUDE

BOOK EIGHTH

RETROSPECT--LOVE OF NATURE LEADING TO LOVE OF MAN

          WHAT sounds are those, Helvellyn, that are heard
          Up to thy summit, through the depth of air
          Ascending, as if distance had the power
          To make the sounds more audible? What crowd
          Covers, or sprinkles o'er, yon village green?
          Crowd seems it, solitary hill! to thee,
          Though but a little family of men,
          Shepherds and tillers of the ground--betimes
          Assembled with their children and their wives,
          And here and there a stranger interspersed.                 10
          They hold a rustic fair--a festival,
          Such as, on this side now, and now on that,
          Repeated through his tributary vales,
          Helvellyn, in the silence of his rest,
          Sees annually, if clouds towards either ocean
          Blown from their favourite resting-place, or mists
          Dissolved, have left him an unshrouded head.
          Delightful day it is for all who dwell
          In this secluded glen, and eagerly
          They give it welcome. Long ere heat of noon,                20
          From byre or field the kine were brought; the sheep
          Are penned in cotes; the chaffering is begun.
          The heifer lows, uneasy at the voice
          Of a new master; bleat the flocks aloud.
          Booths are there none; a stall or two is here;
          A lame man or a blind, the one to beg,
          The other to make music; hither, too,
          From far, with basket, slung upon her arm,
          Of hawker's wares--books, pictures, combs, and pins--
          Some aged woman finds her way again,                        30
          Year after year, a punctual visitant!
          There also stands a speech-maker by rote,
          Pulling the strings of his boxed raree-show;
          And in the lapse of many years may come
          Prouder itinerant, mountebank, or he
          Whose wonders in a covered wain lie hid.
          But one there is, the loveliest of them all,
          Some sweet lass of the valley, looking out
          For gains, and who that sees her would not buy?
          Fruits of her father's orchard are her wares,               40
          And with the ruddy produce she walks round
          Among the crowd, half pleased with, half ashamed
          Of, her new office, blushing restlessly.
          The children now are rich, for the old to-day
          Are generous as the young; and, if content
          With looking on, some ancient wedded pair
          Sit in the shade together; while they gaze,
          "A cheerful smile unbends the wrinkled brow,
          The days departed start again to life,
          And all the scenes of childhood reappear,                   50
          Faint, but more tranquil, like the changing sun
          To him who slept at noon and wakes at eve."
          Thus gaiety and cheerfulness prevail,
          Spreading from young to old, from old to young,
          And no one seems to want his share.--Immense
          Is the recess, the circumambient world
          Magnificent, by which they are embraced:
          They move about upon the soft green turf:
          How little they, they and their doings, seem,
          And all that they can further or obstruct!                  60
          Through utter weakness pitiably dear,
          As tender infants are: and yet how great!
          For all things serve them: them the morning light
          Loves, as it glistens on the silent rocks;
          And them the silent rocks, which now from high
          Look down upon them; the reposing clouds;
          The wild brooks prattling from invisible haunts;
          And old Helvellyn, conscious of the stir
          Which animates this day their calm abode.

            With deep devotion, Nature, did I feel,                   70
          In that enormous City's turbulent world
          Of men and things, what benefit I owed
          To thee, and those domains of rural peace,
          Where to the sense of beauty first my heart
          Was opened; tract more exquisitely fair
          Than that famed paradise of ten thousand trees,
          Or Gehol's matchless gardens, for delight
          Of the Tartarian dynasty composed
          (Beyond that mighty wall, not fabulous,
          China's stupendous mound) by patient toil                   80
          Of myriads and boon nature's lavish help;
          There, in a clime from widest empire chosen,
          Fulfilling (could enchantment have done more?)
          A sumptuous dream of flowery lawns, with domes
          Of pleasure sprinkled over, shady dells
          For eastern monasteries, sunny mounts
          With temples crested, bridges, gondolas,
          Rocks, dens, and groves of foliage taught to melt
          Into each other their obsequious hues,
          Vanished and vanishing in subtle chase,                     90
          Too fine to be pursued; or standing forth
          In no discordant opposition, strong
          And gorgeous as the colours side by side
          Bedded among rich plumes of tropic birds;
          And mountains over all, embracing all;
          And all the landscape, endlessly enriched
          With waters running, falling, or asleep.

            But lovelier far than this, the paradise
          Where I was reared; in Nature's primitive gifts
          Favoured no less, and more to every sense                  100
          Delicious, seeing that the sun and sky,
          The elements, and seasons as they change,
          Do find a worthy fellow-labourer there--
          Man free, man working for himself, with choice
          Of time, and place, and object; by his wants,
          His comforts, native occupations, cares,
          Cheerfully led to individual ends
          Or social, and still followed by a train
          Unwooed, unthought-of even--simplicity,
          And beauty, and inevitable grace.                          110

            Yea, when a glimpse of those imperial bowers
          Would to a child be transport over-great,
          When but a half-hour's roam through such a place
          Would leave behind a dance of images,
          That shall break in upon his sleep for weeks;
          Even then the common haunts of the green earth,
          And ordinary interests of man,
          Which they embosom, all without regard
          As both may seem, are fastening on the heart
          Insensibly, each with the other's help.                    120
          For me, when my affections first were led
          From kindred, friends, and playmates, to partake
          Love for the human creature's absolute self,
          That noticeable kindliness of heart
          Sprang out of fountains, there abounding most,
          Where sovereign Nature dictated the tasks
          And occupations which her beauty adorned,
          And Shepherds were the men that pleased me first;
          Not such as Saturn ruled 'mid Latian wilds,
          With arts and laws so tempered, that their lives           130
          Left, even to us toiling in this late day,
          A bright tradition of the golden age;
          Not such as, 'mid Arcadian fastnesses
          Sequestered, handed down among themselves
          Felicity, in Grecian song renowned;
          Nor such as--when an adverse fate had driven,
          From house and home, the courtly band whose fortunes
          Entered, with Shakspeare's genius, the wild woods
          Of Arden--amid sunshine or in shade
          Culled the best fruits of Time's uncounted hours,          140
          Ere Phoebe sighed for the false Ganymede;
          Or there where Perdita and Florizel
          Together danced, Queen of the feast, and King;
          Nor such as Spenser fabled. True it is,
          That I had heard (what he perhaps had seen)
          Of maids at sunrise bringing in from far
          Their May-bush, and along the streets in flocks
          Parading with a song of taunting rhymes,
          Aimed at the laggards slumbering within doors;
          Had also heard, from those who yet remembered,             150
          Tales of the May-pole dance, and wreaths that decked
          Porch, door-way, or kirk-pillar; and of youths,
          Each with his maid, before the sun was up,
          By annual custom, issuing forth in troops,
          To drink the waters of some sainted well,
          And hang it round with garlands. Love survives;
          But, for such purpose, flowers no longer grow:
          The times, too sage, perhaps too proud, have dropped
          These lighter graces; and the rural ways
          And manners which my childhood looked upon                 160
          Were the unluxuriant produce of a life
          Intent on little but substantial needs,
          Yet rich in beauty, beauty that was felt.
          But images of danger and distress,
          Man suffering among awful Powers and Forms;
          Of this I heard, and saw enough to make
          Imagination restless; nor was free
          Myself from frequent perils; nor were tales
          Wanting,--the tragedies of former times,
          Hazards and strange escapes, of which the rocks            170
          Immutable, and everflowing streams,
          Where'er I roamed, were speaking monuments.

            Smooth life had flock and shepherd in old time,
          Long springs and tepid winters, on the banks
          Of delicate Galesus; and no less
          Those scattered along Adria's myrtle shores:
          Smooth life had herdsman, and his snow-white herd
          To triumphs and to sacrificial rites
          Devoted, on the inviolable stream
          Of rich Clitumnus; and the goat-herd lived                 180
          As calmly, underneath the pleasant brows
          Of cool Lucretilis, where the pipe was heard
          Of Pan, Invisible God, thrilling the rocks
          With tutelary music, from all harm
          The fold protecting, I myself, mature
          In manhood then, have seen a pastoral tract
          Like one of these, where Fancy might run wild,
          Though under skies less generous, less serene:
          There, for her own delight had Nature framed
          A pleasure-ground, diffused a fair expanse                 190
          Of level pasture, islanded with groves
          And banked with woody risings; but the Plain
          Endless, here opening widely out, and there
          Shut up in lesser lakes or beds of lawn
          And intricate recesses, creek or bay
          Sheltered within a shelter, where at large
          The shepherd strays, a rolling hut his home.
          Thither he comes with spring-time, there abides
          All summer, and at sunrise ye may hear
          His flageolet to liquid notes of love                      200
          Attuned, or sprightly fife resounding far.
          Nook is there none, nor tract of that vast space
          Where passage opens, but the same shall have
          In turn its visitant, telling there his hours
          In unlaborious pleasure, with no task
          More toilsome than to carve a beechen bowl
          For spring or fountain, which the traveller finds,
          When through the region he pursues at will
          His devious course. A glimpse of such sweet life
          I saw when, from the melancholy walls                      210
          Of Goslar, once imperial, I renewed
          My daily walk along that wide champaign,
          That, reaching to her gates, spreads east and west,
          And northwards, from beneath the mountainous verge
          Of the Hercynian forest. Yet, hail to you
          Moors, mountains, headlands, and ye hollow vales,
          Ye long deep channels for the Atlantic's voice,
          Powers of my native region! Ye that seize
          The heart with firmer grasp! Your snows and streams
          Ungovernable, and your terrifying winds,                   220
          That howl so dismally for him who treads
          Companionless your awful solitudes!
          There, 'tis the shepherd's task the winter long
          To wait upon the storms: of their approach
          Sagacious, into sheltering coves he drives
          His flock, and thither from the homestead bears
          A toilsome burden up the craggy ways,
          And deals it out, their regular nourishment
          Strewn on the frozen snow. And when the spring
          Looks out, and all the pastures dance with lambs,          230
          And when the flock, with warmer weather, climbs
          Higher and higher, him his office leads
          To watch their goings, whatsoever track
          The wanderers choose. For this he quits his home
          At day-spring, and no sooner doth the sun
          Begin to strike him with a fire-like heat,
          Than he lies down upon some shining rock,
          And breakfasts with his dog. When they have stolen,
          As is their wont, a pittance from strict time,
          For rest not needed or exchange of love,                   240
          Then from his couch he starts; and now his feet
          Crush out a livelier fragrance from the flowers
          Of lowly thyme, by Nature's skill enwrought
          In the wild turf: the lingering dews of morn
          Smoke round him, as from hill to hill he hies,
          His staff protending like a hunter's spear,
          Or by its aid leaping from crag to crag,
          And o'er the brawling beds of unbridged streams.
          Philosophy, methinks, at Fancy's call,
          Might deign to follow him through what he does             250
          Or sees in his day's march; himself he feels,
          In those vast regions where his service lies,
          A freeman, wedded to his life of hope
          And hazard, and hard labour interchanged
          With that majestic indolence so dear
          To native man. A rambling schoolboy, thus,
          I felt his presence in his own domain,
          As of a lord and master, or a power,
          Or genius, under Nature, under God,
          Presiding; and severest solitude                           260
          Had more commanding looks when he was there.
          When up the lonely brooks on rainy days
          Angling I went, or trod the trackless hills
          By mists bewildered, suddenly mine eyes
          Have glanced upon him distant a few steps,
          In size a giant, stalking through thick fog,
          His sheep like Greenland bears; or, as he stepped
          Beyond the boundary line of some hill-shadow,
          His form hath flashed upon me, glorified
          By the deep radiance of the setting sun:                   270
          Or him have I descried in distant sky,
          A solitary object and sublime,
          Above all height! like an aerial cross
          Stationed alone upon a spiry rock
          Of the Chartreuse, for worship. Thus was man
          Ennobled outwardly before my sight,
          And thus my heart was early introduced
          To an unconscious love and reverence
          Of human nature; hence the human form
          To me became an index of delight,                          280
          Of grace and honour, power and worthiness.
          Meanwhile this creature--spiritual almost
          As those of books, but more exalted far;
          Far more of an imaginative form
          Than the gay Corin of the groves, who lives
          For his own fancies, or to dance by the hour,
          In coronal, with Phyllis in the midst--
          Was, for the purposes of kind, a man
          With the most common; husband, father; learned,
          Could teach, admonish; suffered with the rest              290
          From vice and folly, wretchedness and fear;
          Of this I little saw, cared less for it,
          But something must have felt.
                                         Call ye these appearances--
          Which I beheld of shepherds in my youth,
          This sanctity of Nature given to man--
          A shadow, a delusion, ye who pore
          On the dead letter, miss the spirit of things;
          Whose truth is not a motion or a shape
          Instinct with vital functions, but a block
          Or waxen image which yourselves have made,                 300
          And ye adore! But blessed be the God
          Of Nature and of Man that this was so;
          That men before my inexperienced eyes
          Did first present themselves thus purified,
          Removed, and to a distance that was fit:
          And so we all of us in some degree
          Are led to knowledge, wheresoever led,
          And howsoever; were it otherwise,
          And we found evil fast as we find good
          In our first years, or think that it is found,             310
          How could the innocent heart bear up and live!
          But doubly fortunate my lot; not here
          Alone, that something of a better life
          Perhaps was round me than it is the privilege
          Of most to move in, but that first I looked
          At Man through objects that were great or fair;
          First communed with him by their help. And thus
          Was founded a sure safeguard and defence
          Against the weight of meanness, selfish cares,
          Coarse manners, vulgar passions, that beat in              320
          On all sides from the ordinary world
          In which we traffic. Starting from this point
          I had my face turned toward the truth, began
          With an advantage furnished by that kind
          Of prepossession, without which the soul
          Receives no knowledge that can bring forth good,
          No genuine insight ever comes to her.
          From the restraint of over-watchful eyes
          Preserved, I moved about, year after year,
          Happy, and now most thankful that my walk                  330
          Was guarded from too early intercourse
          With the deformities of crowded life,
          And those ensuing laughters and contempts,
          Self-pleasing, which, if we would wish to think
          With a due reverence on earth's rightful lord,
          Here placed to be the inheritor of heaven,
          Will not permit us; but pursue the mind,
          That to devotion willingly would rise,
          Into the temple and the temple's heart.

            Yet deem not, Friend! that human kind with me            340
          Thus early took a place pre-eminent;
          Nature herself was, at this unripe time,
          But secondary to my own pursuits
          And animal activities, and all
          Their trivial pleasures; and when these had drooped
          And gradually expired, and Nature, prized
          For her own sake, became my joy, even then--
          And upwards through late youth, until not less
          Than two-and-twenty summers had been told--
          Was Man in my affections and regards                       350
          Subordinate to her, her visible forms
          And viewless agencies: a passion, she,
          A rapture often, and immediate love
          Ever at hand; he, only a delight
          Occasional, an accidental grace,
          His hour being not yet come. Far less had then
          The inferior creatures, beast or bird, attuned
          My spirit to that gentleness of love,
          (Though they had long been carefully observed),
          Won from me those minute obeisances                        360
          Of tenderness, which I may number now
          With my first blessings. Nevertheless, on these
          The light of beauty did not fall in vain,
          Or grandeur circumfuse them to no end.

            But when that first poetic faculty
          Of plain Imagination and severe,
          No longer a mute influence of the soul,
          Ventured, at some rash Muse's earnest call,
          To try her strength among harmonious words;
          And to book-notions and the rules of art                   370
          Did knowingly conform itself; there came
          Among the simple shapes of human life
          A wilfulness of fancy and conceit;
          And Nature and her objects beautified
          These fictions, as in some sort, in their turn,
          They burnished her. From touch of this new power
          Nothing was safe: the elder-tree that grew
          Beside the well-known charnel-house had then
          A dismal look: the yew-tree had its ghost,
          That took his station there for ornament:                  380
          The dignities of plain occurrence then
          Were tasteless, and truth's golden mean, a point
          Where no sufficient pleasure could be found.
          Then, if a widow, staggering with the blow
          Of her distress, was known to have turned her steps
          To the cold grave in which her husband slept,
          One night, or haply more than one, through pain
          Or half-insensate impotence of mind,
          The fact was caught at greedily, and there
          She must be visitant the whole year through,               390
          Wetting the turf with never-ending tears.

            Through quaint obliquities I might pursue
          These cravings; when the foxglove, one by one,
          Upwards through every stage of the tall stem,
          Had shed beside the public way its bells,
          And stood of all dismantled, save the last
          Left at the tapering ladder's top, that seemed
          To bend as doth a slender blade of grass
          Tipped with a rain-drop, Fancy loved to seat,
          Beneath the plant despoiled, but crested still             400
          With this last relic, soon itself to fall,
          Some vagrant mother, whose arch little ones,
          All unconcerned by her dejected plight,
          Laughed as with rival eagerness their hands
          Gathered the purple cups that round them lay,
          Strewing the turfs green slope.
                                           A diamond light
          (Whene'er the summer sun, declining, smote
          A smooth rock wet with constant springs) was seen
          Sparkling from out a copse-clad bank that rose
          Fronting our cottage. Oft beside the hearth                410
          Seated, with open door, often and long
          Upon this restless lustre have I gazed,
          That made my fancy restless as itself.
          'Twas now for me a burnished silver shield
          Suspended over a knight's tomb, who lay
          Inglorious, buried in the dusky wood:
          An entrance now into some magic cave
          Or palace built by fairies of the rock;
          Nor could I have been bribed to disenchant
          The spectacle, by visiting the spot.                       420
          Thus wilful Fancy, in no hurtful mood,
          Engrafted far-fetched shapes on feelings bred
          By pure Imagination: busy Power
          She was, and with her ready pupil turned
          Instinctively to human passions, then
          Least understood. Yet, 'mid the fervent swarm
          Of these vagaries, with an eye so rich
          As mine was through the bounty of a grand
          And lovely region, I had forms distinct
          To steady me: each airy thought revolved                   430
          Round a substantial centre, which at once
          Incited it to motion, and controlled.
          I did not pine like one in cities bred,
          As was thy melancholy lot, dear Friend!
          Great Spirit as thou art, in endless dreams
          Of sickliness, disjoining, joining, things
          Without the light of knowledge. Where the harm,
          If, when the woodman languished with disease
          Induced by sleeping nightly on the ground
          Within his sod-built cabin, Indian-wise,                   440
          I called the pangs of disappointed love,
          And all the sad etcetera of the wrong,
          To help him to his grave? Meanwhile the man,
          If not already from the woods retired
          To die at home, was haply, as I knew,
          Withering by slow degrees, 'mid gentle airs,
          Birds, running streams, and hills so beautiful
          On golden evenings, while the charcoal pile
          Breathed up its smoke, an image of his ghost
          Or spirit that full soon must take her flight.             450
          Nor shall we not be tending towards that point
          Of sound humanity to which our Tale
          Leads, though by sinuous ways, if here I show
          How Fancy, in a season when she wove
          Those slender cords, to guide the unconscious Boy
          For the Man's sake, could feed at Nature's call
          Some pensive musings which might well beseem
          Maturer years.
                          A grove there is whose boughs
          Stretch from the western marge of Thurstonmere
          With length of shade so thick, that whoso glides           460
          Along the line of low-roofed water, moves
          As in a cloister. Once--while, in that shade
          Loitering, I watched the golden beams of light
          Flung from the setting sun, as they reposed
          In silent beauty on the naked ridge
          Of a high eastern hill--thus flowed my thoughts
          In a pure stream of words fresh from the heart:
          Dear native Regions, wheresoe'er shall close
          My mortal course, there will I think on you;
          Dying, will cast on you a backward look;                   470
          Even as this setting sun (albeit the Vale
          Is no where touched by one memorial gleam)
          Doth with the fond remains of his last power
          Still linger, and a farewell lustre sheds,
          On the dear mountain-tops where first he rose.

            Enough of humble arguments; recall,
          My Song! those high emotions which thy voice
          Has heretofore made known; that bursting forth
          Of sympathy, inspiring and inspired,
          When everywhere a vital pulse was felt,                    480
          And all the several frames of things, like stars,
          Through every magnitude distinguishable,
          Shone mutually indebted, or half lost
          Each in the other's blaze, a galaxy
          Of life and glory. In the midst stood Man,
          Outwardly, inwardly contemplated,
          As, of all visible natures, crown, though born
          Of dust, and kindred to the worm; a Being,
          Both in perception and discernment, first
          In every capability of rapture,                            490
          Through the divine effect of power and love;
          As, more than anything we know, instinct
          With godhead, and, by reason and by will,
          Acknowledging dependency sublime.

            Ere long, the lonely mountains left, I moved,
          Begirt, from day to day, with temporal shapes
          Of vice and folly thrust upon my view,
          Objects of sport, and ridicule, and scorn,
          Manners and characters discriminate,
          And little bustling passions that eclipse,                 500
          As well they might, the impersonated thought,
          The idea, or abstraction of the kind.

            An idler among academic bowers,
          Such was my new condition, as at large
          Has been set forth; yet here the vulgar light
          Of present, actual, superficial life,
          Gleaming through colouring of other times,
          Old usages and local privilege,
          Was welcomed, softened, if not solemnised.
          This notwithstanding, being brought more near              510
          To vice and guilt, forerunning wretchedness,
          I trembled,--thought, at times, of human life
          With an indefinite terror and dismay,
          Such as the storms and angry elements
          Had bred in me; but gloomier far, a dim
          Analogy to uproar and misrule,
          Disquiet, danger, and obscurity.

            It might be told (but wherefore speak of things
          Common to all?) that, seeing, I was led
          Gravely to ponder--judging between good                    520
          And evil, not as for the mind's delight
          But for her guidance--one who was to 'act',
          As sometimes to the best of feeble means
          I did, by human sympathy impelled:
          And, through dislike and most offensive pain,
          Was to the truth conducted; of this faith
          Never forsaken, that, by acting well,
          And understanding, I should learn to love
          The end of life, and everything we know.

            Grave Teacher, stern Preceptress! for at times           530
          Thou canst put on an aspect most severe;
          London, to thee I willingly return.
          Erewhile my verse played idly with the flowers
          Enwrought upon thy mantle; satisfied
          With that amusement, and a simple look
          Of child-like inquisition now and then
          Cast upwards on thy countenance, to detect
          Some inner meanings which might harbour there.
          But how could I in mood so light indulge,
          Keeping such fresh remembrance of the day,                 540
          When, having thridded the long labyrinth
          Of the suburban villages, I first
          Entered thy vast dominion? On the roof
          Of an itinerant vehicle I sate,
          With vulgar men about me, trivial forms
          Of houses, pavement, streets, of men and things,--
          Mean shapes on every side: but, at the instant,
          When to myself it fairly might be said,
          The threshold now is overpast, (how strange
          That aught external to the living mind                     550
          Should have such mighty sway! yet so it was),
          A weight of ages did at once descend
          Upon my heart; no thought embodied, no
          Distinct remembrances, but weight and power,--
          Power growing under weight: alas! I feel
          That I am trifling: 'twas a moment's pause,--
          All that took place within me came and went
          As in a moment; yet with Time it dwells,
          And grateful memory, as a thing divine.

            The curious traveller, who, from open day,               560
          Hath passed with torches into some huge cave,
          The Grotto of Antiparos, or the Den
          In old time haunted by that Danish Witch,
          Yordas; he looks around and sees the vault
          Widening on all sides; sees, or thinks he sees,
          Erelong, the massy roof above his head,
          That instantly unsettles and recedes,--
          Substance and shadow, light and darkness, all
          Commingled, making up a canopy
          Of shapes and forms and tendencies to shape                570
          That shift and vanish, change and interchange
          Like spectres,--ferment silent and sublime!
          That after a short space works less and less,
          Till, every effort, every motion gone,
          The scene before him stands in perfect view
          Exposed, and lifeless as a written book!--
          But let him pause awhile, and look again,
          And a new quickening shall succeed, at first
          Beginning timidly, then creeping fast,
          Till the whole cave, so late a senseless mass,             580
          Busies the eye with images and forms
          Boldly assembled,--here is shadowed forth
          From the projections, wrinkles, cavities,
          A variegated landscape,--there the shape
          Of some gigantic warrior clad in mail,
          The ghostly semblance of a hooded monk,
          Veiled nun, or pilgrim resting on his staff:
          Strange congregation! yet not slow to meet
          Eyes that perceive through minds that can inspire.

            Even in such sort had I at first been moved,             590
          Nor otherwise continued to be moved,
          As I explored the vast metropolis,
          Fount of my country's destiny and the world's;
          That great emporium, chronicle at once
          And burial-place of passions, and their home
          Imperial, their chief living residence.

            With strong sensations teeming as it did
          Of past and present, such a place must needs
          Have pleased me, seeking knowledge at that time
          Far less than craving power; yet knowledge came,           600
          Sought or unsought, and influxes of power
          Came, of themselves, or at her call derived
          In fits of kindliest apprehensiveness,
          From all sides, when whate'er was in itself
          Capacious found, or seemed to find, in me
          A correspondent amplitude of mind;
          Such is the strength and glory of our youth!
          The human nature unto which I felt
          That I belonged, and reverenced with love,
          Was not a punctual presence, but a spirit                  610
          Diffused through time and space, with aid derived
          Of evidence from monuments, erect,
          Prostrate, or leaning towards their common rest
          In earth, the widely scattered wreck sublime
          Of vanished nations, or more clearly drawn
          From books and what they picture and record.

            'Tis true, the history of our native land--
          With those of Greece compared and popular Rome,
          And in our high-wrought modern narratives
          Stript of their harmonising soul, the life                 620
          Of manners and familiar incidents--
          Had never much delighted me. And less
          Than other intellects had mine been used
          To lean upon extrinsic circumstance
          Of record or tradition; but a sense
          Of what in the Great City had been done
          And suffered, and was doing, suffering, still,
          Weighed with me, could support the test of thought;
          And, in despite of all that had gone by,
          Or was departing never to return,                          630
          There I conversed with majesty and power
          Like independent natures. Hence the place
          Was thronged with impregnations like the Wilds
          In which my early feelings had been nursed--
          Bare hills and valleys, full of caverns, rocks,
          And audible seclusions, dashing lakes,
          Echoes and waterfalls, and pointed crags
          That into music touch the passing wind.
          Here then my young imagination found
          No uncongenial element; could here                         640
          Among new objects serve or give command,
          Even as the heart's occasions might require,
          To forward reason's else too-scrupulous march.
          The effect was, still more elevated views
          Of human nature. Neither vice nor guilt,
          Debasement undergone by body or mind,
          Nor all the misery forced upon my sight,
          Misery not lightly passed, but sometimes scanned
          Most feelingly, could overthrow my trust
          In what we 'may' become; induce belief                     650
          That I was ignorant, had been falsely taught,
          A solitary, who with vain conceits
          Had been inspired, and walked about in dreams.
          From those sad scenes when meditation turned,
          Lo! everything that was indeed divine
          Retained its purity inviolate,
          Nay brighter shone, by this portentous gloom
          Set off; such opposition as aroused
          The mind of Adam, yet in Paradise
          Though fallen from bliss, when in the East he saw          660
          Darkness ere day's mid course, and morning light
          More orient in the western cloud, that drew
          O'er the blue firmament a radiant white,
          Descending slow with something heavenly fraught.

            Add also, that among the multitudes
          Of that huge city, oftentimes was seen
          Affectingly set forth, more than elsewhere
          Is possible, the unity of man,
          One spirit over ignorance and vice
          Predominant, in good and evil hearts;                      670
          One sense for moral judgments, as one eye
          For the sun's light. The soul when smitten thus
          By a sublime 'idea', whencesoe'er
          Vouchsafed for union or communion, feeds
          On the pure bliss, and takes her rest with God.

            Thus from a very early age, O Friend!
          My thoughts by slow gradations had been drawn
          To human-kind, and to the good and ill
          Of human life: Nature had led me on;
          And oft amid the "busy hum" I seemed                       680
          To travel independent of her help,
          As if I had forgotten her; but no,
          The world of human-kind outweighed not hers
          In my habitual thoughts; the scale of love,
          Though filling daily, still was light, compared
          With that in which 'her' mighty objects lay.


CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


  PREVIOUS NEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors