Wordsworth's Poem of the Mind: An Essay on the Prelude

Wordsworth's Poem of the Mind: An Essay on the Prelude

Wordsworth's Poem of the Mind: An Essay on the Prelude

Wordsworth's Poem of the Mind: An Essay on the Prelude

Excerpt

The Prelude is one of the great voyages of discovery, not just a first-hand account (thought it is that too, and an incomparably vivid one) of the boyhood and coming of age of a great poet.

The poems of Wordsworth that most of us value were all written within ten years. Apart from The Prelude they are not very numerous - thirty or forty, perhaps. Many of these, including Tintern Abbey and Michael, appeared in the first (1798) or second (1800) edition of Lyrical Ballads. The Ruined Cottage and its companion piece, The Pedlar, were drafted in 1797/98, though not published till their inclusion, considerably revised, in Book I of The Excursion. Resolution and Independence belongs to 1802, the Ode: Intimations of Immortality and a few other pieces - I wandered lonely as a cloud, Stepping Westward, The Solitary Reaper, Peele Castle - to the years 1802/6. The Prelude itself, begun in 1798, was finished in May 1805, though revised at various times before its publication, a few months after Wordsworth's death, in 1850.

The crucial years, then, the years of Wordsworth's strength as a poet, are from 1797 to 1806. The key text for an understanding of his poetry is The Prelude, especially in its two-part (1799) form and in the first complete version of 1805.

The Prelude traces the growth of a poet's mind. This growth was neither simple nor straightforward, and though the poem can be read as a spiritual autobiography, it is clearly a great deal more. I have isolated what I take to be Wordsworth's major concerns: nature and the One Life within us and abroad, the mind's relationship with the world, and the imagination. To treat these separately is doubtless to simplify, for in the poem they overlap and interact. The reason for this, I think, is that at the centre of all three concerns (as of Tintern Abbey, which raises the first two) is Wordsworth's conviction . . .

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