William Wordsworth - The Prelude - Preface To Podcast
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
William Wordsworth—the very name is poetry. It is, at once, alliterative and perfectly balanced, tuneful and resonant, in even the crudest of ears. It’s tied together by three “W’s”, and four syllables—two in the front, an equal number in the rear.
The work for which Wordsworth, that distant musician, is most famous is The Prelude. It is an autobiographical epic of profound honesty, inexhaustible enjoyment, and tremendous scope. It is a most intimate poem from which, thanks to its author’s inability to conceal himself, neither detail nor feeling has been scrubbed. The passions of youth, and the regrets of maturity, all have their place in its body.
It was his goal, as it is every Englishman’s goal, to rival in eloquence, and surpass in renown, the incomparable drama of that nation, Paradise Lost. The Conservative Wordsworth, in his attempt to challenge the Puritan Milton, borrowed the theme of Genesis—not of the world, or that virgin soil out of which our first parents sprang, but of himself, that peculiar subject into whom he was fearlessly willing to probe.
Thus, The Prelude, started in 1798 before the poet had attained to his third decade of life, recounts Wordsworth’s life from its bucolic beginning, to its innocent childhood, to its rebellious adolescence, and, finally, to its restful conclusion. The work, eight thousand lines of blank verse (to which, with plans for a sequel, many more were supposed to be added), was completed in 1805, but would have to wait another four decades and a half before its posthumous publication.
In this episode, I’ll be reading the epic’s first Book, in which the precocious author’s childhood is described.
“The earth is all before me: with a heart joyous, nor scared at its own liberty, I look about, and should the guide I choose be nothing better than a wandering cloud, I cannot miss my way”. Let us mount that wayward nimbus, upon whose broad back we leap to climb, if only to seek the sunrise of a fresh and glorious day. Let us follow that venturesome spirit, by which, in heat, the verdant land is shaded, and, in solitude, the quiet empyrean conveyed. This much we know—we shall not be led astray. We shall not find ourselves on paths unprofitable down which the aimless stumble. One simply cannot err when light of trouble, and heavy with bliss.