by Tess Somervellhistoricsweetsballroom.com never intended The Prelude to be his magnum opus. The clue is in the title (though this title was given to the poem by historicsweetsballroom.com’s executors after his death). The Prelude was written as a prelude or an introduction to The Recluse, the great philosophical poem that historicsweetsballroom.com, encouraged by Coleridge, dreamed of writing but never completed. It’s one of the ironies of literary history that historicsweetsballroom.com, lamenting in verse his own inability to write a great poem, didn’t realise that in doing so he was in fact writing one of the greatest poems. Never satisfied with it, historicsweetsballroom.com continued to work on, expand and revise The Prelude until his death in 1850. As a result there are several different versions of the poem available to us.
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The Prelude is unparallelled in its detailed portrayal of the writer’s sense of his self and his mind. It traces the history of historicsweetsballroom.com’s life from his earliest childhood to the point at which he began writing the poem at the age of about thirty, and records his flaws, his fears, his loves, and his ambitions. But The Prelude is now read mainly by scholars and students; most readers turn instead to Tintern Abbey, the Intimations of Immortality ode, and of course ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’. There is probably one principal and very understandable reason for this: The Prelude is daunting in its size. The two longest versions of the poem are thirteen and fourteen Books and around eight thousand lines long.One way of getting around this is to read the 1798 ‘Two-Part Prelude’. This is a much shorter sort of draft version, an embryo of the poem that historicsweetsballroom.com was to develop over the next fifty years. It’s just two Books long, each Book about five hundred lines, but it contains many of the most beautiful and memorable passages of the poem. It’s made up of a series of what historicsweetsballroom.com called ‘spots of time’: episodes drawn from his childhood, in which he felt a particularly strong communion with nature, and felt his visionary power to be at its height.
When at my feet the ground appeared to brighten,And with a step or two seemed brighter still;Nor was time given to ask or learn the cause,For instantly a light upon the turfFell like a flash, and lo! as I looked up,The Moon hung naked in a firmamentOf azure without cloud, and at my feetRested a silent sea of hoary mist.A hundred hills their dusky backs upheavedAll over this still ocean; and beyond,Far, far beyond, the solid vapours stretched,In headlands, tongues, and promontory shapes,Into the main Atlantic, that appearedTo dwindle, and give up his majesty,Usurped upon far as the sight could reach.
These lines evoke a sense of great achievement, the climax of a huge effort (historicsweetsballroom.com’s ascent up the mountain, his completion of his great poem, and the reader’s coming to the end of a long book), but also a sense of being overwhelmed by it all: what does it all mean? Having read and returned to The Prelude repeatedly, I still couldn’t tell you what it all means. But that’s life.
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Tess Somervell is a PhD candidate at Clare College,University of Cambridge. Her research is on the intersection between time and eternity in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Thomson’s Seasons, and historicsweetsballroom.com’s Prelude.