The Prelude: Book 1: Childhood and School-time

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--Was it for thisThat one, the fairest of all Rivers, lov'dTo blend his murmurs with my Nurse's song,And from his alder shades and rocky falls,And from his fords and shallows, sent a voiceThat flow'd along my dreams? For this, didst Thou,O Derwent! travelling over the green PlainsNear my 'sweet Birthplace', didst thou, beauteous StreamMake ceaseless music through the night and dayWhich with its steady cadence, temperingOur human waywardness, compos'd my thoughtsTo more than infant softness, giving me,Among the fretful dwellings of mankind,A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calmThat Nature breathes among the hills and groves.When, having left his Mountains, to the TowersOf Cockermouth that beauteous River came,Behind my Father's House he pass'd, close by,Along the margin of our Terrace Walk.He was a Playmate whom we dearly lov'd.Oh! many a time have I, a five years' Child,A naked Boy, in one delightful Rill,A little Mill-race sever'd from his stream,Made one long bathing of a summer's day,Bask'd in the sun, and plunged, and bask'd againAlternate all a summer's day, or cours'dOver the sandy fields, leaping through grovesOf yellow grunsel, or when crag and hill,The woods, and distant Skiddaw's lofty height,Were bronz'd with a deep radiance, stood aloneBeneath the sky, as if I had been bornOn Indian Plains, and from my Mother's hutHad run abroad in wantonness, to sport,A naked Savage, in the thunder shower.

Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew upFoster'd alike by beauty and by fear;Much favour'd in my birthplace, and no lessIn that beloved Vale to which, erelong,I was transplanted. Well I call to mind('Twas at an early age, ere I had seenNine summers) when upon the mountain slopeThe frost and breath of frosty wind had snapp'dThe last autumnal crocus, 'twas my joyTo wander half the night among the CliffsAnd the smooth Hollows, where the woodcocks ranAlong the open turf. In thought and wishThat time, my shoulder all with springes hung,I was a fell destroyer. On the heightsScudding away from snare to snare, I pliedMy anxious visitation, hurrying on,Still hurrying, hurrying onward; moon and starsWere shining o'er my head; I was alone,And seem'd to be a trouble to the peaceThat was among them. Sometimes it befelIn these night-wanderings, that a strong desireO'erpower'd my better reason, and the birdWhich was the captive of another's toilsBecame my prey; and, when the deed was doneI heard among the solitary hillsLow breathings coming after me, and soundsOf undistinguishable motion, stepsAlmost as silent as the turf they trod.Nor less in springtime when on southern banksThe shining sun had from his knot of leavesDecoy'd the primrose flower, and when the ValesAnd woods were warm, was I a plunderer thenIn the high places, on the lonesome peaksWhere'er, among the mountains and the winds,The Mother Bird had built her lodge. Though meanMy object, and inglorious, yet the endWas not ignoble. Oh! when I have hungAbove the raven's nest, by knots of grassAnd half-inch fissures in the slippery rockBut ill sustain'd, and almost, as it seem'd,Suspended by the blast which blew amain,Shouldering the naked crag; Oh! at that time,While on the perilous ridge I hung alone,With what strange utterance did the loud dry windBlow through my ears! the sky seem'd not a skyOf earth, and with what motion mov'd the clouds!

The mind of Man is fram'd even like the breathAnd harmony of music. There is a darkInvisible workmanship that reconcilesDiscordant elements, and makes them moveIn one society. Ah me! that allThe terrors, all the early miseriesRegrets, vexations, lassitudes, that allThe thoughts and feelings which have been infus'dInto my mind, should ever have made upThe calm existence that is mine when IAm worthy of myself! Praise to the end!Thanks likewise for the means! But I believeThat Nature, oftentimes, when she would frameA favor'd Being, from his earliest dawnOf infancy doth open out the clouds,As at the touch of lightning, seeking himWith gentlest visitation; not the less,Though haply aiming at the self-same end,Does it delight her sometimes to employSeverer interventions, ministryMore palpable, and so she dealt with me.

One evening (surely I was led by her)I went alone into a Shepherd's Boat,A Skiff that to a Willow tree was tiedWithin a rocky Cave, its usual home.'Twas by the shores of Patterdale, a ValeWherein I was a Stranger, thither comeA School-boy Traveller, at the Holidays.Forth rambled from the Village Inn aloneNo sooner had I sight of this small Skiff,Discover'd thus by unexpected chance,Than I unloos'd her tether and embark'd.The moon was up, the Lake was shining clearAmong the hoary mountains; from the ShoreI push'd, and struck the oars and struck againIn cadence, and my little Boat mov'd onEven like a Man who walks with stately stepThough bent on speed. It was an act of stealthAnd troubled pleasure; not without the voiceOf mountain-echoes did my Boat move on,Leaving behind her still on either sideSmall circles glittering idly in the moon,Until they melted all into one trackOf sparkling light. A rocky Steep uproseAbove the Cavern of the Willow treeAnd now, as suited one who proudly row'dWith his best skill, I fix'd a steady viewUpon the top of that same craggy ridge,The bound of the horizon, for behindWas nothing but the stars and the grey sky.She was an elfin Pinnace; lustilyI dipp'd my oars into the silent Lake,And, as I rose upon the stroke, my BoatWent heaving through the water, like a Swan;When from behind that craggy Steep, till thenThe bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,As if with voluntary power instinct,Uprear'd its head. I struck, and struck againAnd, growing still in stature, the huge CliffRose up between me and the stars, and still,With measur'd motion, like a living thing,Strode after me. With trembling hands I turn'd,And through the silent water stole my wayBack to the Cavern of the Willow tree.There, in her mooring-place, I left my Bark,And, through the meadows homeward went, with graveAnd serious thoughts; and after I had seenThat spectacle, for many days, my brainWork'd with a dim and undetermin'd senseOf unknown modes of being; in my thoughtsThere was a darkness, call it solitude,Or blank desertion, no familiar shapesOf hourly objects, images of trees,Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;But huge and mighty Forms that do not liveLike living men mov'd slowly through the mindBy day and were the trouble of my dreams.

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought!That giv'st to forms and images a breathAnd everlasting motion! not in vain,By day or star-light thus from my first dawnOf Childhood didst Thou intertwine for meThe passions that build up our human Soul,Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man,But with high objects, with enduring things,With life and nature, purifying thusThe elements of feeling and of thought,And sanctifying, by such discipline,Both pain and fear, until we recognizeA grandeur in the beatings of the heart.

Nor was this fellowship vouchsaf'd to meWith stinted kindness. In November days,When vapours, rolling down the valleys, madeA lonely scene more lonesome; among woodsAt noon, and 'mid the calm of summer nights,When, by the margin of the trembling Lake,Beneath the gloomy hills I homeward wentIn solitude, such intercourse was mine;'Twas mine among the fields both day and night,And by the waters all the summer long.

And in the frosty season, when the sunWas set, and visible for many a mileThe cottage windows through the twilight blaz'd,I heeded not the summons:--happy timeIt was, indeed, for all of us; to meIt was a time of rapture: clear and loudThe village clock toll'd six; I wheel'd about,Proud and exulting, like an untired horse,That cares not for its home.--All shod with steel,We hiss'd along the polish'd ice, in gamesConfederate, imitative of the chaceAnd woodland pleasures, the resounding horn,The Pack loud bellowing, and the hunted hare.So through the darkness and the cold we flew,And not a voice was idle; with the din,Meanwhile, the precipices rang aloud,The leafless trees, and every icy cragTinkled like iron, while the distant hillsInto the tumult sent an alien soundOf melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars,Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the westThe orange sky of evening died away.

Not seldom from the uproar I retiredInto a silent bay, or sportivelyGlanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,To cut across the image of a starThat gleam'd upon the ice: and oftentimesWhen we had given our bodies to the wind,And all the shadowy banks, on either side,Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning stillThe rapid line of motion; then at onceHave I, reclining back upon my heels,Stopp'd short, yet still the solitary CliffsWheeled by me, even as if the earth had roll'dWith visible motion her diurnal round;Behind me did they stretch in solemn trainFeebler and feebler, and I stood and watch'dTill all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep.

Ye Presences of Nature, in the skyAnd on the earth! Ye Visions of the hills!And Souls of lonely places! can I thinkA vulgar hope was yours when Ye employ'dSuch ministry, when Ye through many a yearHaunting me thus among my boyish sports,On caves and trees, upon the woods and hills,Impress'd upon all forms the charactersOf danger or desire, and thus did makeThe surface of the universal earthWith triumph, and delight, and hope, and fear,Work like a sea?

Not uselessly employ'd,I might pursue this theme through every changeOf exercise and play, to which the yearDid summon us in its delightful round.

We were a noisy crew, the sun in heavenBeheld not vales more beautiful than ours,Nor saw a race in happiness and joyMore worthy of the ground where they were sown.I would record with no reluctant voiceThe woods of autumn and their hazel bowersWith milk-white clusters hung; the rod and line,True symbol of the foolishness of hope,Which with its strong enchantment led us onBy rocks and pools, shut out from every starAll the green summer, to forlorn cascadesAmong the windings of the mountain brooks.--Unfading recollections! at this hourThe heart is almost mine with which I feltFrom some hill-top, on sunny afternoonsThe Kite high up among the fleecy cloudsPull at its rein, like an impatient Courser,Or, from the meadows sent on gusty days,Beheld her breast the wind, then suddenlyDash'd headlong; and rejected by the storm.

Ye lowly Cottages in which we dwelt,A ministration of your own was yours,A sanctity, a safeguard, and a love!Can I forget you, being as ye wereSo beautiful among the pleasant fieldsIn which ye stood? Or can I here forgetThe plain and seemly countenance with whichYe dealt out your plain comforts? Yet had yeDelights and exultations of your own.Eager and never weary we pursuedOur home amusements by the warm peat-fireAt evening; when with pencil and with slate,In square divisions parcell'd out, and allWith crosses and with cyphers scribbled o'er,We schemed and puzzled, head opposed to headIn strife too humble to be named in Verse.Or round the naked table, snow-white deal,Cherry or maple, sate in close array,And to the combat, Lu or Whist, led onthick-ribbed Army; not as in the worldNeglected and ungratefully thrown byEven for the very service they had wrought,But husbanded through many a long campaign.Uncouth assemblage was it, where no fewHad changed their functions, some, plebeian cards,Which Fate beyond the promise of their birthHad glorified, and call'd to representThe persons of departed Potentates.Oh! with what echoes on the Board they fell!Ironic Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, Diamonds, Spades,A congregation piteously akin.Cheap matter did they give to boyish wit,Those sooty knaves, precipitated downWith scoffs and taunts, like Vulcan out of Heaven,The paramount Ace, a moon in her eclipse,Queens, gleaming through their splendour's last decay,And Monarchs, surly at the wrongs sustain'dBy royal visages. Meanwhile, abroadThe heavy rain was falling, or the frostRaged bitterly, with keen and silent tooth,And, interrupting oft the impassion'd game,From Esthwaite's neighbouring Lake the splitting ice,While it sank down towards the water, sent,Among the meadows and the hills, its longAnd dismal yellings, like the noise of wolvesWhen they are howling round the Bothnic Main.

Nor, sedulous as I have been to traceHow Nature by extrinsic passion firstPeopled my mind with beauteous forms or grand,And made me love them, may I well forgetHow other pleasures have been mine, and joysOf subtler origin; how I have felt,Not seldom, even in that tempestuous time,Those hallow'd and pure motions of the senseWhich seem, in their simplicity, to ownAn intellectual charm, that calm delightWhich, if I err not, surely must belongTo those first-born affinities that fitOur new existence to existing things,And, in our dawn of being, constituteThe bond of union betwixt life and joy.

Yes, I remember, when the changeful earth,And twice five seasons on my mind had stamp'dThe faces of the moving year, even then,A Child, I held unconscious intercourseWith the eternal Beauty, drinking inA pure organic pleasure from the linesOf curling mist, or from the level plainOf waters colour'd by the steady clouds.

The Sands of Westmoreland, the Creeks and BaysOf Cumbria's rocky limits, they can tellHow when the Sea threw off his evening shadeAnd to the Shepherd's huts beneath the cragsDid send sweet notice of the rising moon,How I have stood, to fancies such as these,Engrafted in the tenderness of thought,A stranger, linking with the spectacleNo conscious memory of a kindred sight,And bringing with me no peculiar senseOf quietness or peace, yet I have stood,Even while mine eye has mov'd o'er three long leaguesOf shining water, gathering, as it seem'd,Through every hair-breadth of that field of light,New pleasure, like a bee among the flowers.

Thus, often in those fits of vulgar joyWhich, through all seasons, on a child's pursuitsAre prompt attendants, 'mid that giddy blissWhich, like a tempest, works along the bloodAnd is forgotten; even then I feltGleams like the flashing of a shield; the earthAnd common face of Nature spake to meRememberable things; sometimes, 'tis true,By chance collisions and quaint accidentsLike those ill-sorted unions, work suppos'dOf evil-minded fairies, yet not vainNor profitless, if haply they impress'dCollateral objects and appearances,Albeit lifeless then, and doom'd to sleepUntil maturer seasons call'd them forthTo impregnate and to elevate the mind.--And if the vulgar joy by its own weightWearied itself out of the memory,The scenes which were a witness of that joyRemained, in their substantial lineamentsDepicted on the brain, and to the eyeWere visible, a daily sight; and thusBy the impressive discipline of fear,By pleasure and repeated happiness,So frequently repeated, and by forceOf obscure feelings representativeOf joys that were forgotten, these same scenes,So beauteous and majestic in themselves,Though yet the day was distant, did at lengthBecome habitually dear, and allTheir hues and forms were by invisible linksAllied to the affections.

I beganMy story early, feeling as I fear,The weakness of a human love, for daysDisown'd by memory, ere the birth of springPlanting my snowdrops among winter snows.Nor will it seem to thee, my Friend! so promptIn sympathy, that I have lengthen'd out,With fond and feeble tongue, a tedious tale.Meanwhile, my hope has been that I might fetchInvigorating thoughts from former years,Might fix the wavering balance of my wind,And haply meet reproaches, too, whose powerMay spur me on, in manhood now mature,To honorable toil. Yet should these hopesBe vain, and thus should neither I be taughtTo understand myself, nor thou to knowWith better knowledge how the heart was fram'dOf him thou lovest, need I dread from theeHarsh judgments, if I am so loth to quitThose recollected hours that have the charmOf visionary things, and lovely formsAnd sweet sensations that throw back our lifeAnd almost make our Infancy itselfA visible scene, on which the sun is shining?

One end hereby at least hath been attain'd,My mind hath been revived, and if this moodDesert me not, I will forthwith bring down,Through later years, the story of my life.The road lies plain before me; 'tis a themeSingle and of determined bounds; and henceI chuse it rather at this time, than workOf ampler or more varied argument.

© William Wordsworth