The Prelude: Book 2: School-time (Continued)

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Thus far, O Friend! have we, though leaving muchUnvisited, endeavour'd to retraceMy life through its first years, and measured backThe way I travell'd when I first beganTo love the woods and fields; the passion yetWas in its birth, sustain'd, as might befal,By nourishment that came unsought, for still,From week to week, from month to month, we liv'dA round of tumult: duly were our gamesProlong'd in summer till the day-light fail'd;No chair remain'd before the doors, the benchAnd threshold steps were empty; fast asleepThe Labourer, and the old Man who had sate,A later lingerer, yet the revelryContinued, and the loud uproar: at last,When all the ground was dark, and the huge cloudsWere edged with twinkling stars, to bed we went,With weary joints, and with a beating mind.Ah! is there one who ever has been young,Nor needs a monitory voice to tameThe pride of virtue, and of intellect?And is there one, the wisest and the bestOf all mankind, who does not sometimes wishFor things which cannot be, who would not give,If so he might, to duty and to truthThe eagerness of infantine desire?A tranquillizing spirit presses nowOn my corporeal frame: so wide appearsThe vacancy between me and those days,Which yet have such self-presence in my mindThat, sometimes, when I think of them, I seemTwo consciousnesses, conscious of myselfAnd of some other Being. A grey StoneOf native rock, left midway in the SquareOf our small market Village, was the homeAnd centre of these joys, and when, return'dAfter long absence, thither I repair'd,I found that it was split, and gone to buildA smart Assembly-room that perk'd and flar'dWith wash and rough-cast elbowing the groundWhich had been ours. But let the fiddle scream,And be ye happy! yet, my Friends! I knowThat more than one of you will think with meOf those soft starry nights, and that old DameFrom whom the stone was nam'd who there had sateAnd watch'd her Table with its huckster's waresAssiduous, thro' the length of sixty years.

We ran a boisterous race; the year span roundWith giddy motion. But the time approach'dThat brought with it a regular desireFor calmer pleasures, when the beauteous formsOf Nature were collaterally attach'dTo every scheme of holiday delight,And every boyish sport, less grateful else,And languidly pursued.

When summer cameIt was the pastime of our afternoonsTo beat along the plain of WindermereWith rival oars, and the selected bourneWas now an Island musical with birdsThat sang for ever; now a Sister IsleBeneath the oaks' umbrageous covert, sownWith lillies of the valley, like a field;And now a third small Island where remain'dAn old stone Table, and a moulder'd Cave,A Hermit's history. In such a race,So ended, disappointment could be none,Uneasiness, or pain, or jealousy:We rested in the shade, all pleas'd alike,Conquer'd and Conqueror. Thus the pride of strength,And the vain-glory of superior skillWere interfus'd with objects which subdu'dAnd temper'd them, and gradually produc'dA quiet independence of the heart.And to my Friend, who knows me, I may add,Unapprehensive of reproof, that henceEnsu'd a diffidence and modesty,And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much,The self-sufficing power of solitude.

No delicate viands sapp'd our bodily strength;More than we wish'd we knew the blessing thenOf vigorous hunger, for our daily mealsWere frugal, Sabine fare! and then, excludeA little weekly stipend, and we livedThrough three divisions of the quarter'd yearIn pennyless poverty. But now, to SchoolReturn'd, from the half-yearly holidays,We came with purses more profusely fill'd,Allowance which abundantly suffic'dTo gratify the palate with repastsMore costly than the Dame of whom I spake,That ancient Woman, and her board supplied.Hence inroads into distant Vales, and longExcursions far away among the hills,Hence rustic dinners on the cool green ground,Or in the woods, or near a river side,Or by some shady fountain, while soft airsAmong the leaves were stirring, and the sunUnfelt, shone sweetly round us in our joy.

Nor is my aim neglected, if I tellHow twice in the long length of those half-yearsWe from our funds, perhaps, with bolder handDrew largely, anxious for one day, at least,To feel the motion of the galloping Steed;And with the good old Inn-keeper, in truth,On such occasion sometimes we employ'dSly subterfuge; for the intended boundOf the day's journey was too distant farFor any cautious man, a Structure famedBeyond its neighbourhood, the antique WallsOf that large Abbey which within the valeOf Nightshade, to St. Mary's honour built,Stands yet, a mouldering Pile, with fractured Arch,Belfry, and Images, and living Trees,A holy Scene! along the smooth green turfOur Horses grazed: to more than inland peaceLeft by the sea wind passing overhead(Though wind of roughest temper) trees and towersMay in that Valley oftentimes be seen,Both silent and both motionless alike;Such is the shelter that is there, and suchThe safeguard for repose and quietness.

Our steeds remounted, and the summons given,With whip and spur we by the Chauntry flewIn uncouth race, and left the cross-legg'd Knight,And the stone-Abbot, and that single WrenWhich one day sang so sweetly in the NaveOf the old Church, that, though from recent showersThe earth was comfortless, and, touch'd by faintInternal breezes, sobbings of the place,And respirations, from the roofless wallsThe shuddering ivy dripp'd large drops, yet still,So sweetly 'mid the gloom the invisible BirdSang to itself, that there I could have madeMy dwelling-place, and liv'd for ever thereTo hear such music. Through the Walls we flewAnd down the valley, and a circuit madeIn wantonness of heart, through rough and smoothWe scamper'd homeward. Oh! ye Rocks and Streams,And that still Spirit of the evening air!Even in this joyous time I sometimes feltYour presence, when with slacken'd step we breath'dAlong the sides of the steep hills, or when,Lighted by gleams of moonlight from the sea,We beat with thundering hoofs the level sand.

Upon the Eastern Shore of Windermere,Above the crescent of a pleasant Bay,There stood an Inn, no homely-featured Shed,Brother of the surrounding Cottages,But 'twas a splendid place, the door besetWith Chaises, Grooms, and Liveries, and withinDecanters, Glasses, and the blood-red Wine.In ancient times, or ere the Hall was builtOn the large Island, had this Dwelling beenMore worthy of a Poet's love, a Hut,Proud of its one bright fire, and sycamore shade.But though the rhymes were gone which once inscribedThe threshold, and large golden charactersOn the blue-frosted Signboard had usurp'dThe place of the old Lion, in contemptAnd mockery of the rustic painter's hand,Yet to this hour the spot to me is dearWith all its foolish pomp. The garden layUpon a slope surmounted by the plainOf a small Bowling-green; beneath us stoodA grove; with gleams of water through the treesAnd over the tree-tops; nor did we wantRefreshment, strawberries and mellow cream.And there, through half an afternoon, we play'dOn the smooth platform, and the shouts we sentMade all the mountains ring. But ere the fallOf night, when in our pinnace we return'dOver the dusky Lake, and to the beachOf some small Island steer'd our course with one,The Minstrel of our troop, and left him there,And row'd off gently, while he blew his fluteAlone upon the rock; Oh! then the calmAnd dead still water lay upon my mindEven with a weight of pleasure, and the skyNever before so beautiful, sank downInto my heart, and held me like a dream.

Thus daily were my sympathies enlarged,And thus the common range of visible thingsGrew dear to me: already I beganTo love the sun, a Boy I lov'd the sun,Not as I since have lov'd him, as a pledgeAnd surety of our earthly life, a lightWhich while we view we feel we are alive;But, for this cause, that I had seen him layHis beauty on the morning hills, had seenThe western mountain touch his setting orb,In many a thoughtless hour, when, from excessOf happiness, my blood appear'd to flowWith its own pleasure, and I breath'd with joy.And from like feelings, humble though intense,To patriotic and domestic loveAnalogous, the moon to me was dear;For I would dream away my purposes,Standing to look upon her while she hungMidway between the hills, as if she knewNo other region; but belong'd to thee,Yea, appertain'd by a peculiar rightTo thee and thy grey huts, my darling Vale!

Those incidental charms which first attach'dMy heart to rural objects, day by dayGrew weaker, and I hasten on to tellHow Nature, intervenient till this time,And secondary, now at length was soughtFor her own sake. But who shall parcel outHis intellect, by geometric rules,Split, like a province, into round and square?Who knows the individual hour in whichHis habits were first sown, even as a seed,Who that shall point, as with a wand, and say,'This portion of the river of my mindCame from yon fountain?' Thou, my Friend! art oneMore deeply read in thy own thoughts; to theeScience appears but, what in truth she is,Not as our glory and our absolute boast,But as a succedaneum, and a propTo our infirmity. Thou art no slaveOf that false secondary power, by which,In weakness, we create distinctions, thenDeem that our puny boundaries are thingsWhich we perceive, and not which we have made.To thee, unblinded by these outward shows,The unity of all has been reveal'dAnd thou wilt doubt with me, less aptly skill'dThan many are to class the cabinetOf their sensations, and, in voluble phrase,Run through the history and birth of each,As of a single independent thing.Hard task to analyse a soul, in which,Not only general habits and desires,But each most obvious and particular thought,Not in a mystical and idle sense,But in the words of reason deeply weigh'd,Hath no beginning.

Bless'd the infant Babe,(For with my best conjectures I would traceThe progress of our Being) blest the Babe,Nurs'd in his Mother's arms, the Babe who sleepsUpon his Mother's breast, who, when his soulClaims manifest kindred with an earthly soul,Doth gather passion from his Mother's eye!Such feelings pass into his torpid lifeLike an awakening breeze, and hence his mindEven [in the first trial of its powers]Is prompt and watchful, eager to combineIn one appearance, all the elementsAnd parts of the same object, else detach'dAnd loth to coalesce. Thus, day by day,Subjected to the discipline of love,His organs and recipient facultiesAre quicken'd, are more vigorous, his mind spreads,Tenacious of the forms which it receives.In one beloved presence, nay and more,In that most apprehensive habitudeAnd those sensations which have been deriv'dFrom this beloved Presence, there existsA virtue which irradiates and exaltsAll objects through all intercourse of sense.No outcast he, bewilder'd and depress'd;Along his infant veins are interfus'dThe gravitation and the filial bondOf nature, that connect him with the world.Emphatically such a Being lives,An inmate of this active universe;From nature largely he receives; nor soIs satisfied, but largely gives again,For feeling has to him imparted strength,And powerful in all sentiments of grief,Of exultation, fear, and joy, his mind,Even as an agent of the one great mind,Creates, creator and receiver both,Working but in alliance with the worksWhich it beholds.--Such, verily, is the firstPoetic spirit of our human life;By uniform control of after yearsIn most abated or suppress'd, in some,Through every change of growth or of decay,Pre-eminent till death.

From early days,Beginning not long after that first timeIn which, a Babe, by intercourse of touch,I held mute dialogues with my Mother's heartI have endeavour'd to display the meansWhereby this infant sensibility,Great birthright of our Being, was in meAugmented and sustain'd. Yet is a pathMore difficult before me, and I fearThat in its broken windings we shall needThe chamois' sinews, and the eagle's wing:For now a trouble came into my mindFrom unknown causes. I was left alone,Seeking the visible world, nor knowing why.The props of my affections were remov'd,And yet the building stood, as if sustain'dBy its own spirit! All that I beheldWas dear to me, and from this cause it came,That now to Nature's finer influxesMy mind lay open, to that more exactAnd intimate communion which our heartsMaintain with the minuter propertiesOf objects which already are belov'd,And of those only. Many are the joysOf youth; but oh! what happiness to liveWhen every hour brings palpable accessOf knowledge, when all knowledge is delight,And sorrow is not there. The seasons came,And every season to my notice broughtA store of transitory qualitiesWhich, but for this most watchful power of loveHad been neglected, left a registerOf permanent relations, else unknown,Hence life, and change, and beauty, solitudeMore active, even, than 'best society',Society made sweet as solitudeBy silent inobtrusive sympathies,And gentle agitations of the mindFrom manifold distinctions, differencePerceived in things, where to the common eye,No difference is; and hence, from the same sourceSublimer joy; for I would walk alone,In storm and tempest, or in starlight nightsBeneath the quiet Heavens; and, at that time,Have felt whate'er there is of power in soundTo breathe an elevated mood, by formOr image unprofaned; and I would stand,Beneath some rock, listening to sounds that areThe ghostly language of the ancient earth,Or make their dim abode in distant winds.Thence did I drink the visionary power.I deem not profitless those fleeting moodsOf shadowy exultation: not for this,That they are kindred to our purer mindAnd intellectual life; but that the soul,Remembering how she felt, but what she feltRemembering not, retains an obscure senseOf possible sublimity, to which,With growing faculties she doth aspire,With faculties still growing, feeling stillThat whatsoever point they gain, they stillHave something to pursue.

And not alone,In grandeur and in tumult, but no lessIn tranquil scenes, that universal powerAnd fitness in the latent qualitiesAnd essences of things, by which the mindIs mov'd by feelings of delight, to meCame strengthen'd with a superadded soul,A virtue not its own. My morning walksWere early; oft, before the hours of SchoolI travell'd round our little Lake, five milesOf pleasant wandering, happy time! more dearFor this, that one was by my side, a FriendThen passionately lov'd; with heart how fullWill he peruse these lines, this page, perhapsA blank to other men! for many yearsHave since flow'd in between us; and our minds,Both silent to each other, at this timeWe live as if those hours had never been.Nor seldom did I lift our cottage latchFar earlier, and before the vernal thrushWas audible, among the hills I sateAlone, upon some jutting eminenceAt the first hour of morning, when the ValeLay quiet in an utter solitude.How shall I trace the history, where seekThe origin of what I then have felt?Oft in these moments such a holy calmDid overspread my soul, that I forgotThat I had bodily eyes, and what I sawAppear'd like something in myself, a dream,A prospect in my mind.

'Twere long to tellWhat spring and autumn, what the winter snows,And what the summer shade, what day and night,The evening and the morning, what my dreamsAnd what my waking thoughts supplied, to nurseThat spirit of religious love in whichI walked with Nature. But let this, at leastBe not forgotten, that I still retain'dMy first creative sensibility,That by the regular action of the worldMy soul was unsubdu'd. A plastic powerAbode with me, a forming hand, at timesRebellious, acting in a devious mood,A local spirit of its own, at warWith general tendency, but for the mostSubservient strictly to the external thingsWith which it commun'd. An auxiliar lightCame from my mind which on the setting sunBestow'd new splendor, the melodious birds,The gentle breezes, fountains that ran on,Murmuring so sweetly in themselves, obey'dA like dominion; and the midnight stormGrew darker in the presence of my eye.Hence by obeisance, my devotion hence,And hence my transport.

Nor should this, perchance,Pass unrecorded, that I still have lov'dThe exercise and produce of a toilThan analytic industry to meMore pleasing, and whose character I deemIs more poetic as resembling moreCreative agency. I mean to speakOf that interminable building rear'dBy observation of affinitiesIn objects where no brotherhood existsTo common minds. My seventeenth year was comeAnd, whether from this habit, rooted nowSo deeply in my mind, or from excessOf the great social principle of life,Coercing all things into sympathy,To unorganic natures I transferr'dMy own enjoyments, or, the power of truthComing in revelation, I convers'dWith things that really are, I, at this timeSaw blessings spread around me like a sea.Thus did my days pass on, and now at lengthFrom Nature and her overflowing soulI had receiv'd so much that all my thoughtsWere steep'd in feeling; I was only thenContented when with bliss ineffableI felt the sentiment of Being spreadO'er all that moves, and all that seemeth still,O'er all, that, lost beyond the reach of thoughtAnd human knowledge, to the human eyeInvisible, yet liveth to the heart,O'er all that leaps, and runs, and shouts, and sings,Or beats the gladsome air, o'er all that glidesBeneath the wave, yea, in the wave itselfAnd mighty depth of waters. Wonder notIf such my transports were; for in all thingsI saw one life, and felt that it was joy.One song they sang, and it was audible,Most audible then when the fleshly ear,O'ercome by grosser prelude of that strain,Forgot its functions, and slept undisturb'd.

If this be error, and another faithFind easier access to the pious mind,Yet were I grossly destitute of allThose human sentiments which make this earthSo dear, if I should fail, with grateful voiceTo speak of you, Ye Mountains and Ye Lakes,And sounding Cataracts! Ye Mists and WindsThat dwell among the hills where I was born.If, in my youth, I have been pure in heart,If, mingling with the world, I am contentWith my own modest pleasures, and have liv'd,With God and Nature communing, remov'dFrom little enmities and low desires,The gift is yours; if in these times of fear,This melancholy waste of hopes o'erthrown,If, 'mid indifference and apathyAnd wicked exultation, when good men,On every side fall off we know not how,To selfishness, disguis'd in gentle namesOf peace, and quiet, and domestic love,Yet mingled, not unwillingly, with sneersOn visionary minds; if in this timeOf dereliction and dismay, I yetDespair not of our nature; but retainA more than Roman confidence, a faithThat fails not, in all sorrow my support,The blessing of my life, the gift is yours,Ye mountains! thine, O Nature! Thou hast fedMy lofty speculations; and in thee,For this uneasy heart of ours I findA never-failing principle of joy,And purest passion.

Thou, my Friend! wert rear'dIn the great City, 'mid far other scenes;But we, by different roads at length have gain'dThe self-same bourne. And for this cause to TheeI speak, unapprehensive of contempt,The insinuated scoff of coward tongues,And all that silent language which so oftIn conversation betwixt man and manBlots from the human countenance all traceOf beauty and of love. For Thou hast soughtThe truth in solitude, and Thou art one,The most intense of Nature's worshippersIn many things my Brother, chiefly hereIn this my deep devotion.

Fare Thee well!Health, and the quiet of a healthful mindAttend thee! seeking oft the haunts of men,And yet more often living with Thyself,And for Thyself, so haply shall thy daysBe many, and a blessing to mankind.

© William Wordsworth