The Prelude (Book I)
The subtitle of The Prelude is ‘Growth of a Poet’s Mind’. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) began writing his autobiographical blank verse epic in 1798, working on it intermittently until 1839. It was published posthumously in 1850. Book I establishes Wordsworth’s sense of life as a journey, both literal – as the poet leaves the city for his beloved Lake District – and metaphorical, as he searches for a subject to write about that will justify his decision to become a poet: he eventually decides to focus on his own life. His vivid accounts of boyhood incidents – skating on frozen lakes in the winter twilight, flying kites, playing cards – give the poem an immediacy, justifying his description of his early years as the ‘seed-time’ of his ‘soul’. The poem is suffused with the beauty of the Cumberland landscape, which for the most part is soothing and benevolent, characterised by the ‘blessing’ of the ‘gentle breeze’ that Wordsworth describes in the poem’s opening lines. Crucially, however, there are also hints of nature’s more troubling power, most notably in the ‘boat-stealing’ episode where the young Wordsworth is struck by the ‘huge and mighty forms’ of the mountains that loom above him as fearsome, admonitory presences. The poem can be seen as a response to John Milton’s attempt to ‘justify the ways of God to man’ in his great poem Paradise Lost: Wordsworth’s justification of his poetic vocation was an audacious attempt to make the epic personal, giving the genre a new psychological focus.
- Article by:
- Stephanie Forward
Dr Stephanie Forward explains the key ideas and influences of Romanticism, and considers their place in the work of writers including Wordsworth, Blake, P B Shelley and Keats.
- Article by:
- Philip Shaw
Professor Philip Shaw considers the composition of 'Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey', and explains how Wordsworth uses nature to explore ideas of connection and unity.
- Article by:
- George Norton
George Norton's close reading of William Blake’s 'The Tyger' considers the poem's imagery through 18th-century industrial and political revolutions and moral literature.
Related collection items
A poem by Robert Burns (1759-1796). Towards the end of his short life, Burns contributed many songs to James ...
A poem in Spenserian stanzas by Lord Byron (1788-1824), Cantos I and II appeared in 1812, Canto III in 1816 and ...
‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’ is a sonnet by William Wordsworth (1770-1850) ...
Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) entertaining mock-epic version of the famous Don Juan legend (1819-24) proved highly ...