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.

William Wordsworth
Full title:
Growth of a Poet's Mind; An Autobiographical Poem
Romantic literature
Literary period:

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