Close Reading: Wordsworth

William Wordsworth, from Preface to the Third Edition of the Lyrical Ballads

Lyrical Ballads orig. published in 1798. Preface orig. published 1800; revised version in 3rd edition of LBs, 1802.

I am sensible, that there would be something like impropriety in abruptly obtruding upon the Public, without a few words of introduction, poems that are so materially different from those upon which general approbation is at present bestowed. (Perkins 320).

Compare Wordsworth to Collins to Find that Difference:

from Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects, by William Collins, 1747:

Ode to Fear

Thou, to whom the World unknown
With all its shadowy Shapes is shown;
Who see'st appall'd th'unreal Scene,
While Fancy lifts the Veil between:
Ah Fear! Ah frantic Fear!
I see, I see thee near.
I know thy hurried Step, thy haggard Eye!
Like Thee I start, like Thee disorder'd fly,
For lo what Monsters in thy Train appear!
Danger, whose Limbs of Giant Mold
What mortal Eye can fix'd behold?
Who stalks his Round, an hideous Form,
Howling amidst the Midnight Storm,
Or throws him on the ridgy Steep
Of some loose hanging Rock to sleep:
And with him thousand Phantoms join'd,
Who prompt to Deeds accurs'd the Mind:
And those, the Fiends, who near allied,
O'er Nature's Wounds, and Wrecks preside;
Whils't Vengeance, in the lurid Air,
Lifts her red Arm, expos'd and bare:
On whom that rav'ning Brood of Fate,
Who lap the Blood of Sorrow, wait;
Who, Fear, this ghastly Train can see,
And look not madly wild, like Thee?

Compare Collins's Fear Ode to an episode which appears in Wordsworth's Two-Part Prelude of 1799--never published (its title comes from us, not WW), and in the thirteen-book, 1805 version of the poem (Wordsworth finished writing it in 1805, but did not publish it and continued to revise it throughout his lifetime), and in Wordsworth's fourteen-book poem posthumously entitled The Prelude by his wife, Mary Wordsworth (published in 1850).

The Prelude (1850), Book First, lines 357-400:

One summer evening (led by [Nature]) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon's utmost boundary; for above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace;<1> lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct
Upreared its head.<2> I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,<3>--
And through the meadows homweard wen, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o'er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

Norton Anthology (Sixth edition) pp. 215-216; Perkins pp. 217-218.

Changes between Wordsworth's Early Poems and Late

William Wordsworth revised The Prelude throughout his life. What changes in belief do these three versions of the same passage show? changes in his religious beliefs? philosophy of existence?

from The Two-Part Prelude of 1799:

The mind of man is fashioned and built up
Even as a strain of music. I believe
That their are spirits which, when they would form
A favored being, from his very dawn
Of infancy do open out the clouds
As at the touch of lightning, seeking him
With gentle visitation--quiet powers,
Retired, and seldom recognized, yet kind,
And to the very meanest not unknown--
With me, though rarely, in my boyish days
They communed. Others too there are, who use,
Yet haply aiming at the self-same end,
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable--and of their school was I.

from The Prelude (1805):

The mind of man is framed even like the breath
And harmony of music. There is a dark
Invisible workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, and makes them move
In one society. Ah me, that all
The terrors, all the early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes, that all
The thoughts and feelings which have been infused
Into my mind, should ever have made up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself. Praise to the end,
Thanks likewise for the means! But I believe
That Nature, oftentimes, when she would frame
A favored being, from his earliest dawn
Of infancy doth open out the clouds
As at the touch of lightning, seeking him
With gentlest visitation; not the less,
Though haply aiming at the self-same end,
Does it delight her sometimes to employ
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable--and so she dealt with me.

from The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet's Mind: An Autobiographical Poem (1850).

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e'er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!
Thanks to the means which Nature deigned to employ;
Whether her fearless visitings, or those
That came with soft alarm, like hurtless light
Opening the peaceful clouds; or she may use
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable, as best might suit her aim.

<1>A light sailing ship; any of various ship's boats.
<2>Wordsworth faces the shore as he rows. While he is still close to shore, a "craggy steep" hides the higher summits behind. But as he moves out into the lake, the changing angle of vision allows him to see over the "craggy steep." A "huge peak" seems suddenly to rise up, and the farther he rows the larger it appears. [Perkins.]