William Wordsworth

The Prelude, Book 12

Imagination And Taste, How Impaired And Restored

LONG time have human ignorance and guilt Detained us, on what spectacles of woe Compelled to look, and inwardly oppressed With sorrow, disappointment, vexing thoughts, Confusion of the judgment, zeal decayed, And, lastly, utter loss of hope itself And things to hope for! Not with these began Our song, and not with these our song must end. Ye motions of delight, that haunt the sides Of the green hills; ye breezes and soft airs, Whose subtle intercourse with breathing flowers, Feelingly watched, might teach Man's haughty race How without Injury to take, to give Without offence; ye who, as if to show The wondrous influence of power gently used, Bend the complying heads of lordly pines, And, with a touch, shift the stupendous clouds Through the whole compass of the sky; ye brooks, Muttering along the stones, a busy noise By day, a quiet sound in silent night; Ye waves, that out of the great deep steal forth In a calm hour to kiss the pebbly shore, Not mute, and then retire, fearing no storm; And you, ye groves, whose ministry it is To interpose the covert of your shades, Even as a sleep, between the heart of man And outward troubles, between man himself, Not seldom, and his own uneasy heart: Oh! that I had a music and a voice Harmonious as your own, that I might tell What ye have done for me. The morning shines, Nor heedeth Man's perverseness; Spring returns,-- I saw the Spring return, and could rejoice, In common with the children of her love, Piping on boughs, or sporting on fresh fields, Or boldly seeking pleasure nearer heaven On wings that navigate cerulean skies. So neither were complacency, nor peace, Nor tender yearnings, wanting for my good Through these distracted times; in Nature still Glorying, I found a counterpoise in her, Which, when the spirit of evil reached its height, Maintained for me a secret happiness. This narrative, my Friend! hath chiefly told Of intellectual power, fostering love, Dispensing truth, and, over men and things, Where reason yet might hesitate, diffusing Prophetic sympathies of genial faith: So was I favoured--such my happy lot-- Until that natural graciousness of mind Gave way to overpressure from the times And their disastrous issues. What availed, When spells forbade the voyager to land, That fragrant notice of a pleasant shore Wafted, at intervals, from many a bower Of blissful gratitude and fearless love? Dare I avow that wish was mine to see, And hope that future times 'would' surely see, The man to come, parted, as by a gulph, From him who had been; that I could no more Trust the elevation which had made me one With the great family that still survives To illuminate the abyss of ages past, Sage, warrior, patriot, hero; for it seemed That their best virtues were not free from taint Of something false and weak, that could not stand The open eye of Reason. Then I said, "Go to the Poets, they will speak to thee More perfectly of purer creatures;--yet If reason be nobility in man, Can aught be more ignoble than the man Whom they delight in, blinded as he is By prejudice, the miserable slave Of low ambition or distempered love?" In such strange passion, if I may once more Review the past, I warred against myself-- A bigot to a new idolatry-- Like a cowled monk who hath forsworn the world, Zealously laboured to cut off my heart From all the sources of her former strength; And as, by simple waving of a wand, The wizard instantaneously dissolves Palace or grove, even so could I unsoul As readily by syllogistic words Those mysteries of being which have made, And shall continue evermore to make, Of the whole human race one brotherhood. What wonder, then, if, to a mind so far Perverted, even the visible Universe Fell under the dominion of a taste Less spiritual, with microscopic view Was scanned, as I had scanned the moral world? O Soul of Nature! excellent and fair! That didst rejoice with me, with whom I, too, Rejoiced through early youth, before the winds And roaring waters, and in lights and shades That marched and countermarched about the hills In glorious apparition, Powers on whom I daily waited, now all eye and now All ear; but never long without the heart Employed, and man's unfolding intellect: O Soul of Nature! that, by laws divine Sustained and governed, still dost overflow With an impassioned life, what feeble ones Walk on this earth! how feeble have I been When thou wert in thy strength! Nor this through stroke Of human suffering, such as justifies Remissness and inaptitude of mind, But through presumption; even in pleasure pleased Unworthily, disliking here, and there Liking; by rules of mimic art transferred To things above all art; but more,--for this, Although a strong infection of the age, Was never much my habit--giving way To a comparison of scene with scene, Bent overmuch on superficial things, Pampering myself with meagre novelties Of colour and proportion; to the moods Of time and season, to the moral power, The affections and the spirit of the place, Insensible. Nor only did the love Of sitting thus in judgment interrupt My deeper feelings, but another cause, More subtle and less easily explained, That almost seems inherent in the creature, A twofold frame of body and of mind. I speak in recollection of a time When the bodily eye, in every stage of life The most despotic of our senses, gained Such strength in 'me' as often held my mind In absolute dominion. Gladly here, Entering upon abstruser argument, Could I endeavour to unfold the means Which Nature studiously employs to thwart This tyranny, summons all the senses each To counteract the other, and themselves, And makes them all, and the objects with which all Are conversant, subservient in their turn To the great ends of Liberty and Power. But leave we this: enough that my delights (Such as they were) were sought insatiably. Vivid the transport, vivid though not profound; I roamed from hill to hill, from rock to rock, Still craving combinations of new forms, New pleasure, wider empire for the sight, Proud of her own endowments, and rejoiced To lay the inner faculties asleep. Amid the turns and counterturns, the strife And various trials of our complex being, As we grow up, such thraldom of that sense Seems hard to shun. And yet I knew a maid, A young enthusiast, who escaped these bonds; Her eye was not the mistress of her heart; Far less did rules prescribed by passive taste, Or barren intermeddling subtleties, Perplex her mind; but, wise as women are When genial circumstance hath favoured them, She welcomed what was given, and craved no more; Whate'er the scene presented to her view That was the best, to that she was attuned By her benign simplicity of life, And through a perfect happiness of soul, Whose variegated feelings were in this Sisters, that they were each some new delight. Birds in the bower, and lambs in the green field, Could they have known her, would have loved; methought Her very presence such a sweetness breathed, That flowers, and trees, and even the silent hills, And everything she looked on, should have had An intimation how she bore herself Towards them and to all creatures. God delights In such a being; for, her common thoughts Are piety, her life is gratitude. Even like this maid, before I was called forth From the retirement of my native hills, I loved whate'er I saw: nor lightly loved, But most intensely; never dreamt of aught More grand, more fair, more exquisitely framed Than those few nooks to which my happy feet Were limited. I had not at that time Lived long enough, nor in the least survived The first diviner influence of this world, As it appears to unaccustomed eyes. Worshipping them among the depth of things, As piety ordained, could I submit To measured admiration, or to aught That should preclude humility and love? I felt, observed, and pondered; did not judge, Yea, never thought of judging; with the gift Of all this glory filled and satisfied. And afterwards, when through the gorgeous Alps Roaming, I carried with me the same heart: In truth, the degradation--howsoe'er Induced, effect, in whatsoe'er degree, Of custom that prepares a partial scale In which the little oft outweighs the great; Or any other cause that hath been named; Or lastly, aggravated by the times And their impassioned sounds, which well might make The milder minstrelsies of rural scenes Inaudible--was transient; I had known Too forcibly, too early in my life, Visitings of imaginative power For this to last: I shook the habit off Entirely and for ever, and again In Nature's presence stood, as now I stand, A sensitive being, a 'creative' soul. There are in our existence spots of time, That with distinct pre-eminence retain A renovating virtue, whence--depressed By false opinion and contentious thought, Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight, In trivial occupations, and the round Of ordinary intercourse--our minds Are nourished and invisibly repaired; A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced, That penetrates, enables us to mount, When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen. This efficacious spirit chiefly lurks Among those passages of life that give Profoundest knowledge to what point, and how, The mind is lord and master--outward sense The obedient servant of her will. Such moments Are scattered everywhere, taking their date From our first childhood. I remember well, That once, while yet my inexperienced hand Could scarcely hold a bridle, with proud hopes I mounted, and we journeyed towards the hills: An ancient servant of my father's house Was with me, my encourager and guide: We had not travelled long, ere some mischance Disjoined me from my comrade; and, through fear Dismounting, down the rough and stony moor I led my horse, and, stumbling on, at length Came to a bottom, where in former times A murderer had been hung in iron chains. The gibbet-mast had mouldered down, the bones And iron case were gone; but on the turf, Hard by, soon after that fell deed was wrought, Some unknown hand had carved the murderer's name. The monumental letters were inscribed In times long past; but still, from year to year By superstition of the neighbourhood, The grass is cleared away, and to this hour The characters are fresh and visible: A casual glance had shown them, and I fled, Faltering and faint, and ignorant of the road: Then, reascending the bare common, saw A naked pool that lay beneath the hills, The beacon on the summit, and, more near, A girl, who bore a pitcher on her head, And seemed with difficult steps to force her way Against the blowing wind. It was, in truth, An ordinary sight; but I should need Colours and words that are unknown to man, To paint the visionary dreariness Which, while I looked all round for my lost guide, Invested moorland waste and naked pool, The beacon crowning the lone eminence, The female and her garments vexed and tossed By the strong wind. When, in the blessed hours Of early love, the loved one at my side, I roamed, in daily presence of this scene, Upon the naked pool and dreary crags, And on the melancholy beacon, fell A spirit of pleasure and youth's golden gleam; And think ye not with radiance more sublime For these remembrances, and for the power They had left behind? So feeling comes in aid Of feeling, and diversity of strength Attends us, if but once we have been strong. Oh! mystery of man, from what a depth Proceed thy honours. I am lost, but see In simple childhood something of the base On which thy greatness stands; but this I feel, That from thyself it comes, that thou must give, Else never canst receive. The days gone by Return upon me almost from the dawn Of life: the hiding-places of man's power Open; I would approach them, but they close. I see by glimpses now; when age comes on, May scarcely see at all; and I would give, While yet we may, as far as words can give, Substance and life to what I feel, enshrining, Such is my hope, the spirit of the Past For future restoration.--Yet another Of these memorials:-- One Christmas-time, On the glad eve of its dear holidays, Feverish, and tired, and restless, I went forth Into the fields, impatient for the sight Of those led palfreys that should bear us home; My brothers and myself. There rose a crag, That, from the meeting-point of two highways Ascending, overlooked them both, far stretched; Thither, uncertain on which road to fix My expectation, thither I repaired, Scout-like, and gained the summit; 'twas a day Tempestuous, dark, and wild, and on the grass I sate half-sheltered by a naked wall; Upon my right hand couched a single sheep, Upon my left a blasted hawthorn stood; With those companions at my side, I watched Straining my eyes intensely, as the mist Gave intermitting prospect of the copse And plain beneath. Ere we to school returned,-- That dreary time,--ere we had been ten days Sojourners in my father's house, he died; And I and my three brothers, orphans then, Followed his body to the grave. The event, With all the sorrow that it brought, appeared A chastisement; and when I called to mind That day so lately past, when from the crag I looked in such anxiety of hope; With trite reflections of morality, Yet in the deepest passion, I bowed low To God, Who thus corrected my desires; And, afterwards, the wind and sleety rain, And all the business of the elements, The single sheep, and the one blasted tree, And the bleak music from that old stone wall, The noise of wood and water, and the mist That on the line of each of those two roads Advanced in such indisputable shapes; All these were kindred spectacles and sounds To which I oft repaired, and thence would drink, As at a fountain; and on winter nights, Down to this very time, when storm and rain Beat on my roof, or, haply, at noon-day, While in a grove I walk, whose lofty trees, Laden with summer's thickest foliage, rock In a strong wind, some working of the spirit, Some inward agitations thence are brought, Whate'er their office, whether to beguile Thoughts over busy in the course they took, Or animate an hour of vacant ease.

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