William Wordsworth

The Prelude, Book 13

Imagination And Taste, How Impaired And Restored

FROM Nature doth emotion come, and moods Of calmness equally are Nature's gift: This is her glory; these two attributes Are sister horns that constitute her strength. Hence Genius, born to thrive by interchange Of peace and excitation, finds in her His best and purest friend; from her receives That energy by which he seeks the truth, From her that happy stillness of the mind Which fits him to receive it when unsought. Such benefit the humblest intellects Partake of, each in their degree; 'tis mine To speak, what I myself have known and felt; Smooth task! for words find easy way, inspired By gratitude, and confidence in truth. Long time in search of knowledge did I range The field of human life, in heart and mind Benighted; but, the dawn beginning now To re-appear, 'twas proved that not in vain I had been taught to reverence a Power That is the visible quality and shape And image of right reason; that matures Her processes by steadfast laws; gives birth To no impatient or fallacious hopes, No heat of passion or excessive zeal, No vain conceits; provokes to no quick turns Of self-applauding intellect; but trains To meekness, and exalts by humble faith; Holds up before the mind intoxicate With present objects, and the busy dance Of things that pass away, a temperate show Of objects that endure; and by this course Disposes her, when over-fondly set On throwing off incumbrances, to seek In man, and in the frame of social life, Whate'er there is desirable and good Of kindred permanence, unchanged in form And function, or, through strict vicissitude Of life and death, revolving. Above all Were re-established now those watchful thoughts Which, seeing little worthy or sublime In what the Historian's pen so much delights To blazon--power and energy detached From moral purpose--early tutored me To look with feelings of fraternal love Upon the unassuming things that hold A silent station in this beauteous world. Thus moderated, thus composed, I found Once more in Man an object of delight, Of pure imagination, and of love; And, as the horizon of my mind enlarged, Again I took the intellectual eye For my instructor, studious more to see Great truths, than touch and handle little ones. Knowledge was given accordingly; my trust Became more firm in feelings that had stood The test of such a trial; clearer far My sense of excellence--of right and wrong: The promise of the present time retired Into its true proportion; sanguine schemes, Ambitious projects, pleased me less; I sought For present good in life's familiar face, And built thereon my hopes of good to come. With settling judgments now of what would last And what would disappear; prepared to find Presumption, folly, madness, in the men Who thrust themselves upon the passive world As Rulers of the world; to see in these, Even when the public welfare is their aim, Plans without thought, or built on theories Vague and unsound; and having brought the books Of modern statists to their proper test, Life, human life, with all its sacred claims Of sex and age, and heaven-descended rights, Mortal, or those beyond the reach of death; And having thus discerned how dire a thing Is worshipped in that idol proudly named "The Wealth of Nations," 'where' alone that wealth Is lodged, and how increased; and having gained A more judicious knowledge of the worth And dignity of individual man, No composition of the brain, but man Of whom we read, the man whom we behold With our own eyes--I could not but inquire-- Not with less interest than heretofore, But greater, though in spirit more subdued-- Why is this glorious creature to be found One only in ten thousand? What one is, Why may not millions be? What bars are thrown By Nature in the way of such a hope? Our animal appetites and daily wants, Are these obstructions insurmountable? If not, then others vanish into air. "Inspect the basis of the social pile: Inquire," said I, "how much of mental power And genuine virtue they possess who live By bodily toil, labour exceeding far Their due proportion, under all the weight Of that injustice which upon ourselves Ourselves entail." Such estimate to frame I chiefly looked (what need to look beyond?) Among the natural abodes of men, Fields with their rural works; recalled to mind My earliest notices; with these compared The observations made in later youth, And to that day continued.--For, the time Had never been when throes of mighty Nations And the world's tumult unto me could yield, How far soe'er transported and possessed, Full measure of content; but still I craved An intermingling of distinct regards And truths of individual sympathy Nearer ourselves. Such often might be gleaned From the great City, else it must have proved To me a heart-depressing wilderness; But much was wanting: therefore did I turn To you, ye pathways, and ye lonely roads; Sought you enriched with everything I prized, With human kindnesses and simple joys. Oh! next to one dear state of bliss, vouchsafed, Alas! to few in this untoward world, The bliss of walking daily in life's prime Through field or forest with the maid we love, While yet our hearts are young, while yet we breathe Nothing but happiness, in some lone nook, Deep vale, or anywhere, the home of both, From which it would be misery to stir: Oh! next to such enjoyment of our youth, In my esteem, next to such dear delight, Was that of wandering on from day to day Where I could meditate in peace, and cull Knowledge that step by step might lead me on To wisdom; or, as lightsome as a bird Wafted upon the wind from distant lands, Sing notes of greeting to strange fields or groves, Which lacked not voice to welcome me in turn: And, when that pleasant toil had ceased to please, Converse with men, where if we meet a face We almost meet a friend, on naked heaths With long long ways before, by cottage bench, Or well-spring where the weary traveller rests. Who doth not love to follow with his eye The windings of a public way? the sight, Familiar object as it is, hath wrought On my imagination since the morn Of childhood, when a disappearing line, One daily present to my eyes, that crossed The naked summit of a far-off hill Beyond the limits that my feet had trod, Was like an invitation into space Boundless, or guide into eternity. Yes, something of the grandeur which invests The mariner, who sails the roaring sea Through storm and darkness, early in my mind Surrounded, too, the wanderers of the earth; Grandeur as much, and loveliness far more. Awed have I been by strolling Bedlamites; From many other uncouth vagrants (passed In fear) have walked with quicker step; but why Take note of this? When I began to enquire, To watch and question those I met, and speak Without reserve to them, the lonely roads Were open schools in which I daily read With most delight the passions of mankind, Whether by words, looks, sighs, or tears, revealed; There saw into the depth of human souls, Souls that appear to have no depth at all To careless eyes. And--now convinced at heart How little those formalities, to which With overweening trust alone we give The name of Education, have to do With real feeling and just sense; how vain A correspondence with the talking world Proves to the most; and called to make good search If man's estate, by doom of Nature yoked With toil, be therefore yoked with ignorance; If virtue be indeed so hard to rear, And intellectual strength so rare a boon-- I prized such walks still more, for there I found Hope to my hope, and to my pleasure peace And steadiness, and healing and repose To every angry passion. There I heard, From mouths of men obscure and lowly, truths Replete with honour; sounds in unison With loftiest promises of good and fair. There are who think that strong affection, love Known by whatever name, is falsely deemed A gift, to use a term which they would use, Of vulgar nature; that its growth requires Retirement, leisure, language purified By manners studied and elaborate; That whoso feels such passion in its strength Must live within the very light and air Of courteous usages refined by art. True is it, where oppression worse than death Salutes the being at his birth, where grace Of culture hath been utterly unknown, And poverty and labour in excess From day to day pre-occupy the ground Of the affections, and to Nature's self Oppose a deeper nature; there, indeed, Love cannot be; nor does it thrive with ease Among the close and overcrowded haunts Of cities, where the human heart is sick, And the eye feeds it not, and cannot feed. --Yes, in those wanderings deeply did I feel How we mislead each other; above all, How books mislead us, seeking their reward From judgments of the wealthy Few, who see By artificial lights; how they debase The Many for the pleasure of those Few; Effeminately level down the truth To certain general notions, for the sake Of being understood at once, or else Through want of better knowledge in the heads That framed them; flattering self-conceit with words, That, while they most ambitiously set forth Extrinsic differences, the outward marks Whereby society has parted man From man, neglect the universal heart. Here, calling up to mind what then I saw, A youthful traveller, and see daily now In the familiar circuit of my home, Here might I pause, and bend in reverence To Nature, and the power of human minds, To men as they are men within themselves. How oft high service is performed within, When all the external man is rude in show,-- Not like a temple rich with pomp and gold, But a mere mountain chapel, that protects Its simple worshippers from sun and shower. Of these, said I, shall be my song; of these, If future years mature me for the task, Will I record the praises, making verse Deal boldly with substantial things; in truth And sanctity of passion, speak of these, That justice may be done, obeisance paid Where it is due: thus haply shall I teach, Inspire; through unadulterated ears Pour rapture, tenderness, and hope,--my theme No other than the very heart of man, As found among the best of those who live-- Not unexalted by religious faith, Nor uninformed by books, good books, though few-- In Nature's presence: thence may I select Sorrow, that is not sorrow, but delight; And miserable love, that is not pain To hear of, for the glory that redounds Therefrom to human kind, and what we are. Be mine to follow with no timid step Where knowledge leads me: it shall be my pride That I have dared to tread this holy ground, Speaking no dream, but things oracular; Matter not lightly to be heard by those Who to the letter of the outward promise Do read the invisible soul; by men adroit In speech, and for communion with the world Accomplished; minds whose faculties are then Most active when they are most eloquent, And elevated most when most admired. Men may be found of other mould than these, Who are their own upholders, to themselves Encouragement, and energy, and will, Expressing liveliest thoughts in lively words As native passion dictates. Others, too, There are among the walks of homely life Still higher, men for contemplation framed, Shy, and unpractised in the strife of phrase; Meek men, whose very souls perhaps would sink Beneath them, summoned to such intercourse: Theirs is the language of the heavens, the power, The thought, the image, and the silent joy: Words are but under-agents in their souls; When they are grasping with their greatest strength, They do not breathe among them: this I speak In gratitude to God, Who feeds our hearts For His own service; knoweth, loveth us, When we are unregarded by the world. Also, about this time did I receive Convictions still more strong than heretofore, Not only that the inner frame is good, And graciously composed, but that, no less, Nature for all conditions wants not power To consecrate, if we have eyes to see, The outside of her creatures, and to breathe Grandeur upon the very humblest face Of human life. I felt that the array Of act and circumstance, and visible form, Is mainly to the pleasure of the mind What passion makes them; that meanwhile the forms Of Nature have a passion in themselves, That intermingles with those works of man To which she summons him; although the works Be mean, have nothing lofty of their own; And that the Genius of the Poet hence May boldly take his way among mankind Wherever Nature leads; that he hath stood By Nature's side among the men of old, And so shall stand for ever. Dearest Friend! If thou partake the animating faith That Poets, even as Prophets, each with each Connected in a mighty scheme of truth, Have each his own peculiar faculty, Heaven's gift, a sense that fits him to perceive Objects unseen before, thou wilt not blame The humblest of this band who dares to hope That unto him hath also been vouchsafed An insight that in some sort he possesses, A privilege whereby a work of his, Proceeding from a source of untaught things, Creative and enduring, may become A power like one of Nature's. To a hope Not less ambitious once among the wilds Of Sarum's Plain, my youthful spirit was raised; There, as I ranged at will the pastoral downs Trackless and smooth, or paced the bare white roads Lengthening in solitude their dreary line, Time with his retinue of ages fled Backwards, nor checked his flight until I saw Our dim ancestral Past in vision clear; Saw multitudes of men, and, here and there, A single Briton clothed in wolf-skin vest, With shield and stone-axe, stride across the wold; The voice of spears was heard, the rattling spear Shaken by arms of mighty bone, in strength, Long mouldered, of barbaric majesty. I called on Darkness--but before the word Was uttered, midnight darkness seemed to take All objects from my sight; and lo! again The Desert visible by dismal flames; It is the sacrificial altar, fed With living men--how deep the groans! the voice Of those that crowd the giant wicker thrills The monumental hillocks, and the pomp Is for both worlds, the living and the dead. At other moments--(for through that wide waste Three summer days I roamed) where'er the Plain Was figured o'er with circles, lines, or mounds, That yet survive, a work, as some divine, Shaped by the Druids, so to represent Their knowledge of the heavens, and image forth The constellations--gently was I charmed Into a waking dream, a reverie That, with believing eyes, where'er I turned, Beheld long-bearded teachers, with white wands Uplifted, pointing to the starry sky, Alternately, and plain below, while breath Of music swayed their motions, and the waste Rejoiced with them and me in those sweet sounds. This for the past, and things that may be viewed Or fancied in the obscurity of years From monumental hints: and thou, O Friend! Pleased with some unpremeditated strains That served those wanderings to beguile, hast said That then and there my mind had exercised Upon the vulgar forms of present things, The actual world of our familiar days, Yet higher power; had caught from them a tone, An image, and a character, by books Not hitherto reflected. Call we this A partial judgment--and yet why? for 'then' We were as strangers; and I may not speak Thus wrongfully of verse, however rude, Which on thy young imagination, trained In the great City, broke like light from far. Moreover, each man's Mind is to herself Witness and judge; and I remember well That in life's every-day appearances I seemed about this time to gain clear sight Of a new world--a world, too, that was fit To be transmitted, and to other eyes Made visible; as ruled by those fixed laws Whence spiritual dignity originates, Which do both give it being and maintain A balance, an ennobling interchange Of action from without and from within; The excellence, pure function, and best power Both of the objects seen, and eye that sees.

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