William Wordsworth

The Prelude, Book 14


In one of those excursions (may they ne'er Fade from remembrance!) through the Northern tracts Of Cambria ranging with a youthful friend, I left Bethgelert's huts at couching-time, And westward took my way, to see the sun Rise, from the top of Snowdon. To the door Of a rude cottage at the mountain's base We came, and roused the shepherd who attends The adventurous stranger's steps, a trusty guide; Then, cheered by short refreshment, sallied forth. It was a close, warm, breezeless summer night, Wan, dull, and glaring, with a dripping fog Low-hung and thick that covered all the sky; But, undiscouraged, we began to climb The mountain-side. The mist soon girt us round, And, after ordinary travellers' talk With our conductor, pensively we sank Each into commerce with his private thoughts: Thus did we breast the ascent, and by myself Was nothing either seen or heard that checked Those musings or diverted, save that once The shepherd's lurcher, who, among the crags, Had to his joy unearthed a hedgehog, teased His coiled-up prey with barkings turbulent. This small adventure, for even such it seemed In that wild place and at the dead of night, Being over and forgotten, on we wound In silence as before. With forehead bent Earthward, as if in opposition set Against an enemy, I panted up With eager pace, and no less eager thoughts. Thus might we wear a midnight hour away, Ascending at loose distance each from each, And I, as chanced, the foremost of the band; When at my feet the ground appeared to brighten, And with a step or two seemed brighter still; Nor was time given to ask or learn the cause, For instantly a light upon the turf Fell like a flash, and lo! as I looked up, The Moon hung naked in a firmament Of azure without cloud, and at my feet Rested a silent sea of hoary mist. A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved All over this still ocean; and beyond, Far, far beyond, the solid vapours stretched, In headlands, tongues, and promontory shapes, Into the main Atlantic, that appeared To dwindle, and give up his majesty, Usurped upon far as the sight could reach. Not so the ethereal vault; encroachment none Was there, nor loss; only the inferior stars Had disappeared, or shed a fainter light In the clear presence of the full-orbed Moon, Who, from her sovereign elevation, gazed Upon the billowy ocean, as it lay All meek and silent, save that through a rift-- Not distant from the shore whereon we stood, A fixed, abysmal, gloomy, breathing-place-- Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams Innumerable, roaring with one voice! Heard over earth and sea, and, in that hour, For so it seemed, felt by the starry heavens. When into air had partially dissolved That vision, given to spirits of the night And three chance human wanderers, in calm thought Reflected, it appeared to me the type Of a majestic intellect, its acts And its possessions, what it has and craves, What in itself it is, and would become. There I beheld the emblem of a mind That feeds upon infinity, that broods Over the dark abyss, intent to hear Its voices issuing forth to silent light In one continuous stream; a mind sustained By recognitions of transcendent power, In sense conducting to ideal form, In soul of more than mortal privilege. One function, above all, of such a mind Had Nature shadowed there, by putting forth, 'Mid circumstances awful and sublime, That mutual domination which she loves To exert upon the face of outward things, So moulded, joined, abstracted, so endowed With interchangeable supremacy, That men, least sensitive, see, hear, perceive, And cannot choose but feel. The power, which all Acknowledge when thus moved, which Nature thus To bodily sense exhibits, is the express Resemblance of that glorious faculty That higher minds bear with them as their own. This is the very spirit in which they deal With the whole compass of the universe: They from their native selves can send abroad Kindred mutations; for themselves create A like existence; and, whene'er it dawns Created for them, catch it, or are caught By its inevitable mastery, Like angels stopped upon the wing by sound Of harmony from Heaven's remotest spheres. Them the enduring and the transient both Serve to exalt; they build up greatest things From least suggestions; ever on the watch, Willing to work and to be wrought upon, They need not extraordinary calls To rouse them; in a world of life they live, By sensible impressions not enthralled, But by their quickening impulse made more prompt To hold fit converse with the spiritual world, And with the generations of mankind Spread over time, past, present, and to come, Age after age, till Time shall be no more. Such minds are truly from the Deity, For they are Powers; and hence the highest bliss That flesh can know is theirs--the consciousness Of Whom they are, habitually infused Through every image and through every thought, And all affections by communion raised From earth to heaven, from human to divine; Hence endless occupation for the Soul, Whether discursive or intuitive; Hence cheerfulness for acts of daily life, Emotions which best foresight need not fear, Most worthy then of trust when most intense. Hence, amid ills that vex and wrongs that crush Our hearts--if here the words of Holy Writ May with fit reverence be applied--that peace Which passeth understanding, that repose In moral judgments which from this pure source Must come, or will by man be sought in vain. Oh! who is he that hath his whole life long Preserved, enlarged, this freedom in himself? For this alone is genuine liberty: Where is the favoured being who hath held That course unchecked, unerring, and untired, In one perpetual progress smooth and bright?-- A humbler destiny have we retraced, And told of lapse and hesitating choice, And backward wanderings along thorny ways: Yet--compassed round by mountain solitudes, Within whose solemn temple I received My earliest visitations, careless then Of what was given me; and which now I range, A meditative, oft a suffering, man-- Do I declare--in accents which, from truth Deriving cheerful confidence, shall blend Their modulation with these vocal streams-- That, whatsoever falls my better mind, Revolving with the accidents of life, May have sustained, that, howsoe'er misled, Never did I, in quest of right and wrong, Tamper with conscience from a private aim; Nor was in any public hope the dupe Of selfish passions; nor did ever yield Wilfully to mean cares or low pursuits, But shrunk with apprehensive jealousy From every combination which might aid The tendency, too potent in itself, Of use and custom to bow down the soul Under a growing weight of vulgar sense, And substitute a universe of death For that which moves with light and life informed, Actual, divine, and true. To fear and love, To love as prime and chief, for there fear ends, Be this ascribed; to early intercourse, In presence of sublime or beautiful forms, With the adverse principles of pain and joy-- Evil as one is rashly named by men Who know not what they speak. By love subsists All lasting grandeur, by pervading love; That gone, we are as dust.--Behold the fields In balmy spring-time full of rising flowers And joyous creatures; see that pair, the lamb And the lamb's mother, and their tender ways Shall touch thee to the heart; thou callest this love, And not inaptly so, for love it is, Far as it carries thee. In some green bower Rest, and be not alone, but have thou there The One who is thy choice of all the world: There linger, listening, gazing, with delight Impassioned, but delight how pitiable! Unless this love by a still higher love Be hallowed, love that breathes not without awe; Love that adores, but on the knees of prayer, By heaven inspired; that frees from chains the soul, Lifted, in union with the purest, best, Of earth-born passions, on the wings of praise Bearing a tribute to the Almighty's Throne. This spiritual Love acts not nor can exist Without Imagination, which, in truth, Is but another name for absolute power And clearest insight, amplitude of mind, And Reason in her most exalted mood. This faculty hath been the feeding source Of our long labour: we have traced the stream From the blind cavern whence is faintly heard Its natal murmur; followed it to light And open day; accompanied its course Among the ways of Nature, for a time Lost sight of it bewildered and engulphed; Then given it greeting as it rose once more In strength, reflecting from its placid breast The works of man and face of human life; And lastly, from its progress have we drawn Faith in life endless, the sustaining thought Of human Being, Eternity, and God. Imagination having been our theme, So also hath that intellectual Love, For they are each in each, and cannot stand Dividually.--Here must thou be, O Man! Power to thyself; no Helper hast thou here; Here keepest thou in singleness thy state: No other can divide with thee this work: No secondary hand can intervene To fashion this ability; 'tis thine, The prime and vital principle is thine In the recesses of thy nature, far From any reach of outward fellowship, Else is not thine at all. But joy to him, Oh, joy to him who here hath sown, hath laid Here, the foundation of his future years! For all that friendship, all that love can do, All that a darling countenance can look Or dear voice utter, to complete the man, Perfect him, made imperfect in himself, All shall be his: and he whose soul hath risen Up to the height of feeling intellect Shall want no humbler tenderness; his heart Be tender as a nursing mother's heart; Of female softness shall his life be full, Of humble cares and delicate desires, Mild interests and gentlest sympathies. Child of my parents! Sister of my soul! Thanks in sincerest verse have been elsewhere Poured out for all the early tenderness Which I from thee imbibed: and 'tis most true That later seasons owed to thee no less; For, spite of thy sweet influence and the touch Of kindred hands that opened out the springs Of genial thought in childhood, and in spite Of all that unassisted I had marked In life or nature of those charms minute That win their way into the heart by stealth (Still to the very going-out of youth) I too exclusively esteemed 'that' love, And sought 'that' beauty, which, as Milton sings, Hath terror in it. Thou didst soften down This over-sternness; but for thee, dear Friend! My soul, too reckless of mild grace, had stood In her original self too confident, Retained too long a countenance severe; A rock with torrents roaring, with the clouds Familiar, and a favourite of the stars: But thou didst plant its crevices with flowers, Hang it with shrubs that twinkle in the breeze, And teach the little birds to build their nests And warble in its chambers. At a time When Nature, destined to remain so long Foremost in my affections, had fallen back Into a second place, pleased to become A handmaid to a nobler than herself, When every day brought with it some new sense Of exquisite regard for common things, And all the earth was budding with these gifts Of more refined humanity, thy breath, Dear Sister! was a kind of gentler spring That went before my steps. Thereafter came One whom with thee friendship had early paired; She came, no more a phantom to adorn A moment, but an inmate of the heart, And yet a spirit, there for me enshrined To penetrate the lofty and the low; Even as one essence of pervading light Shines, in the brightest of ten thousand stars And the meek worm that feeds her lonely lamp Couched in the dewy grass. With such a theme, Coleridge! with this my argument, of thee Shall I be silent? O capacious Soul! Placed on this earth to love and understand, And from thy presence shed the light of love, Shall I be mute, ere thou be spoken of? Thy kindred influence to my heart of hearts Did also find its way. Thus fear relaxed Her overweening grasp; thus thoughts and things In the self-haunting spirit learned to take More rational proportions; mystery, The incumbent mystery of sense and soul, Of life and death, time and eternity, Admitted more habitually a mild Interposition--a serene delight In closelier gathering cares, such as become A human creature, howsoe'er endowed, Poet, or destined for a humbler name; And so the deep enthusiastic joy, The rapture of the hallelujah sent From all that breathes and is, was chastened, stemmed And balanced by pathetic truth, by trust In hopeful reason, leaning on the stay Of Providence; and in reverence for duty, Here, if need be, struggling with storms, and there Strewing in peace life's humblest ground with herbs, At every season green, sweet at all hours. And now, O Friend! this history is brought To its appointed close: the discipline And consummation of a Poet's mind, In everything that stood most prominent, Have faithfully been pictured; we have reached The time (our guiding object from the first) When we may, not presumptuously, I hope, Suppose my powers so far confirmed, and such My knowledge, as to make me capable Of building up a Work that shall endure. Yet much hath been omitted, as need was; Of books how much! and even of the other wealth That is collected among woods and fields, Far more: for Nature's secondary grace Hath hitherto been barely touched upon, The charm more superficial that attends Her works, as they present to Fancy's choice Apt illustrations of the moral world, Caught at a glance, or traced with curious pains. Finally, and above all, O Friend! (I speak With due regret) how much is overlooked In human nature and her subtle ways, As studied first in our own hearts, and then In life among the passions of mankind, Varying their composition and their hue, Where'er we move, under the diverse shapes That individual character presents To an attentive eye. For progress meet, Along this intricate and difficult path, Whate'er was wanting, something had I gained, As one of many schoolfellows compelled, In hardy independence, to stand up Amid conflicting interests, and the shock Of various tempers; to endure and note What was not understood, though known to be; Among the mysteries of love and hate, Honour and shame, looking to right and left, Unchecked by innocence too delicate, And moral notions too intolerant, Sympathies too contracted. Hence, when called To take a station among men, the step Was easier, the transition more secure, More profitable also; for, the mind Learns from such timely exercise to keep In wholesome separation the two natures, The one that feels, the other that observes. Yet one word more of personal concern;-- Since I withdrew unwillingly from France, I led an undomestic wanderer's life, In London chiefly harboured, whence I roamed, Tarrying at will in many a pleasant spot Of rural England's cultivated vales Or Cambrian solitudes. A youth--(he bore The name of Calvert--it shall live, if words Of mine can give it life,) in firm belief That by endowments not from me withheld Good might be furthered--in his last decay By a bequest sufficient for my needs Enabled me to pause for choice, and walk At large and unrestrained, nor damped too soon By mortal cares. Himself no Poet, yet Far less a common follower of the world, He deemed that my pursuits and labours lay Apart from all that leads to wealth, or even A necessary maintenance insures, Without some hazard to the finer sense; He cleared a passage for me, and the stream Flowed in the bent of Nature. Having now Told what best merits mention, further pains Our present purpose seems not to require, And I have other tasks. Recall to mind The mood in which this labour was begun, O Friend! The termination of my course Is nearer now, much nearer; yet even then, In that distraction and intense desire, I said unto the life which I had lived, Where art thou? Hear I not a voice from thee Which 'tis reproach to hear? Anon I rose As if on wings, and saw beneath me stretched Vast prospect of the world which I had been And was; and hence this Song, which, like a lark, I have protracted, in the unwearied heavens Singing, and often with more plaintive voice To earth attempered and her deep-drawn sighs, Yet centring all in love, and in the end All gratulant, if rightly understood. Whether to me shall be allotted life, And, with life, power to accomplish aught of worth, That will be deemed no insufficient plea For having given the story of myself, Is all uncertain: but, beloved Friend! When, looking back, thou seest, in clearer view Than any liveliest sight of yesterday, That summer, under whose indulgent skies, Upon smooth Quantock's airy ridge we roved Unchecked, or loitered 'mid her sylvan combs, Thou in bewitching words, with happy heart, Didst chaunt the vision of that Ancient Man, The bright-eyed Mariner, and rueful woes Didst utter of the Lady Christabel; And I, associate with such labour, steeped In soft forgetfulness the livelong hours, Murmuring of him who, joyous hap, was found, After the perils of his moonlight ride, Near the loud waterfall; or her who sate In misery near the miserable Thorn-- When thou dost to that summer turn thy thoughts, And hast before thee all which then we were, To thee, in memory of that happiness, It will be known, by thee at least, my Friend! Felt, that the history of a Poet's mind Is labour not unworthy of regard; To thee the work shall justify itself. The last and later portions of this gift Have been prepared, not with the buoyant spirits That were our daily portion when we first Together wantoned in wild Poesy, But, under pressure of a private grief, Keen and enduring, which the mind and heart, That in this meditative history Have been laid open, needs must make me feel More deeply, yet enable me to bear More firmly; and a comfort now hath risen From hope that thou art near, and wilt be soon Restored to us in renovated health; When, after the first mingling of our tears, 'Mong other consolations, we may draw Some pleasure from this offering of my love. Oh! yet a few short years of useful life, And all will be complete, thy race be run, Thy monument of glory will be raised; Then, though (too weak to tread the ways of truth) This age fall back to old idolatry, Though men return to servitude as fast As the tide ebbs, to ignominy and shame, By nations, sink together, we shall still Find solace--knowing what we have learnt to know, Rich in true happiness if allowed to be Faithful alike in forwarding a day Of firmer trust, joint labourers in the work (Should Providence such grace to us vouchsafe) Of their deliverance, surely yet to come. Prophets of Nature, we to them will speak A lasting inspiration, sanctified By reason, blest by faith: what we have loved, Others will love, and we will teach them how; Instruct them how the mind of man becomes A thousand times more beautiful than the earth On which he dwells, above this frame of things (Which, 'mid all revolution in the hopes And fears of men, doth still remain unchanged) In beauty exalted, as it is itself Of quality and fabric more divine.

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