William Wordsworth

The Prelude, Book 3

Residence At Cambridge

IT was a dreary morning when the wheels Rolled over a wide plain o'erhung with clouds, And nothing cheered our way till first we saw The long-roofed chapel of King's College lift Turrets and pinnacles in answering files, Extended high above a dusky grove. Advancing, we espied upon the road A student clothed in gown and tasselled cap, Striding along as if o'ertasked by Time, Or covetous of exercise and air; He passed--nor was I master of my eyes Till he was left an arrow's flight behind. As near and nearer to the spot we drew, It seemed to suck us in with an eddy's force. Onward we drove beneath the Castle; caught, While crossing Magdalene Bridge, a glimpse of Cam; And at the "Hoop" alighted, famous Inn. My spirit was up, my thoughts were full of hope; Some friends I had, acquaintances who there Seemed friends, poor simple schoolboys, now hung round With honour and importance: in a world Of welcome faces up and down I roved; Questions, directions, warnings and advice, Flowed in upon me, from all sides; fresh day Of pride and pleasure! to myself I seemed A man of business and expense, and went From shop to shop about my own affairs, To Tutor or to Tailor, as befell, From street to street with loose and careless mind. I was the Dreamer, they the Dream; I roamed Delighted through the motley spectacle; Gowns grave, or gaudy, doctors, students, streets, Courts, cloisters, flocks of churches, gateways, towers: Migration strange for a stripling of the hills, A northern villager. As if the change Had waited on some Fairy's wand, at once Behold me rich in monies, and attired In splendid garb, with hose of silk, and hair Powdered like rimy trees, when frost is keen. My lordly dressing-gown, I pass it by, With other signs of manhood that supplied The lack of beard.--The weeks went roundly on, With invitations, suppers, wine and fruit, Smooth housekeeping within, and all without Liberal, and suiting gentleman's array. The Evangelist St. John my patron was: Three Gothic courts are his, and in the first Was my abiding-place, a nook obscure; Right underneath, the College kitchens made A humming sound, less tuneable than bees, But hardly less industrious; with shrill notes Of sharp command and scolding intermixed. Near me hung Trinity's loquacious clock, Who never let the quarters, night or day, Slip by him unproclaimed, and told the hours Twice over with a male and female voice. Her pealing organ was my neighbour too; And from my pillow, looking forth by light Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold The antechapel where the statue stood Of Newton with his prism and silent face, The marble index of a mind for ever Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone. Of College labours, of the Lecturer's room All studded round, as thick as chairs could stand, With loyal students, faithful to their books, Half-and-half idlers, hardy recusants, And honest dunces--of important days, Examinations, when the man was weighed As in a balance! of excessive hopes, Tremblings withal and commendable fears, Small jealousies, and triumphs good or bad-- Let others that know more speak as they know. Such glory was but little sought by me, And little won. Yet from the first crude days Of settling time in this untried abode, I was disturbed at times by prudent thoughts, Wishing to hope without a hope, some fears About my future worldly maintenance, And, more than all, a strangeness in the mind, A feeling that I was not for that hour, Nor for that place. But wherefore be cast down? For (not to speak of Reason and her pure Reflective acts to fix the moral law Deep in the conscience, nor of Christian Hope, Bowing her head before her sister Faith As one far mightier), hither I had come, Bear witness Truth, endowed with holy powers And faculties, whether to work or feel. Oft when the dazzling show no longer new Had ceased to dazzle, ofttimes did I quit My comrades, leave the crowd, buildings and groves, And as I paced alone the level fields Far from those lovely sights and sounds sublime With which I had been conversant, the mind Drooped not; but there into herself returning, With prompt rebound seemed fresh as heretofore. At least I more distinctly recognised Her native instincts: let me dare to speak A higher language, say that now I felt What independent solaces were mine, To mitigate the injurious sway of place Or circumstance, how far soever changed In youth, or 'to' be changed in after years. As if awakened, summoned, roused, constrained, I looked for universal things; perused The common countenance of earth and sky: Earth, nowhere unembellished by some trace Of that first Paradise whence man was driven; And sky, whose beauty and bounty are expressed By the proud name she bears--the name of Heaven. I called on both to teach me what they might; Or, turning the mind in upon herself, Pored, watched, expected, listened, spread my thoughts And spread them with a wider creeping; felt Incumbencies more awful, visitings Of the Upholder of the tranquil soul, That tolerates the indignities of Time, And, from the centre of Eternity All finite motions overruling, lives In glory immutable. But peace! enough Here to record that I was mounting now To such community with highest truth-- A track pursuing, not untrod before, From strict analogies by thought supplied Or consciousnesses not to be subdued. To every natural form, rock, fruits, or flower, Even the loose stones that cover the highway, I gave a moral life: I saw them feel, Or linked them to some feeling: the great mass Lay bedded in a quickening soul, and all That I beheld respired with inward meaning. Add that whate'er of Terror or of Love Or Beauty, Nature's daily face put on From transitory passion, unto this I was as sensitive as waters are To the sky's influence in a kindred mood Of passion; was obedient as a lute That waits upon the touches of the wind. Unknown, unthought of, yet I was most rich-- I had a world about me--'twas my own; I made it, for it only lived to me, And to the God who sees into the heart. Such sympathies, though rarely, were betrayed By outward gestures and by visible looks: Some called it madness--so indeed it was, If child-like fruitfulness in passing joy, If steady moods of thoughtfulness matured To inspiration, sort with such a name; If prophecy be madness; if things viewed By poets in old time, and higher up By the first men, earth's first inhabitants, May in these tutored days no more be seen With undisordered sight. But leaving this, It was no madness, for the bodily eye Amid my strongest workings evermore Was searching out the lines of difference As they lie hid in all external forms, Near or remote, minute or vast; an eye Which, from a tree, a stone, a withered leaf, To the broad ocean and the azure heavens Spangled with kindred multitudes of stars, Could find no surface where its power might sleep; Which spake perpetual logic to my soul, And by an unrelenting agency Did bind my feelings even as in a chain. And here, O Friend! have I retraced my life Up to an eminence, and told a tale Of matters which not falsely may be called The glory of my youth. Of genius, power, Creation and divinity itself I have been speaking, for my theme has been What passed within me. Not of outward things Done visibly for other minds, words, signs, Symbols or actions, but of my own heart Have I been speaking, and my youthful mind. O Heavens! how awful is the might of souls, And what they do within themselves while yet The yoke of earth is new to them, the world Nothing but a wild field where they were sown. This is, in truth, heroic argument, This genuine prowess, which I wished to touch With hand however weak, but in the main It lies far hidden from the reach of words. Points have we all of us within our souls Where all stand single; this I feel, and make Breathings for incommunicable powers; But is not each a memory to himself, And, therefore, now that we must quit this theme, I am not heartless, for there's not a man That lives who hath not known his god-like hours, And feels not what an empire we inherit As natural beings in the strength of Nature. No more: for now into a populous plain We must descend. A Traveller I am, Whose tale is only of himself; even so, So be it, if the pure of heart be prompt To follow, and if thou, my honoured Friend! Who in these thoughts art ever at my side, Support, as heretofore, my fainting steps. It hath been told, that when the first delight That flashed upon me from this novel show Had failed, the mind returned into herself; Yet true it is, that I had made a change In climate, and my nature's outward coat Changed also slowly and insensibly. Full oft the quiet and exalted thoughts Of loneliness gave way to empty noise And superficial pastimes; now and then Forced labour, and more frequently forced hopes; And, worst of all, a treasonable growth Of indecisive judgments, that impaired And shook the mind's simplicity.--And yet This was a gladsome time. Could I behold-- Who, less insensible than sodden clay In a sea-river's bed at ebb of tide, Could have beheld,--with undelighted heart, So many happy youths, so wide and fair A congregation in its budding-time Of health, and hope, and beauty, all at once So many divers samples from the growth Of life's sweet season--could have seen unmoved That miscellaneous garland of wild flowers Decking the matron temples of a place So famous through the world? To me, at least, It was a goodly prospect: for, in sooth, Though I had learnt betimes to stand unpropped, And independent musings pleased me so That spells seemed on me when I was alone, Yet could I only cleave to solitude In lonely places; if a throng was near That way I leaned by nature; for my heart Was social, and loved idleness and joy. Not seeking those who might participate My deeper pleasures (nay, I had not once, Though not unused to mutter lonesome songs, Even with myself divided such delight, Or looked that way for aught that might be clothed In human language), easily I passed From the remembrances of better things, And slipped into the ordinary works Of careless youth, unburthened, unalarmed. 'Caverns' there were within my mind which sun Could never penetrate, yet did there not Want store of leafy 'arbours' where the light Might enter in at will. Companionships, Friendships, acquaintances, were welcome all. We sauntered, played, or rioted; we talked Unprofitable talk at morning hours; Drifted about along the streets and walks, Read lazily in trivial books, went forth To gallop through the country in blind zeal Of senseless horsemanship, or on the breast Of Cam sailed boisterously, and let the stars Come forth, perhaps without one quiet thought. Such was the tenor of the second act In this new life. Imagination slept, And yet not utterly. I could not print Ground where the grass had yielded to the steps Of generations of illustrious men, Unmoved. I could not always lightly pass Through the same gateways, sleep where they had slept, Wake where they waked, range that inclosure old, That garden of great intellects, undisturbed. Place also by the side of this dark sense Of noble feeling, that those spiritual men, Even the great Newton's own ethereal self, Seemed humbled in these precincts thence to be The more endeared. Their several memories here (Even like their persons in their portraits clothed With the accustomed garb of daily life) Put on a lowly and a touching grace Of more distinct humanity, that left All genuine admiration unimpaired. Beside the pleasant Mill of Trompington I laughed with Chaucer in the hawthorn shade; Heard him, while birds were warbling, tell his tales Of amorous passion. And that gentle Bard, Chosen by the Muses for their Page of State-- Sweet Spenser, moving through his clouded heaven With the moon's beauty and the moon's soft pace, I called him Brother, Englishman, and Friend! Yea, our blind Poet, who in his later day, Stood almost single; uttering odious truth-- Darkness before, and danger's voice behind, Soul awful--if the earth has ever lodged An awful soul--I seemed to see him here Familiarly, and in his scholar's dress Bounding before me, yet a stripling youth-- A boy, no better, with his rosy cheeks Angelical, keen eye, courageous look, And conscious step of purity and pride. Among the band of my compeers was one Whom chance had stationed in the very room Honoured by Milton's name. O temperate Bard! Be it confest that, for the first time, seated Within thy innocent lodge and oratory, One of a festive circle, I poured out Libations, to thy memory drank, till pride And gratitude grew dizzy in a brain Never excited by the fumes of wine Before that hour, or since. Then, forth I ran From the assembly; through a length of streets, Ran, ostrich-like, to reach our chapel door In not a desperate or opprobrious time, Albeit long after the importunate bell Had stopped, with wearisome Cassandra voice No longer haunting the dark winter night. Call back, O Friend! a moment to thy mind, The place itself and fashion of the rites. With careless ostentation shouldering up My surplice, through the inferior throng I clove Of the plain Burghers, who in audience stood On the last skirts of their permitted ground, Under the pealing organ. Empty thoughts! I am ashamed of them: and that great Bard, And thou, O Friend! who in thy ample mind Hast placed me high above my best deserts, Ye will forgive the weakness of that hour, In some of its unworthy vanities, Brother to many more. In this mixed sort The months passed on, remissly, not given up To wilful alienation from the right, Or walks of open scandal, but in vague And loose indifference, easy likings, aims Of a low pitch--duty and zeal dismissed, Yet Nature, or a happy course of things Not doing in their stead the needful work. The memory languidly revolved, the heart Reposed in noontide rest, the inner pulse Of contemplation almost failed to beat. Such life might not inaptly be compared To a floating island, an amphibious spot Unsound, of spongy texture, yet withal Not wanting a fair face of water weeds And pleasant flowers. The thirst of living praise, Fit reverence for the glorious Dead, the sight Of those long vistas, sacred catacombs, Where mighty 'minds' lie visibly entombed, Have often stirred the heart of youth, and bred A fervent love of rigorous discipline.-- Alas! such high emotion touched not me. Look was there none within these walls to shame My easy spirits, and discountenance Their light composure, far less to instil A calm resolve of mind, firmly addressed To puissant efforts. Nor was this the blame Of others but my own; I should, in truth, As far as doth concern my single self, Misdeem most widely, lodging it elsewhere: For I, bred up, 'mid Nature's luxuries, Was a spoiled child, and, rumbling like the wind, As I had done in daily intercourse With those crystalline rivers, solemn heights, And mountains, ranging like a fowl of the air, I was ill-tutored for captivity; To quit my pleasure, and, from month to month, Take up a station calmly on the perch Of sedentary peace. Those lovely forms Had also left less space within my mind, Which, wrought upon instinctively, had found A freshness in those objects of her love, A winning power, beyond all other power. Not that I slighted books,--that were to lack All sense,--but other passions in me ruled, Passions more fervent, making me less prompt To in-door study than was wise or well, Or suited to those years. Yet I, though used In magisterial liberty to rove, Culling such flowers of learning as might tempt A random choice, could shadow forth a place (If now I yield not to a flattering dream) Whose studious aspect should have bent me down To instantaneous service; should at once Have made me pay to science and to arts And written lore, acknowledged my liege lord, A homage frankly offered up, like that Which I had paid to Nature. Toil and pains In this recess, by thoughtful Fancy built, Should spread from heart to heart; and stately groves, Majestic edifices, should not want A corresponding dignity within. The congregating temper that pervades Our unripe years, not wasted, should be taught To minister to works of high attempt-- Works which the enthusiast would perform with love. Youth should be awed, religiously possessed With a conviction of the power that waits On knowledge, when sincerely sought and prized For its own sake, on glory and on praise If but by labour won, and fit to endure The passing day; should learn to put aside Her trappings here, should strip them off abashed Before antiquity and stedfast truth And strong book-mindedness; and over all A healthy sound simplicity should reign, A seemly plainness, name it what you will, Republican or pious. If these thoughts Are a gratuitous emblazonry That mocks the recreant age 'we' live in, then Be Folly and False-seeming free to affect Whatever formal gait of discipline Shall raise them highest in their own esteem-- Let them parade among the Schools at will, But spare the House of God. Was ever known The witless shepherd who persists to drive A flock that thirsts not to a pool disliked? A weight must surely hang on days begun And ended with such mockery. Be wise, Ye Presidents and Deans, and, till the spirit Of ancient times revive, and youth be trained At home in pious service, to your bells Give seasonable rest, for 'tis a sound Hollow as ever vexed the tranquil air; And your officious doings bring disgrace On the plain steeples of our English Church, Whose worship, 'mid remotest village trees, Suffers for this. Even Science, too, at hand In daily sight of this irreverence, Is smitten thence with an unnatural taint, Loses her just authority, falls beneath Collateral suspicion, else unknown. This truth escaped me not, and I confess, That having 'mid my native hills given loose To a schoolboy's vision, I had raised a pile Upon the basis of the coming time, That fell in ruins round me. Oh, what joy To see a sanctuary for our country's youth Informed with such a spirit as might be Its own protection; a primeval grove, Where, though the shades with cheerfulness were filled, Nor indigent of songs warbled from crowds In under-coverts, yet the countenance Of the whole place should bear a stamp of awe; A habitation sober and demure For ruminating creatures; a domain For quiet things to wander in; a haunt In which the heron should delight to feed By the shy rivers, and the pelican Upon the cypress spire in lonely thought Might sit and sun himself.--Alas! Alas! In vain for such solemnity I looked; Mine eyes were crossed by butterflies, ears vexed By chattering popinjays; the inner heart Seemed trivial, and the impresses without Of a too gaudy region. Different sight Those venerable Doctors saw of old, When all who dwelt within these famous walls Led in abstemiousness a studious life; When, in forlorn and naked chambers cooped And crowded, o'er the ponderous books they hung Like caterpillars eating out their way In silence, or with keen devouring noise Not to be tracked or fathered. Princes then At matins froze, and couched at curfew-time, Trained up through piety and zeal to prize Spare diet, patient labour, and plain weeds. O seat of Arts! renowned throughout the world! Far different service in those homely days The Muses' modest nurslings underwent From their first childhood: in that glorious time When Learning, like a stranger come from far, Sounding through Christian lands her trumpet, roused Peasant and king; when boys and youths, the growth Of ragged villages and crazy huts, Forsook their homes, and, errant in the quest Of Patron, famous school or friendly nook, Where, pensioned, they in shelter might sit down, From town to town and through wide scattered realms Journeyed with ponderous folios in their hands; And often, starting from some covert place, Saluted the chance comer on the road, Crying, "An obolus, a penny give To a poor scholar!"--when illustrious men, Lovers of truth, by penury constrained, Bucer, Erasmus, or Melancthon, read Before the doors or windows of their cells By moonshine through mere lack of taper light. But peace to vain regrets! We see but darkly Even when we look behind us, and best things Are not so pure by nature that they needs Must keep to all, as fondly all believe, Their highest promise. If the mariner, When at reluctant distance he hath passed Some tempting island, could but know the ills That must have fallen upon him had he brought His bark to land upon the wished-for shore, Good cause would oft be his to thank the surf Whose white belt scared him thence, or wind that blew Inexorably adverse: for myself I grieve not; happy is the gowned youth, Who only misses what I missed, who falls No lower than I fell. I did not love, Judging not ill perhaps, the timid course Of our scholastic studies; could have wished To see the river flow with ampler range And freer pace; but more, far more, I grieved To see displayed among an eager few, Who in the field of contest persevered, Passions unworthy of youth's generous heart And mounting spirit, pitiably repaid, When so disturbed, whatever palms are won. From these I turned to travel with the shoal Of more unthinking natures, easy minds And pillowy; yet not wanting love that makes The day pass lightly on, when foresight sleeps, And wisdom and the pledges interchanged With our own inner being are forgot. Yet was this deep vacation not given up To utter waste. Hitherto I had stood In my own mind remote from social life, (At least from what we commonly so name,) Like a lone shepherd on a promontory Who lacking occupation looks far forth Into the boundless sea, and rather makes Than finds what he beholds. And sure it is, That this first transit from the smooth delights And wild outlandish walks of simple youth To something that resembles an approach Towards human business, to a privileged world Within a world, a midway residence With all its intervenient imagery, Did better suit my visionary mind, Far better, than to have been bolted forth, Thrust out abruptly into Fortune's way Among the conflicts of substantial life; By a more just gradation did lead on To higher things; more naturally matured, For permanent possession, better fruits, Whether of truth or virtue, to ensue. In serious mood, but oftener, I confess, With playful zest of fancy, did we note (How could we less?) the manners and the ways Of those who lived distinguished by the badge Of good or ill report; or those with whom By frame of Academic discipline We were perforce connected, men whose sway And known authority of office served To set our minds on edge, and did no more. Nor wanted we rich pastime of this kind, Found everywhere, but chiefly in the ring Of the grave Elders, men unscoured, grotesque In character, tricked out like aged trees Which through the lapse of their infirmity Give ready place to any random seed That chooses to be reared upon their trunks. Here on my view, confronting vividly Those shepherd swains whom I had lately left Appeared a different aspect of old age; How different! yet both distinctly marked, Objects embossed to catch the general eye, Or portraitures for special use designed, As some might seem, so aptly do they serve To illustrate Nature's book of rudiments-- That book upheld as with maternal care When she would enter on her tender scheme Of teaching comprehension with delight, And mingling playful with pathetic thoughts. The surfaces of artificial life And manners finely wrought, the delicate race Of colours, lurking, gleaming up and down Through that state arras woven with silk and gold; This wily interchange of snaky hues, Willingly or unwillingly revealed, I neither knew nor cared for; and as such Were wanting here, I took what might be found Of less elaborate fabric. At this day I smile, in many a mountain solitude Conjuring up scenes as obsolete in freaks Of character, in points of wit as broad, As aught by wooden images performed For entertainment of the gaping crowd At wake or fair. And oftentimes do flit Remembrances before me of old men-- Old humourists, who have been long in their graves, And having almost in my mind put off Their human names, have into phantoms passed Of texture midway between life and books. I play the loiterer: 'tis enough to note That here in dwarf proportions were expressed The limbs of the great world; its eager strifes Collaterally pourtrayed, as in mock fight, A tournament of blows, some hardly dealt Though short of mortal combat; and whate'er Might in this pageant be supposed to hit An artless rustic's notice, this way less, More that way, was not wasted upon me-- And yet the spectacle may well demand A more substantial name, no mimic show, Itself a living part of a live whole, A creek in the vast sea; for, all degrees And shapes of spurious fame and short-lived praise Here sate in state, and fed with daily alms Retainers won away from solid good; And here was Labour, his own bond-slave; Hope, That never set the pains against the prize; Idleness halting with his weary clog, And poor misguided Shame, and witless Fear, And simple Pleasure foraging for Death; Honour misplaced, and Dignity astray; Feuds, factions, flatteries, enmity, and guile, Murmuring submission, and bald government, (The idol weak as the idolater), And Decency and Custom starving Truth, And blind Authority beating with his staff The child that might have led him; Emptiness Followed as of good omen, and meek Worth Left to herself unheard of and unknown. Of these and other kindred notices I cannot say what portion is in truth The naked recollection of that time, And what may rather have been called to life By after-meditation. But delight That, in an easy temper lulled asleep, Is still with Innocence its own reward, This was not wanting. Carelessly I roamed As through a wide museum from whose stores A casual rarity is singled out And has its brief perusal, then gives way To others, all supplanted in their turn; Till 'mid this crowded neighbourhood of things That are by nature most unneighbourly, The head turns round and cannot right itself; And though an aching and a barren sense Of gay confusion still be uppermost, With few wise longings and but little love, Yet to the memory something cleaves at last, Whence profit may be drawn in times to come. Thus in submissive idleness, my Friend! The labouring time of autumn, winter, spring, Eight months! rolled pleasingly away; the ninth Came and returned me to my native hills.

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