William Wordsworth

The Prelude, Book 8

Retrospect--love Of Nature Leading To Love Of Man

WHAT sounds are those, Helvellyn, that are heard Up to thy summit, through the depth of air Ascending, as if distance had the power To make the sounds more audible? What crowd Covers, or sprinkles o'er, yon village green? Crowd seems it, solitary hill! to thee, Though but a little family of men, Shepherds and tillers of the ground--betimes Assembled with their children and their wives, And here and there a stranger interspersed. They hold a rustic fair--a festival, Such as, on this side now, and now on that, Repeated through his tributary vales, Helvellyn, in the silence of his rest, Sees annually, if clouds towards either ocean Blown from their favourite resting-place, or mists Dissolved, have left him an unshrouded head. Delightful day it is for all who dwell In this secluded glen, and eagerly They give it welcome. Long ere heat of noon, From byre or field the kine were brought; the sheep Are penned in cotes; the chaffering is begun. The heifer lows, uneasy at the voice Of a new master; bleat the flocks aloud. Booths are there none; a stall or two is here; A lame man or a blind, the one to beg, The other to make music; hither, too, From far, with basket, slung upon her arm, Of hawker's wares--books, pictures, combs, and pins-- Some aged woman finds her way again, Year after year, a punctual visitant! There also stands a speech-maker by rote, Pulling the strings of his boxed raree-show; And in the lapse of many years may come Prouder itinerant, mountebank, or he Whose wonders in a covered wain lie hid. But one there is, the loveliest of them all, Some sweet lass of the valley, looking out For gains, and who that sees her would not buy? Fruits of her father's orchard are her wares, And with the ruddy produce she walks round Among the crowd, half pleased with, half ashamed Of, her new office, blushing restlessly. The children now are rich, for the old to-day Are generous as the young; and, if content With looking on, some ancient wedded pair Sit in the shade together; while they gaze, "A cheerful smile unbends the wrinkled brow, The days departed start again to life, And all the scenes of childhood reappear, Faint, but more tranquil, like the changing sun To him who slept at noon and wakes at eve." Thus gaiety and cheerfulness prevail, Spreading from young to old, from old to young, And no one seems to want his share.--Immense Is the recess, the circumambient world Magnificent, by which they are embraced: They move about upon the soft green turf: How little they, they and their doings, seem, And all that they can further or obstruct! Through utter weakness pitiably dear, As tender infants are: and yet how great! For all things serve them: them the morning light Loves, as it glistens on the silent rocks; And them the silent rocks, which now from high Look down upon them; the reposing clouds; The wild brooks prattling from invisible haunts; And old Helvellyn, conscious of the stir Which animates this day their calm abode. With deep devotion, Nature, did I feel, In that enormous City's turbulent world Of men and things, what benefit I owed To thee, and those domains of rural peace, Where to the sense of beauty first my heart Was opened; tract more exquisitely fair Than that famed paradise of ten thousand trees, Or Gehol's matchless gardens, for delight Of the Tartarian dynasty composed (Beyond that mighty wall, not fabulous, China's stupendous mound) by patient toil Of myriads and boon nature's lavish help; There, in a clime from widest empire chosen, Fulfilling (could enchantment have done more?) A sumptuous dream of flowery lawns, with domes Of pleasure sprinkled over, shady dells For eastern monasteries, sunny mounts With temples crested, bridges, gondolas, Rocks, dens, and groves of foliage taught to melt Into each other their obsequious hues, Vanished and vanishing in subtle chase, Too fine to be pursued; or standing forth In no discordant opposition, strong And gorgeous as the colours side by side Bedded among rich plumes of tropic birds; And mountains over all, embracing all; And all the landscape, endlessly enriched With waters running, falling, or asleep. But lovelier far than this, the paradise Where I was reared; in Nature's primitive gifts Favoured no less, and more to every sense Delicious, seeing that the sun and sky, The elements, and seasons as they change, Do find a worthy fellow-labourer there-- Man free, man working for himself, with choice Of time, and place, and object; by his wants, His comforts, native occupations, cares, Cheerfully led to individual ends Or social, and still followed by a train Unwooed, unthought-of even--simplicity, And beauty, and inevitable grace. Yea, when a glimpse of those imperial bowers Would to a child be transport over-great, When but a half-hour's roam through such a place Would leave behind a dance of images, That shall break in upon his sleep for weeks; Even then the common haunts of the green earth, And ordinary interests of man, Which they embosom, all without regard As both may seem, are fastening on the heart Insensibly, each with the other's help. For me, when my affections first were led From kindred, friends, and playmates, to partake Love for the human creature's absolute self, That noticeable kindliness of heart Sprang out of fountains, there abounding most, Where sovereign Nature dictated the tasks And occupations which her beauty adorned, And Shepherds were the men that pleased me first; Not such as Saturn ruled 'mid Latian wilds, With arts and laws so tempered, that their lives Left, even to us toiling in this late day, A bright tradition of the golden age; Not such as, 'mid Arcadian fastnesses Sequestered, handed down among themselves Felicity, in Grecian song renowned; Nor such as--when an adverse fate had driven, From house and home, the courtly band whose fortunes Entered, with Shakspeare's genius, the wild woods Of Arden--amid sunshine or in shade Culled the best fruits of Time's uncounted hours, Ere Phoebe sighed for the false Ganymede; Or there where Perdita and Florizel Together danced, Queen of the feast, and King; Nor such as Spenser fabled. True it is, That I had heard (what he perhaps had seen) Of maids at sunrise bringing in from far Their May-bush, and along the streets in flocks Parading with a song of taunting rhymes, Aimed at the laggards slumbering within doors; Had also heard, from those who yet remembered, Tales of the May-pole dance, and wreaths that decked Porch, door-way, or kirk-pillar; and of youths, Each with his maid, before the sun was up, By annual custom, issuing forth in troops, To drink the waters of some sainted well, And hang it round with garlands. Love survives; But, for such purpose, flowers no longer grow: The times, too sage, perhaps too proud, have dropped These lighter graces; and the rural ways And manners which my childhood looked upon Were the unluxuriant produce of a life Intent on little but substantial needs, Yet rich in beauty, beauty that was felt. But images of danger and distress, Man suffering among awful Powers and Forms; Of this I heard, and saw enough to make Imagination restless; nor was free Myself from frequent perils; nor were tales Wanting,--the tragedies of former times, Hazards and strange escapes, of which the rocks Immutable, and everflowing streams, Where'er I roamed, were speaking monuments. Smooth life had flock and shepherd in old time, Long springs and tepid winters, on the banks Of delicate Galesus; and no less Those scattered along Adria's myrtle shores: Smooth life had herdsman, and his snow-white herd To triumphs and to sacrificial rites Devoted, on the inviolable stream Of rich Clitumnus; and the goat-herd lived As calmly, underneath the pleasant brows Of cool Lucretilis, where the pipe was heard Of Pan, Invisible God, thrilling the rocks With tutelary music, from all harm The fold protecting, I myself, mature In manhood then, have seen a pastoral tract Like one of these, where Fancy might run wild, Though under skies less generous, less serene: There, for her own delight had Nature framed A pleasure-ground, diffused a fair expanse Of level pasture, islanded with groves And banked with woody risings; but the Plain Endless, here opening widely out, and there Shut up in lesser lakes or beds of lawn And intricate recesses, creek or bay Sheltered within a shelter, where at large The shepherd strays, a rolling hut his home. Thither he comes with spring-time, there abides All summer, and at sunrise ye may hear His flageolet to liquid notes of love Attuned, or sprightly fife resounding far. Nook is there none, nor tract of that vast space Where passage opens, but the same shall have In turn its visitant, telling there his hours In unlaborious pleasure, with no task More toilsome than to carve a beechen bowl For spring or fountain, which the traveller finds, When through the region he pursues at will His devious course. A glimpse of such sweet life I saw when, from the melancholy walls Of Goslar, once imperial, I renewed My daily walk along that wide champaign, That, reaching to her gates, spreads east and west, And northwards, from beneath the mountainous verge Of the Hercynian forest. Yet, hail to you Moors, mountains, headlands, and ye hollow vales, Ye long deep channels for the Atlantic's voice, Powers of my native region! Ye that seize The heart with firmer grasp! Your snows and streams Ungovernable, and your terrifying winds, That howl so dismally for him who treads Companionless your awful solitudes! There, 'tis the shepherd's task the winter long To wait upon the storms: of their approach Sagacious, into sheltering coves he drives His flock, and thither from the homestead bears A toilsome burden up the craggy ways, And deals it out, their regular nourishment Strewn on the frozen snow. And when the spring Looks out, and all the pastures dance with lambs, And when the flock, with warmer weather, climbs Higher and higher, him his office leads To watch their goings, whatsoever track The wanderers choose. For this he quits his home At day-spring, and no sooner doth the sun Begin to strike him with a fire-like heat, Than he lies down upon some shining rock, And breakfasts with his dog. When they have stolen, As is their wont, a pittance from strict time, For rest not needed or exchange of love, Then from his couch he starts; and now his feet Crush out a livelier fragrance from the flowers Of lowly thyme, by Nature's skill enwrought In the wild turf: the lingering dews of morn Smoke round him, as from hill to hill he hies, His staff protending like a hunter's spear, Or by its aid leaping from crag to crag, And o'er the brawling beds of unbridged streams. Philosophy, methinks, at Fancy's call, Might deign to follow him through what he does Or sees in his day's march; himself he feels, In those vast regions where his service lies, A freeman, wedded to his life of hope And hazard, and hard labour interchanged With that majestic indolence so dear To native man. A rambling schoolboy, thus, I felt his presence in his own domain, As of a lord and master, or a power, Or genius, under Nature, under God, Presiding; and severest solitude Had more commanding looks when he was there. When up the lonely brooks on rainy days Angling I went, or trod the trackless hills By mists bewildered, suddenly mine eyes Have glanced upon him distant a few steps, In size a giant, stalking through thick fog, His sheep like Greenland bears; or, as he stepped Beyond the boundary line of some hill-shadow, His form hath flashed upon me, glorified By the deep radiance of the setting sun: Or him have I descried in distant sky, A solitary object and sublime, Above all height! like an aerial cross Stationed alone upon a spiry rock Of the Chartreuse, for worship. Thus was man Ennobled outwardly before my sight, And thus my heart was early introduced To an unconscious love and reverence Of human nature; hence the human form To me became an index of delight, Of grace and honour, power and worthiness. Meanwhile this creature--spiritual almost As those of books, but more exalted far; Far more of an imaginative form Than the gay Corin of the groves, who lives For his own fancies, or to dance by the hour, In coronal, with Phyllis in the midst-- Was, for the purposes of kind, a man With the most common; husband, father; learned, Could teach, admonish; suffered with the rest From vice and folly, wretchedness and fear; Of this I little saw, cared less for it, But something must have felt. Call ye these appearances-- Which I beheld of shepherds in my youth, This sanctity of Nature given to man-- A shadow, a delusion, ye who pore On the dead letter, miss the spirit of things; Whose truth is not a motion or a shape Instinct with vital functions, but a block Or waxen image which yourselves have made, And ye adore! But blessed be the God Of Nature and of Man that this was so; That men before my inexperienced eyes Did first present themselves thus purified, Removed, and to a distance that was fit: And so we all of us in some degree Are led to knowledge, wheresoever led, And howsoever; were it otherwise, And we found evil fast as we find good In our first years, or think that it is found, How could the innocent heart bear up and live! But doubly fortunate my lot; not here Alone, that something of a better life Perhaps was round me than it is the privilege Of most to move in, but that first I looked At Man through objects that were great or fair; First communed with him by their help. And thus Was founded a sure safeguard and defence Against the weight of meanness, selfish cares, Coarse manners, vulgar passions, that beat in On all sides from the ordinary world In which we traffic. Starting from this point I had my face turned toward the truth, began With an advantage furnished by that kind Of prepossession, without which the soul Receives no knowledge that can bring forth good, No genuine insight ever comes to her. From the restraint of over-watchful eyes Preserved, I moved about, year after year, Happy, and now most thankful that my walk Was guarded from too early intercourse With the deformities of crowded life, And those ensuing laughters and contempts, Self-pleasing, which, if we would wish to think With a due reverence on earth's rightful lord, Here placed to be the inheritor of heaven, Will not permit us; but pursue the mind, That to devotion willingly would rise, Into the temple and the temple's heart. Yet deem not, Friend! that human kind with me Thus early took a place pre-eminent; Nature herself was, at this unripe time, But secondary to my own pursuits And animal activities, and all Their trivial pleasures; and when these had drooped And gradually expired, and Nature, prized For her own sake, became my joy, even then-- And upwards through late youth, until not less Than two-and-twenty summers had been told-- Was Man in my affections and regards Subordinate to her, her visible forms And viewless agencies: a passion, she, A rapture often, and immediate love Ever at hand; he, only a delight Occasional, an accidental grace, His hour being not yet come. Far less had then The inferior creatures, beast or bird, attuned My spirit to that gentleness of love, (Though they had long been carefully observed), Won from me those minute obeisances Of tenderness, which I may number now With my first blessings. Nevertheless, on these The light of beauty did not fall in vain, Or grandeur circumfuse them to no end. But when that first poetic faculty Of plain Imagination and severe, No longer a mute influence of the soul, Ventured, at some rash Muse's earnest call, To try her strength among harmonious words; And to book-notions and the rules of art Did knowingly conform itself; there came Among the simple shapes of human life A wilfulness of fancy and conceit; And Nature and her objects beautified These fictions, as in some sort, in their turn, They burnished her. From touch of this new power Nothing was safe: the elder-tree that grew Beside the well-known charnel-house had then A dismal look: the yew-tree had its ghost, That took his station there for ornament: The dignities of plain occurrence then Were tasteless, and truth's golden mean, a point Where no sufficient pleasure could be found. Then, if a widow, staggering with the blow Of her distress, was known to have turned her steps To the cold grave in which her husband slept, One night, or haply more than one, through pain Or half-insensate impotence of mind, The fact was caught at greedily, and there She must be visitant the whole year through, Wetting the turf with never-ending tears. Through quaint obliquities I might pursue These cravings; when the foxglove, one by one, Upwards through every stage of the tall stem, Had shed beside the public way its bells, And stood of all dismantled, save the last Left at the tapering ladder's top, that seemed To bend as doth a slender blade of grass Tipped with a rain-drop, Fancy loved to seat, Beneath the plant despoiled, but crested still With this last relic, soon itself to fall, Some vagrant mother, whose arch little ones, All unconcerned by her dejected plight, Laughed as with rival eagerness their hands Gathered the purple cups that round them lay, Strewing the turfs green slope. A diamond light (Whene'er the summer sun, declining, smote A smooth rock wet with constant springs) was seen Sparkling from out a copse-clad bank that rose Fronting our cottage. Oft beside the hearth Seated, with open door, often and long Upon this restless lustre have I gazed, That made my fancy restless as itself. 'Twas now for me a burnished silver shield Suspended over a knight's tomb, who lay Inglorious, buried in the dusky wood: An entrance now into some magic cave Or palace built by fairies of the rock; Nor could I have been bribed to disenchant The spectacle, by visiting the spot. Thus wilful Fancy, in no hurtful mood, Engrafted far-fetched shapes on feelings bred By pure Imagination: busy Power She was, and with her ready pupil turned Instinctively to human passions, then Least understood. Yet, 'mid the fervent swarm Of these vagaries, with an eye so rich As mine was through the bounty of a grand And lovely region, I had forms distinct To steady me: each airy thought revolved Round a substantial centre, which at once Incited it to motion, and controlled. I did not pine like one in cities bred, As was thy melancholy lot, dear Friend! Great Spirit as thou art, in endless dreams Of sickliness, disjoining, joining, things Without the light of knowledge. Where the harm, If, when the woodman languished with disease Induced by sleeping nightly on the ground Within his sod-built cabin, Indian-wise, I called the pangs of disappointed love, And all the sad etcetera of the wrong, To help him to his grave? Meanwhile the man, If not already from the woods retired To die at home, was haply, as I knew, Withering by slow degrees, 'mid gentle airs, Birds, running streams, and hills so beautiful On golden evenings, while the charcoal pile Breathed up its smoke, an image of his ghost Or spirit that full soon must take her flight. Nor shall we not be tending towards that point Of sound humanity to which our Tale Leads, though by sinuous ways, if here I show How Fancy, in a season when she wove Those slender cords, to guide the unconscious Boy For the Man's sake, could feed at Nature's call Some pensive musings which might well beseem Maturer years. A grove there is whose boughs Stretch from the western marge of Thurstonmere With length of shade so thick, that whoso glides Along the line of low-roofed water, moves As in a cloister. Once--while, in that shade Loitering, I watched the golden beams of light Flung from the setting sun, as they reposed In silent beauty on the naked ridge Of a high eastern hill--thus flowed my thoughts In a pure stream of words fresh from the heart: Dear native Regions, wheresoe'er shall close My mortal course, there will I think on you; Dying, will cast on you a backward look; Even as this setting sun (albeit the Vale Is no where touched by one memorial gleam) Doth with the fond remains of his last power Still linger, and a farewell lustre sheds, On the dear mountain-tops where first he rose. Enough of humble arguments; recall, My Song! those high emotions which thy voice Has heretofore made known; that bursting forth Of sympathy, inspiring and inspired, When everywhere a vital pulse was felt, And all the several frames of things, like stars, Through every magnitude distinguishable, Shone mutually indebted, or half lost Each in the other's blaze, a galaxy Of life and glory. In the midst stood Man, Outwardly, inwardly contemplated, As, of all visible natures, crown, though born Of dust, and kindred to the worm; a Being, Both in perception and discernment, first In every capability of rapture, Through the divine effect of power and love; As, more than anything we know, instinct With godhead, and, by reason and by will, Acknowledging dependency sublime. Ere long, the lonely mountains left, I moved, Begirt, from day to day, with temporal shapes Of vice and folly thrust upon my view, Objects of sport, and ridicule, and scorn, Manners and characters discriminate, And little bustling passions that eclipse, As well they might, the impersonated thought, The idea, or abstraction of the kind. An idler among academic bowers, Such was my new condition, as at large Has been set forth; yet here the vulgar light Of present, actual, superficial life, Gleaming through colouring of other times, Old usages and local privilege, Was welcomed, softened, if not solemnised. This notwithstanding, being brought more near To vice and guilt, forerunning wretchedness, I trembled,--thought, at times, of human life With an indefinite terror and dismay, Such as the storms and angry elements Had bred in me; but gloomier far, a dim Analogy to uproar and misrule, Disquiet, danger, and obscurity. It might be told (but wherefore speak of things Common to all?) that, seeing, I was led Gravely to ponder--judging between good And evil, not as for the mind's delight But for her guidance--one who was to 'act', As sometimes to the best of feeble means I did, by human sympathy impelled: And, through dislike and most offensive pain, Was to the truth conducted; of this faith Never forsaken, that, by acting well, And understanding, I should learn to love The end of life, and everything we know. Grave Teacher, stern Preceptress! for at times Thou canst put on an aspect most severe; London, to thee I willingly return. Erewhile my verse played idly with the flowers Enwrought upon thy mantle; satisfied With that amusement, and a simple look Of child-like inquisition now and then Cast upwards on thy countenance, to detect Some inner meanings which might harbour there. But how could I in mood so light indulge, Keeping such fresh remembrance of the day, When, having thridded the long labyrinth Of the suburban villages, I first Entered thy vast dominion? On the roof Of an itinerant vehicle I sate, With vulgar men about me, trivial forms Of houses, pavement, streets, of men and things,-- Mean shapes on every side: but, at the instant, When to myself it fairly might be said, The threshold now is overpast, (how strange That aught external to the living mind Should have such mighty sway! yet so it was), A weight of ages did at once descend Upon my heart; no thought embodied, no Distinct remembrances, but weight and power,-- Power growing under weight: alas! I feel That I am trifling: 'twas a moment's pause,-- All that took place within me came and went As in a moment; yet with Time it dwells, And grateful memory, as a thing divine. The curious traveller, who, from open day, Hath passed with torches into some huge cave, The Grotto of Antiparos, or the Den In old time haunted by that Danish Witch, Yordas; he looks around and sees the vault Widening on all sides; sees, or thinks he sees, Erelong, the massy roof above his head, That instantly unsettles and recedes,-- Substance and shadow, light and darkness, all Commingled, making up a canopy Of shapes and forms and tendencies to shape That shift and vanish, change and interchange Like spectres,--ferment silent and sublime! That after a short space works less and less, Till, every effort, every motion gone, The scene before him stands in perfect view Exposed, and lifeless as a written book!-- But let him pause awhile, and look again, And a new quickening shall succeed, at first Beginning timidly, then creeping fast, Till the whole cave, so late a senseless mass, Busies the eye with images and forms Boldly assembled,--here is shadowed forth From the projections, wrinkles, cavities, A variegated landscape,--there the shape Of some gigantic warrior clad in mail, The ghostly semblance of a hooded monk, Veiled nun, or pilgrim resting on his staff: Strange congregation! yet not slow to meet Eyes that perceive through minds that can inspire. Even in such sort had I at first been moved, Nor otherwise continued to be moved, As I explored the vast metropolis, Fount of my country's destiny and the world's; That great emporium, chronicle at once And burial-place of passions, and their home Imperial, their chief living residence. With strong sensations teeming as it did Of past and present, such a place must needs Have pleased me, seeking knowledge at that time Far less than craving power; yet knowledge came, Sought or unsought, and influxes of power Came, of themselves, or at her call derived In fits of kindliest apprehensiveness, From all sides, when whate'er was in itself Capacious found, or seemed to find, in me A correspondent amplitude of mind; Such is the strength and glory of our youth! The human nature unto which I felt That I belonged, and reverenced with love, Was not a punctual presence, but a spirit Diffused through time and space, with aid derived Of evidence from monuments, erect, Prostrate, or leaning towards their common rest In earth, the widely scattered wreck sublime Of vanished nations, or more clearly drawn From books and what they picture and record. 'Tis true, the history of our native land-- With those of Greece compared and popular Rome, And in our high-wrought modern narratives Stript of their harmonising soul, the life Of manners and familiar incidents-- Had never much delighted me. And less Than other intellects had mine been used To lean upon extrinsic circumstance Of record or tradition; but a sense Of what in the Great City had been done And suffered, and was doing, suffering, still, Weighed with me, could support the test of thought; And, in despite of all that had gone by, Or was departing never to return, There I conversed with majesty and power Like independent natures. Hence the place Was thronged with impregnations like the Wilds In which my early feelings had been nursed-- Bare hills and valleys, full of caverns, rocks, And audible seclusions, dashing lakes, Echoes and waterfalls, and pointed crags That into music touch the passing wind. Here then my young imagination found No uncongenial element; could here Among new objects serve or give command, Even as the heart's occasions might require, To forward reason's else too-scrupulous march. The effect was, still more elevated views Of human nature. Neither vice nor guilt, Debasement undergone by body or mind, Nor all the misery forced upon my sight, Misery not lightly passed, but sometimes scanned Most feelingly, could overthrow my trust In what we 'may' become; induce belief That I was ignorant, had been falsely taught, A solitary, who with vain conceits Had been inspired, and walked about in dreams. From those sad scenes when meditation turned, Lo! everything that was indeed divine Retained its purity inviolate, Nay brighter shone, by this portentous gloom Set off; such opposition as aroused The mind of Adam, yet in Paradise Though fallen from bliss, when in the East he saw Darkness ere day's mid course, and morning light More orient in the western cloud, that drew O'er the blue firmament a radiant white, Descending slow with something heavenly fraught. Add also, that among the multitudes Of that huge city, oftentimes was seen Affectingly set forth, more than elsewhere Is possible, the unity of man, One spirit over ignorance and vice Predominant, in good and evil hearts; One sense for moral judgments, as one eye For the sun's light. The soul when smitten thus By a sublime 'idea', whencesoe'er Vouchsafed for union or communion, feeds On the pure bliss, and takes her rest with God. Thus from a very early age, O Friend! My thoughts by slow gradations had been drawn To human-kind, and to the good and ill Of human life: Nature had led me on; And oft amid the "busy hum" I seemed To travel independent of her help, As if I had forgotten her; but no, The world of human-kind outweighed not hers In my habitual thoughts; the scale of love, Though filling daily, still was light, compared With that in which 'her' mighty objects lay.

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