Today, I am thrilled to be reviewing The Prelude by William Wordsworth. I have a soft spot for Wordsworth and his poetry that began as an undergraduate English student. I went on to write my graduate thesis on Wordsworth’s Home at Grasmere and how it shaped his Victorian identity. Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage is one of my favorite places to visit period. And I dream about having a garden as beautiful and wild as his grounds at Rydal Mount. I love the Lake District deeply and Wordsworth has influenced that love through his poetry and prose.
The Prelude is the culmination of Wordsworth’s poetic work. It represents a lifelong pursuit of creating an epic poem reflecting the growth of his poetic genius and explores the influence of his childhood and young adulthood on his poetry and his perceptions of the world. While I have read parts of the poem before, I think this may be the first time I read it from start to finish. And reading this poem felt very nostalgic for me.
Reading this poem reminds me of everything that I love about the Lake District. I’m lucky to have visited that beautiful part of England three times. And each time I am blown away by it. There is no place in the world like it. In fact, there is something special, almost magical about those lakes and I feel so much peace, happiness, and pure joy when I am there. One day, I would love to live there at least for a little while. I have visited Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount multiple times and seeing those locations has helped me understand Wordsworth’s deep love of the lakes. Dove Cottage is cozy, quaint, and everything you imagine an English cottage to be, and there are no gardens to rival those surrounding Rydal Mount. I love both these places so much! Because of my love for the lakes, I completely agree with Wordsworth’s beautiful verses about the power of Nature to shape the imagination and build knowledge and wisdom.
- I enjoyed the asides to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the ways he obviously influenced Wordsworth’s poetry and his ambitions.
- So many allusions to other famous poems and works, especially Paradise Lost which was inspiration for the poem in many ways. Makes me want to reread that epic poem sometime in the next few years.
According to Goodreads, “First published in July 1850, shortly after Wordsworth’s death, The Prelude was the culmination of over fifty years of creative work. The great Romantic poem of human consciousness, it takes as its theme ‘the growth of a poet’s mind’: leading the reader back to Wordsworth’s formative moments of childhood and youth, and detailing his experiences as a radical undergraduate in France at the time of the Revolution. Initially inspired by Coleridge’s exhortation that Wordsworth write a work upon the French Revolution, The Prelude has ultimately become one of the finest examples of poetic autobiography ever written; a fascinating examination of the self that also presents a comprehensive view of the poet’s own creative vision. ”
This poem is a beautiful exploration of many themes and ideas that resonate with Wordsworth’s other works. These themes show why so many scholars consider this poem Wordworth’s magnum opus. A few of my favorite ideas and questions include the following:
- Imagination–how to develop it? what is it’s importance?
- Nature–value of nature to gain knowledge, spots of time as moments of clarity and wisdom, nature as teacher and mentor
- Journeys–spiritual journey to understand man, how can we move forward? is life a continual circle? metaphors with rivers,
- Growth of a poet’s mind–spiritual autobiography, understanding how one’s ideals and opinions change/develop over time
The best word to describe the writing in this poem is beautiful. Poetry can be hard to get excited about especially long epic poetry in free verse. But there is something just lovely about the way William Wordsworth writes. While his shorter poetry often paints a single moment in nature, this one gives us a collection of spots of time and the reasons they are important. I often read several lines aloud to myself just to hear the way the words flowed together. Reading The Prelude makes me want to reread more of his work like Lyrical Ballads to experience more of his imagery and words.
This poem is a lot longer than I remember and I had to set goals to finish it in a timely fashion. I’m not positive that I’ve read it in its entirety before. I have definitely read excerpts–several passages were familiar to me this time around. But this may have been my first straight through read. It is a long poem! I made a goal of 10 pages a day to keep on track and make progress to finishing it. Some books are more interesting that others–the ones that describe his experiences at Hawkshead, walking tours in the Alps, years at Cambridge, and experiences in the lake District are all very easy to get into. But some of his more philosophical books focusing on his intellectual crisis or the moral/philosophical ramifications of the French Revolution were less enjoyable to read. Although they certainly contain important ideas that shaped the man Wordsworth would become.
Is this Wordsworth’s masterpiece? He said The Prelude was meant to be the introduction to his great magnum opus, The Recluse. But he didn’t finish that work and struggled to write it. While Wordsworth is quoted about his disappointment at not being about to complete The Recluse, I find this epic poem as striking and compelling as anything he’s written. Perhaps most especially because he works on it all his life with 3 different versions in existence. It represents a collaboration of his experiences and his opinions over a lifetime. That sounds like a masterpiece to me.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
Any Wordsworth fans out there? Which are your favorite Wordsworth poems?