Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805)

From Book Eleventh: Imagination, How Impaired and Restored

(Line numbers for the 1805 text are on the left; numbers on the right correspond to the 1850 edition.)

          This history, my friend, hath chiefly told
        Of intellectual power from stage to stage  [45]
        Advancing hand in hand with love and joy,
{L 45}  And of imagination teaching truth
        Until that natural graciousness of mind  [50]
        Gave way to over-pressure of the times
        And their disastrous issues. What availed,
        When spells forbade the voyager to land,
{L 50}  The fragrance which did ever and anon
        Give notice of the shore, from arbours breathed  [55]
        Of blessed sentiment and fearless love?
        What did such sweet remembrances avail -- 
        Perfidious then, as seemed -- what served they then?
{L 55}  My business was upon the barren seas,
        My errand was to sail to other coasts.
        Shall I avow that I had hope to see
        (I mean that future times would surely see)
        The man to come parted as by a gulph
{L 60}  From him who had been? -- that I could no more  [60]
        Trust the elevation which had made me one
        With the great family that here and there
        Is scattered through the abyss of ages past,
        Sage, patriot, lover, hero; for it seemed
{L 65}  That their best virtues were not free from taint  [65]
        Of something false and weak, which could not stand
        The open eye of reason. Then I said,
        'Go to the poets, they will speak to thee
        More perfectly of purer creatures -- yet

{L 70}  If reason be nobility in man,  [70]
        Can aught be more ignoble than the man
        Whom they describe, would fasten if they may
        Upon our loin by sympathies of truth?'
          Thus strangely did I war against myself;  [76]
{L 75}  A bigot to a new idolatry,
        Did like a monk who hath forsworn the world
        Zealously labour to cut off my heart
        From all the sources of her former strength;  [80]
        And, as by simple waving of a wand,
{L 80}  The wizard instantaneously dissolves
        Palace or grove, even so did I unsoul
        As readily by syllogistic words
        (Some charm of logic, ever within reach)
        Those mysteries of passion which have made,  [85]
{L 85}  And shall continue evermore to make
        In spite of all that reason hath performed,
        And shall perform, to exalt and to refine -- 
        One brotherhood of all the human race,
        Through all the habitations of past years,
{L 90}  And those to come: and hence an emptiness
        Fell on the historian's page, and even on that
        Of poets, pregnant with more absolute truth.
        The works of both withered in my esteem,
        Their sentence was, I thought, pronounced -- their rights
{L 95}  Seemed mortal, and their empire passed away.
          What then remained in such eclipse, what light
        To guide or chear? The laws of things which lie
        Beyond the reach of human will or power,
        The life of Nature, by the God of love
{L 100} Inspired -- celestial presence ever pure -- 
        These left, the soul of youth must needs be rich
        Whatever else be lost; and these were mine,
        Not a deaf echo merely of the thought
        (Bewildered recollections, solitary),
{L 105} But living sounds. Yet in despite of this -- 
        This feeling, which howe'er impaired or damped,
        Yet having been once born can never die -- 
        'Tis true that earth with all her appanage
        Of elements and organs, storm and sunshine,
{L 110} With its pure forms and colours, pomp of clouds,
        Rivers, and mountains, objects among which
        It might be thought that no dislike or blame,
        No sense of weakness or infirmity
        Or aught amiss, could possibly have come,
{L 115} Yea, even the visible universe was scanned
        With something of a kindred spirit, fell
        Beneath the domination of a taste  [90]
        Less elevated, which did in my mind
        With its more noble influence interfere,
{L 120} Its animation and its deeper sway.
          There comes (if need be now to speak of this
        After such long detail of our mistakes),
        There comes a time when reason -- not the grand
        And simple reason, but that humbler power
{L 125} Which carries on its no inglorious work
        By logic and minute analysis -- 
        Is of all idols that which pleases most
        The growing mind. A trifler would he be
        Who on the obvious benefits should dwell
{L 130} That rise out of this process; but to speak
        Of all the narrow estimates of things
        Which hence originate were a worthy theme
        For philosophic verse. Suffice it here
        To hint that danger cannot but attend
        Upon a function rather proud to be
{L 135} The enemy of falsehood, than the friend
        Of truth -- to sit in judgement than to feel.
          Oh soul of Nature, excellent and fair,
        That didst rejoice with me, with whom I too
{L 140} Rejoiced, through early youth, before the winds  [95]
        And powerful waters, and in lights and shades
        That marched and countermarched about the hills
        In glorious apparition, now all eye
        And now all ear, but ever with the heart  [100]
{L 145} Employed, and the majestic intellect!
        O soul of Nature, that dost overflow
        With passion and with life, what feeble men
        Walk on this earth, how feeble have I been  [105]
        When thou wert in thy strength! Nor this through stroke
{L 150} Of human suffering, such as justifies
        Remissness and inaptitude of mind,
        But through presumption, even in pleasure pleased
        Unworthily, disliking here, and there  [110]
        Liking, by rules of mimic art transferred
{L 155} To things above all art. But more -- for this,
        Although a strong infection of the age,
        Was never much my habit -- giving way
        To a comparison of scene with scene,  [115]
        Bent overmuch on superficial things,
{L 160} Pampering myself with meagre novelties
        Of colour and proportion, to the moods
        Of Nature, and the spirit of the place,  [120]
        Less sensible. Nor only did the love
        Of sitting thus in judgment interrupt
{L 165} My deeper feelings, but another cause,
        More subtle and less easily explained,
        That almost seems inherent in the creature,  [125]
        Sensuous and intellectual as he is,
        A twofold frame of body and of mind:
{L 170} The state to which I now allude was one
        In which the eye was master of the heart,
        When that which is in every stage of life
        The most despotic of our senses gained
        Such strength in me as often held my mind  [130]
{L 175} In absolute dominion. Gladly here,
        Entering upon abstruser argument,
        Would I endeavour to unfold the means
        Which Nature studiously employs to thwart
        This tyranny, summons all the senses each  [135]
{L 180} To counteract the other and themselves,
        And makes them all, and the objects with which all
        Are conversant, subservient in their turn
        To the great ends of liberty and power.
        But this is matter for another song;
{L 185} Here only let me add that my delights,
        Such as they were, were sought insatiably.  [141]
        Though 'twas a transport of the outward sense,
        Not of the mind -- vivid but not profound -- 
        Yet was I often greedy in the chace,
{L 190} And roamed from hill to hill, from rock to rock,
        Still craving combinations of new forms,
        New pleasure, wider empire for the sight,  [145]
        Proud of its own endowments, and rejoiced
        To lay the inner faculties asleep.

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