The Prelude to the Prelude

The Prelude to The Prelude

English 340 A/B- Foundations: Literature in English from the Middle Ages to the Present Blog Post Assignment Submission- Group One, Type Two(Closed Reading)

By: Dane Thibeault

Throughout the following account, in evaluating lines one through twenty-nine(page.356) of William Wordsworth’s The Prelude(1805), a fundamental consideration will be explored and elaborated upon: How do these initial lines of the text establish a difference between The Prelude, and its implications regarding human nature, from the previous texts of study, and their developed tones, themes, and settings? In response to this inquiry, the significance of the initiating passage of The Prelude is its proclamation(through the narration of Wordsworth) of an optimism regarding the human condition and potential, serving to contrast the fundamentally pessimistic view of human nature and reality, and the ominous tones and settings conveyed by many of the previous texts of study—namely Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Whereas, Marlowe and Milton fixate upon the human tendency to dismiss or compromise morality and purity in opting to satisfy a lust for an elevated knowledge or status beyond that with which they are presently endowed, and Swift regards humanity as generally corrupted altogether, Wordsworth presents an alternative point of view, at least within the passage of the text addressed within this account.

The reader of the text is immediately greeted by Wordsworth’s narration assimilating them into a scene of serenity—hardly the hellfire or harrowing islands employed as the settings within the works of the previously mentioned other authors. “Oh there is  blessing in this gentle breeze,”(1) begins Wordsworth, “O welcome messenger! O welcome friend!”(5)—the reader can hardly refrain from experiencing affinity or feeling accustomed to the scene. These vivid opening addresses serve to establish a tone of promise, as opposed to a foreboding aura of skepticism inherent within the other texts. This implemented tone further develops an elevated mood, placing the individual as the pilot of their destiny—as opposed to a subject subordinated to the will of the divine. This autonomy over destiny by humanity is reflected in two of Wordsworth’s speeches:

Now I am free, enfranchised and at large,

May fix my habitation where I will.

What dwelling shall receive me, in what vale

Shall be my harbour, underneath what grove

Shall I take up my home, and what sweet stream

Shall with its murmurs lull me to my rest? (9-14)

A rather confident expression, paralleled to another aesthetic articulation:

That burthen of my own unnatural self,

The heavy weight of many a weary day

Not mine, and such as were not made for me. (23-25)

In these lines, Wordsworth conveys his faith in the human capacity to conduct their own existences, and determine their own outcomes, additionally, in the absence of corruption. The enlightened idea that the individual is vested with both the opportunity, and the ability to discern morality and to chart their destiny towards manifesting their desires is therefore encompassed within these opening addresses of the text, ascribing them their underlying significance to the contested subject of the dimensions of human nature. Wordsworth’s narration consistently asserts his state of content, hardly one altered by temptation towards lapsing into deviance. Toils and struggles, according to Wordsworth are “not made for me,”(25).

“The earth is all before me,”(15) muses Wordsworth, of the prospects that he associates with his surrounding environment, in an ironic paraphrasing of a line from Milton’s Paradise Lost, describing Adam and Eve’s disgrace succeeding their Fall. Not only is this phrase significant in suggesting Wordsworth’s deliberate alternative representation of reality(having read and familiarized with the dismal settings within Paradise Lost), but additionally in promoting a sense of opportunity as opposed to condemnation—of a capacity to thrive within the habitation of nature, a central focus of the Romantic literary genre. In other words, Milton’s line addresses the expulsion of Adam of Eve from the natural setting of the Garden of Eden, while Wordsworth’s line welcomes him, and the reader, into a similar natural environment.

Thus, as life(or at least its prospects of hope) concludes for the protagonists of Dr. Faustus, Paradise Lost, and Gulliver’s Travels, it begins in a state of natural reprieve for Wordsworth, within the evaluated opening lines of The Prelude. What is to be derived from this observation? None other than the answer to the originally posed question: the significance of the analyzed lines of the text in distinguishing The Prelude from the aforementioned other texts of study, is their promising tone, their aesthetic regard for human existence and potential, and their development of a natural setting, absent of applications or implications of corruption. A concluding question I shall pose for reflection then, is this: is there a comfort derived from opening lines such as these, that entices our attention as readers into the text, and if such lines were manipulated to represent the pessimism of Marlowe, Milton, and Swift, would we be repelled or dislocated from their appeal? As a final remark, these lines are integral, as they define the text as one of optimism, as opposed to one of disillusionment, and thus, the poem could, in effect, manifest differently in its entirety were these opening addresses to be omitted.



 Works Cited

Wordsworth, William. The Prelude, Book One. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.



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2 Responses to The Prelude to the Prelude

  1. jenniferbist says:

    I really liked your inquiry about the opening lines, and I had never really thought of how that could perhaps impact the feelings you get from the poem; WW definitely gives off a hopeful, lighthearted feeling, whereas the other texts we studied are probably more “darkish” and such, with the feeling of doom constantly hanging over your head. I also really liked how you took all of our texts we studied and incorporated them into your argument– it works well, and I had forgotten (with all of WW’s pretty lines), how “hellish” the other stories actually were, both in tale and in themes. I never considered how the opening passages could be presented in these different aspects, especially how you mention “the earth is all before me” line, and the difference in possible meanings from Milton’s Paradise Lost. WW is very open, to both his mind and spirit, which is very nice to read for a change; and maybe the reason why his poem is very capturing to the imagination.

    To your question at the end, I do think that WW gives a sort of “comfort” in his lines, his pure optimism, his love of nature and the whole world that is so strong that nothing could deter him–the opening of his Prelude definitely reflects that, as you said as well, and it’s one of the reasons his writing is very nice to relate to and understand. While looking in our text-book towards the further changes WW made in 1850, and thinking about your question as to whether any changes could impact our view/liking…I actually thought the Norton editors were right in their reasoning that the earlier versions are more spontaneous, and the later more “formal”. I even read the later version first to compare, but there is something in the earlier version which is much nicer to me. The version we read is the 1805, but if you look at the slight changes between the two example passages from different books, the 1850 passage seemed to me more “strict”, and in that strictness not as free-flowing/more gloomy. They are both nice passages, actually, but something in the earlier version I thought was more positive and simpler in its truth. I suppose then, if the wording did change, the opening lines altered/omitted in any way, or if any revisions made (as they were made), it probably would have an impact on the feeling the entire poem gives off.

  2. npelletier says:

    I thought your comparisons between the authors of Milton, Swift, and Marlowe and Wordsworth were extremely interesting. Until I read your post I more than likely would not have looked at the differences in their texts. I agree that the poetry of Wordsworth does have a much more uplifting and optimistic tone, which would make the experience more inviting for the reader. His love of nature is so evident in the opening lines of The Prelude, however when nature is described by Milton it is spoken of as something mysterious and therefore, it should be feared because of it’s anonymity. It is the same with the descriptions of the islands in Gulliver’s Travels. Wordsworth on the other hand makes nature seem like something that is welcoming and exciting, something to be explored through his use of language.
    To answer the question you posed at the end of your blog, yes I do believe that there is an element of comfort in the opening lines of The Prelude that entices the readers into the imagery of the poem. I also believe that if the images of nature had been presented to us in the same pessimistic way that it is with Swift or Milton, we as readers would not be compelled to read a poem whose topic is of nature.

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