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.
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.