The Poetic and Prophetic Excellence of Wordsworth

William Wordsworth’s The Prelude is drenched in scenic, utterly romantic imagery from the moment his autobiographical poem begins; the reader initially encounters Wordsworth in perfect contentment with his natural surroundings.  As he enjoys “a blessing in this gentle breeze” (1), his poetic intuition soon identifies that in this “sweet breath of heaven” is a potent message that conveys “…vernal promises, the hope/Of active days, of dignity and thought,/Of prowess in an honorable field,/Pure passions, virtue and knowledge, and delight,/The holy life of music and of verse” (50-54).  According to the verses that subsequently follow, Wordsworth extracts from the whisper of this wind the inspiration for poetic prophecy: “Great hopes were mine:/My own voice cheared me, and, far more, the mind’s/Internal echo of the imperfect sound-/To both I listened, drawing from them both/A chearful confidence in things to come” (63-67).

Most intriguing about this inaugural anecdote is how finely tuned Wordsworth is to the muted whispers of the natural world.  As Percy Bysshe Shelly relates in A Defence of Poetry, the poets “…are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at [human nature’s] manifestations, for it is less their own spirit than the spirit of the age” (Shelley 956).  Therefore, just as nature suddenly took possession of Wordsworth’s mind in the beginning of The Prelude, the poet undoubtedly exists to dwell in a state of acute awareness as an interpreter of “the unapprehended inspiration” discovered in the melody of our natural surroundings (956).  Shelley names the poet an “unacknowledged legislator of the world” (that is, “…the teachers who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world” and subsequently profess the laws, language, and social order the world communicates).  Wordsworth’s innate connection with the natural world certainly qualifies him as one who can perceive the “gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present” (956).  Wordsworth’s early communion with the universe is demonstrated in the first book of The Prelude, specifically when he reflects on a moment in his youth when he steals a boat, and is reprimanded by Nature itself.  After his encounter, he notes the immediate effects of Nature’s intervention in his youthful mind: “In my thoughts/There was a darkness–call it solitude/Or blank desertion–no familiar shapes/Of hourly objects, images of trees,/Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields,/But huge and mighty forms that do not live/Like living men moved slowly through my mind/By day, and were the trouble of my dreams” (420-426).  It is here that Wordsworth experiences the instantaneous transformation of his adolescent mind into the malleable and perceptive mind of the poet, and furthermore, a vehicle for Nature’s own legislation.

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~ by Romantic Fanatic on August 29, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Poetic and Prophetic Excellence of Wordsworth”

  1. This blog offers an interesting reading but reserves the most original idea to the last line: how exactly does nature function as a legislator in Wordsworth’s poetry? Perhaps the discipline imparted through Wordsworth’s experience with nature is the means by which poets could become legislators? A closer reading of the boat-stealing episode would help support your claim.

  2. Wordsworth’s method of writing is both easy to comprehend and derivative of its own rationality. It calls to mind the life of an anchoress, secluded from cultural norms and meditional in life passage. Lines like “the holy life of music and verse” are so strong and receptive to the memory and will that they seem overpowering, demanding a change from conservatism to liberal defiance. This post captures that aspect of Wordsworth well, and dwells longingly on the reasons why a monk is preferable to a dancer; mainly because monks spend much of their time engaging in apocalyptic philosophy while dancers are creative in solace.

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