Transformation of the Poet Prophet

Book I of The Prelude concerns itself with Wordsworth’s initial encounters with nature in his childhood and details his transformation into a greater poet in his earlier days. Told from the perspective of an older Wordsworth recalling “snowdrops among winter snows,” the memories that unfold imply a fear and dazzlement associated with truly memorable first time encounters–connoting erotic undertones in his relationship with nature (616). Ultimately, Wordsworth reveals his role as a Poet Prophet, according to Shelley’s definition, revealing–in some ways–that it has come about thanks to his transformation and experience in nature.

Percy Bysshe Shelley defines poets as “the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life;” a unifier of the “world legislator or prophet” characters (945-946). He goes on to describe the “electric life which burns within their words” describing poets as shapers of the world around them, forgers of natural law; as the “spirit of the age” (956). Wordsworth’s initial lines of The Prelude align closely with Shelley’s definition. He discusses his prophetic nature as one that comes ‘naturally’ in nature: “poetic numbers came/ Spontaneously, and clothed in priestly robe/ My spirit, thus singled out…/For holy services” (51-54). Wordsworth appears as a preacher using the natural world as his podium. He lingers in nature taking in the simplest of sounds–“an acorn from the trees/ Fell audibly, and with a startling sound” (84-85). Yet, the stage that he describes, as one comforted by the natural world around him, as a familiar of the natural world around him was not always the case.

Wordsworth details in further lines his anxiety as a youthful poet. He recalls a “Vague longing that is bred by want of power” (239). His desire for greatness on the scale of his predecessors, such as Milton, are traits of his wily youth: anxious and frustrated as his mind broods. Wordsworth goes on to describe, however, a pivotal turning point in his life. In the attitude of an immortal youth, Wordsworth steals a “sheperd’s boat” to ride about in a “rocky cove” (357-359). It is in this scene that Wordsworth is engulfed by the sublime as a huge black cliff menacingly peers out from behind a “craggy steep” (377). Wordsworth is haunted as a thwarted youth being surprised by an unknown event similar to a virginal experience. It was one that stayed with him and that made him grow granting him, what he refers to as, “Wisdom and spirit of the universe” (401).

It is the experience gained from this moment, and of course, others along the path of his life that have granted Wordsworth the abilities of a Poet Prophet. An even older Wordsworth comments again on his relationship with nature in Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey in a similar fashion to that mentioned in The Prelude:

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul:

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things (45-50).


~ by frightenedinmate2 on August 30, 2012.

One Response to “Transformation of the Poet Prophet”

  1. This post has done a good job of summarizing various scenes in the Prelude where Shelley’s idea of the poet-prophet predominates. But I’m not sure if I understand your argument. Does Wordsworth allow for more fear and terror in nature than Shelley’s definition of the poet-prophet would allow? Taking the time to analyze the lines from Tintern Abbey could have made your point clear.

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