The Prelude: Book 1: Childhood and School-time by William Wordsworth

—Was it for this 

That one, the fairest of all Rivers, lov'd 

To blend his murmurs with my Nurse's song, 

And from his alder shades and rocky falls, 

And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice 

That flow'd along my dreams? For this, didst Thou, 

O Derwent! travelling over the green Plains 

Near my 'sweet Birthplace', didst thou, beauteous Stream 

Make ceaseless music through the night and day 

Which with its steady cadence, tempering 

Our human waywardness, compos'd my thoughts 

To more than infant softness, giving me, 

Among the fretful dwellings of mankind, 

A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm 

That Nature breathes among the hills and groves. 

When, having left his Mountains, to the Towers 

Of Cockermouth that beauteous River came, 

Behind my Father's House he pass'd, close by, 

Along the margin of our Terrace Walk. 

He was a Playmate whom we dearly lov'd. 

Oh! many a time have I, a five years' Child, 

A naked Boy, in one delightful Rill, 

A little Mill-race sever'd from his stream, 

Made one long bathing of a summer's day, 

Bask'd in the sun, and plunged, and bask'd again 

Alternate all a summer's day, or cours'd 

Over the sandy fields, leaping through groves 

Of yellow grunsel, or when crag and hill, 

The woods, and distant Skiddaw's lofty height, 

Were bronz'd with a deep radiance, stood alone 

Beneath the sky, as if I had been born 

On Indian Plains, and from my Mother's hut 

Had run abroad in wantonness, to sport, 

A naked Savage, in the thunder shower. 

 

       Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up 

Foster'd alike by beauty and by fear; 

Much favour'd in my birthplace, and no less 

In that beloved Vale to which, erelong, 

I was transplanted. Well I call to mind 

('Twas at an early age, ere I had seen 

Nine summers) when upon the mountain slope 

The frost and breath of frosty wind had snapp'd 

The last autumnal crocus, 'twas my joy 

To wander half the night among the Cliffs 

And the smooth Hollows, where the woodcocks ran 

Along the open turf. In thought and wish 

That time, my shoulder all with springes hung, 

I was a fell destroyer. On the heights 

Scudding away from snare to snare, I plied 

My anxious visitation, hurrying on, 

Still hurrying, hurrying onward; moon and stars 

Were shining o'er my head; I was alone, 

And seem'd to be a trouble to the peace 

That was among them. Sometimes it befel 

In these night-wanderings, that a strong desire 

O'erpower'd my better reason, and the bird 

Which was the captive of another's toils 

Became my prey; and, when the deed was done 

I heard among the solitary hills 

Low breathings coming after me, and sounds 

Of undistinguishable motion, steps 

Almost as silent as the turf they trod. 

Nor less in springtime when on southern banks 

The shining sun had from his knot of leaves 

Decoy'd the primrose flower, and when the Vales 

And woods were warm, was I a plunderer then 

In the high places, on the lonesome peaks 

Where'er, among the mountains and the winds, 

The Mother Bird had built her lodge. Though mean 

My object, and inglorious, yet the end 

Was not ignoble. Oh! when I have hung 

Above the raven's nest, by knots of grass 

And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock 

But ill sustain'd, and almost, as it seem'd, 

Suspended by the blast which blew amain, 

Shouldering the naked crag; Oh! at that time, 

While on the perilous ridge I hung alone, 

With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind 

Blow through my ears! the sky seem'd not a sky 

Of earth, and with what motion mov'd the clouds! 

 

       The mind of Man is fram'd even like the breath 

And harmony of music. There is a dark 

Invisible workmanship that reconciles 

Discordant elements, and makes them move 

In one society. Ah me! that all 

The terrors, all the early miseries 

Regrets, vexations, lassitudes, that all 

The thoughts and feelings which have been infus'd 

Into my mind, should ever have made up 

The calm existence that is mine when I 

Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end! 

Thanks likewise for the means! But I believe 

That Nature, oftentimes, when she would frame 

A favor'd Being, from his earliest dawn 

Of infancy doth open out the clouds, 

As at the touch of lightning, seeking him 

With gentlest visitation; not the less, 

Though haply aiming at the self-same end, 

Does it delight her sometimes to employ 

Severer interventions, ministry 

More palpable, and so she dealt with me. 

 

       One evening (surely I was led by her) 

I went alone into a Shepherd's Boat, 

A Skiff that to a Willow tree was tied 

Within a rocky Cave, its usual home. 

'Twas by the shores of Patterdale, a Vale 

Wherein I was a Stranger, thither come 

A School-boy Traveller, at the Holidays. 

Forth rambled from the Village Inn alone 

No sooner had I sight of this small Skiff, 

Discover'd thus by unexpected chance, 

Than I unloos'd her tether and embark'd. 

The moon was up, the Lake was shining clear 

Among the hoary mountains; from the Shore 

I push'd, and struck the oars and struck again 

In cadence, and my little Boat mov'd on 

Even like a Man who walks with stately step 

Though bent on speed. It was an act of stealth 

And troubled pleasure; not without the voice 

Of mountain-echoes did my Boat move on, 

Leaving behind her still on either side 

Small circles glittering idly in the moon, 

Until they melted all into one track 

Of sparkling light. A rocky Steep uprose 

Above the Cavern of the Willow tree 

And now, as suited one who proudly row'd 

With his best skill, I fix'd a steady view 

Upon the top of that same craggy ridge, 

The bound of the horizon, for behind 

Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky. 

She was an elfin Pinnace; lustily 

I dipp'd my oars into the silent Lake, 

And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat 

Went heaving through the water, like a Swan; 

When from behind that craggy Steep, till then 

The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff, 

As if with voluntary power instinct, 

Uprear'd its head. I struck, and struck again 

And, growing still in stature, the huge Cliff 

Rose up between me and the stars, and still, 

With measur'd motion, like a living thing, 

Strode after me. With trembling hands I turn'd, 

And through the silent water stole my way 

Back to the Cavern of the Willow tree. 

There, in her mooring-place, I left my Bark, 

And, through the meadows homeward went, with grave 

And serious thoughts; and after I had seen 

That spectacle, for many days, my brain 

Work'd with a dim and undetermin'd sense 

Of unknown modes of being; 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 mov'd slowly through the mind 

By day and were the trouble of my dreams. 

 

       Wisdom and Spirit of the universe! 

Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought! 

That giv'st to forms and images a breath 

And everlasting motion! not in vain, 

By day or star-light thus from my first dawn 

Of Childhood didst Thou intertwine for me 

The passions that build up our human Soul, 

Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man, 

But with high objects, with enduring things, 

With life and nature, purifying thus 

The elements of feeling and of thought, 

And sanctifying, by such discipline, 

Both pain and fear, until we recognize 

A grandeur in the beatings of the heart. 

 

       Nor was this fellowship vouchsaf'd to me 

With stinted kindness. In November days, 

When vapours, rolling down the valleys, made 

A lonely scene more lonesome; among woods 

At noon, and 'mid the calm of summer nights, 

When, by the margin of the trembling Lake, 

Beneath the gloomy hills I homeward went 

In solitude, such intercourse was mine; 

'Twas mine among the fields both day and night, 

And by the waters all the summer long. 

 

       And in the frosty season, when the sun 

Was set, and visible for many a mile 

The cottage windows through the twilight blaz'd, 

I heeded not the summons:—happy time 

It was, indeed, for all of us; to me 

It was a time of rapture: clear and loud 

The village clock toll'd six; I wheel'd about, 

Proud and exulting, like an untired horse, 

That cares not for its home.—All shod with steel, 

We hiss'd along the polish'd ice, in games 

Confederate, imitative of the chace 

And woodland pleasures, the resounding horn, 

The Pack loud bellowing, and the hunted hare. 

So through the darkness and the cold we flew, 

And not a voice was idle; with the din, 

Meanwhile, the precipices rang aloud, 

The leafless trees, and every icy crag 

Tinkled like iron, while the distant hills 

Into the tumult sent an alien sound 

Of melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars, 

Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the west 

The orange sky of evening died away. 

 

       Not seldom from the uproar I retired 

Into a silent bay, or sportively 

Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng, 

To cut across the image of a star 

That gleam'd upon the ice: and oftentimes 

When we had given our bodies to the wind, 

And all the shadowy banks, on either side, 

Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still 

The rapid line of motion; then at once 

Have I, reclining back upon my heels, 

Stopp'd short, yet still the solitary Cliffs 

Wheeled by me, even as if the earth had roll'd 

With visible motion her diurnal round; 

Behind me did they stretch in solemn train 

Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watch'd 

Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep. 

 

       Ye Presences of Nature, in the sky 

And on the earth! Ye Visions of the hills! 

And Souls of lonely places! can I think 

A vulgar hope was yours when Ye employ'd 

Such ministry, when Ye through many a year 

Haunting me thus among my boyish sports, 

On caves and trees, upon the woods and hills, 

Impress'd upon all forms the characters 

Of danger or desire, and thus did make 

The surface of the universal earth 

With triumph, and delight, and hope, and fear, 

Work like a sea? 

 

                                          Not uselessly employ'd, 

I might pursue this theme through every change 

Of exercise and play, to which the year 

Did summon us in its delightful round. 

 

       We were a noisy crew, the sun in heaven 

Beheld not vales more beautiful than ours, 

Nor saw a race in happiness and joy 

More worthy of the ground where they were sown. 

I would record with no reluctant voice 

The woods of autumn and their hazel bowers 

With milk-white clusters hung; the rod and line, 

True symbol of the foolishness of hope, 

Which with its strong enchantment led us on 

By rocks and pools, shut out from every star 

All the green summer, to forlorn cascades 

Among the windings of the mountain brooks. 

—Unfading recollections! at this hour 

The heart is almost mine with which I felt 

From some hill-top, on sunny afternoons 

The Kite high up among the fleecy clouds 

Pull at its rein, like an impatient Courser, 

Or, from the meadows sent on gusty days, 

Beheld her breast the wind, then suddenly 

Dash'd headlong; and rejected by the storm. 

 

       Ye lowly Cottages in which we dwelt, 

A ministration of your own was yours, 

A sanctity, a safeguard, and a love! 

Can I forget you, being as ye were 

So beautiful among the pleasant fields 

In which ye stood? Or can I here forget 

The plain and seemly countenance with which 

Ye dealt out your plain comforts? Yet had ye 

Delights and exultations of your own. 

Eager and never weary we pursued 

Our home amusements by the warm peat-fire 

At evening; when with pencil and with slate, 

In square divisions parcell'd out, and all 

With crosses and with cyphers scribbled o'er, 

We schemed and puzzled, head opposed to head 

In strife too humble to be named in Verse. 

Or round the naked table, snow-white deal, 

Cherry or maple, sate in close array, 

And to the combat, Lu or Whist, led on 

thick-ribbed Army; not as in the world 

Neglected and ungratefully thrown by 

Even for the very service they had wrought, 

But husbanded through many a long campaign. 

Uncouth assemblage was it, where no few 

Had changed their functions, some, plebeian cards, 

Which Fate beyond the promise of their birth 

Had glorified, and call'd to represent 

The persons of departed Potentates. 

Oh! with what echoes on the Board they fell! 

Ironic Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, 

A congregation piteously akin. 

Cheap matter did they give to boyish wit, 

Those sooty knaves, precipitated down 

With scoffs and taunts, like Vulcan out of Heaven, 

The paramount Ace, a moon in her eclipse, 

Queens, gleaming through their splendour's last decay, 

And Monarchs, surly at the wrongs sustain'd 

By royal visages. Meanwhile, abroad 

The heavy rain was falling, or the frost 

Raged bitterly, with keen and silent tooth, 

And, interrupting oft the impassion'd game, 

From Esthwaite's neighbouring Lake the splitting ice, 

While it sank down towards the water, sent, 

Among the meadows and the hills, its long 

And dismal yellings, like the noise of wolves 

When they are howling round the Bothnic Main. 

 

       Nor, sedulous as I have been to trace 

How Nature by extrinsic passion first 

Peopled my mind with beauteous forms or grand, 

And made me love them, may I well forget 

How other pleasures have been mine, and joys 

Of subtler origin; how I have felt, 

Not seldom, even in that tempestuous time, 

Those hallow'd and pure motions of the sense 

Which seem, in their simplicity, to own 

An intellectual charm, that calm delight 

Which, if I err not, surely must belong 

To those first-born affinities that fit 

Our new existence to existing things, 

And, in our dawn of being, constitute 

The bond of union betwixt life and joy. 

 

       Yes, I remember, when the changeful earth, 

And twice five seasons on my mind had stamp'd 

The faces of the moving year, even then, 

A Child, I held unconscious intercourse 

With the eternal Beauty, drinking in 

A pure organic pleasure from the lines 

Of curling mist, or from the level plain 

Of waters colour'd by the steady clouds. 

 

       The Sands of Westmoreland, the Creeks and Bays 

Of Cumbria's rocky limits, they can tell 

How when the Sea threw off his evening shade 

And to the Shepherd's huts beneath the crags 

Did send sweet notice of the rising moon, 

How I have stood, to fancies such as these, 

Engrafted in the tenderness of thought, 

A stranger, linking with the spectacle 

No conscious memory of a kindred sight, 

And bringing with me no peculiar sense 

Of quietness or peace, yet I have stood, 

Even while mine eye has mov'd o'er three long leagues 

Of shining water, gathering, as it seem'd, 

Through every hair-breadth of that field of light, 

New pleasure, like a bee among the flowers. 

 

       Thus, often in those fits of vulgar joy 

Which, through all seasons, on a child's pursuits 

Are prompt attendants, 'mid that giddy bliss 

Which, like a tempest, works along the blood 

And is forgotten; even then I felt 

Gleams like the flashing of a shield; the earth 

And common face of Nature spake to me 

Rememberable things; sometimes, 'tis true, 

By chance collisions and quaint accidents 

Like those ill-sorted unions, work suppos'd 

Of evil-minded fairies, yet not vain 

Nor profitless, if haply they impress'd 

Collateral objects and appearances, 

Albeit lifeless then, and doom'd to sleep 

Until maturer seasons call'd them forth 

To impregnate and to elevate the mind. 

—And if the vulgar joy by its own weight 

Wearied itself out of the memory, 

The scenes which were a witness of that joy 

Remained, in their substantial lineaments 

Depicted on the brain, and to the eye 

Were visible, a daily sight; and thus 

By the impressive discipline of fear, 

By pleasure and repeated happiness, 

So frequently repeated, and by force 

Of obscure feelings representative 

Of joys that were forgotten, these same scenes, 

So beauteous and majestic in themselves, 

Though yet the day was distant, did at length 

Become habitually dear, and all 

Their hues and forms were by invisible links 

Allied to the affections. 

 

                                                       I began 

My story early, feeling as I fear, 

The weakness of a human love, for days 

Disown'd by memory, ere the birth of spring 

Planting my snowdrops among winter snows. 

Nor will it seem to thee, my Friend! so prompt 

In sympathy, that I have lengthen'd out, 

With fond and feeble tongue, a tedious tale. 

Meanwhile, my hope has been that I might fetch 

Invigorating thoughts from former years, 

Might fix the wavering balance of my wind, 

And haply meet reproaches, too, whose power 

May spur me on, in manhood now mature, 

To honorable toil. Yet should these hopes 

Be vain, and thus should neither I be taught 

To understand myself, nor thou to know 

With better knowledge how the heart was fram'd 

Of him thou lovest, need I dread from thee 

Harsh judgments, if I am so loth to quit 

Those recollected hours that have the charm 

Of visionary things, and lovely forms 

And sweet sensations that throw back our life 

And almost make our Infancy itself 

A visible scene, on which the sun is shining? 

 

       One end hereby at least hath been attain'd, 

My mind hath been revived, and if this mood 

Desert me not, I will forthwith bring down, 

Through later years, the story of my life. 

The road lies plain before me; 'tis a theme 

Single and of determined bounds; and hence 

I chuse it rather at this time, than work 

Of ampler or more varied argument. 

 

from The Prelude: Book 1: Childhood and School-time by William Wordsworth