The Prelude: Book 2: School-time

Thus far, O Friend! have we, though leaving much 

Unvisited, endeavour'd to retrace 

My life through its first years, and measured back 

The way I travell'd when I first began 

To love the woods and fields; the passion yet 

Was in its birth, sustain'd, as might befal, 

By nourishment that came unsought, for still, 

From week to week, from month to month, we liv'd 

A round of tumult: duly were our games 

Prolong'd in summer till the day-light fail'd; 

No chair remain'd before the doors, the bench 

And threshold steps were empty; fast asleep 

The Labourer, and the old Man who had sate, 

A later lingerer, yet the revelry 

Continued, and the loud uproar: at last, 

When all the ground was dark, and the huge clouds 

Were edged with twinkling stars, to bed we went, 

With weary joints, and with a beating mind. 

Ah! is there one who ever has been young, 

Nor needs a monitory voice to tame 

The pride of virtue, and of intellect? 

And is there one, the wisest and the best 

Of all mankind, who does not sometimes wish 

For things which cannot be, who would not give, 

If so he might, to duty and to truth 

The eagerness of infantine desire? 

A tranquillizing spirit presses now 

On my corporeal frame: so wide appears 

The vacancy between me and those days, 

Which yet have such self-presence in my mind 

That, sometimes, when I think of them, I seem 

Two consciousnesses, conscious of myself 

And of some other Being. A grey Stone 

Of native rock, left midway in the Square 

Of our small market Village, was the home 

And centre of these joys, and when, return'd 

After long absence, thither I repair'd, 

I found that it was split, and gone to build 

A smart Assembly-room that perk'd and flar'd 

With wash and rough-cast elbowing the ground 

Which had been ours. But let the fiddle scream, 

And be ye happy! yet, my Friends! I know 

That more than one of you will think with me 

Of those soft starry nights, and that old Dame 

From whom the stone was nam'd who there had sate 

And watch'd her Table with its huckster's wares 

Assiduous, thro' the length of sixty years. 

 

       We ran a boisterous race; the year span round 

With giddy motion. But the time approach'd 

That brought with it a regular desire 

For calmer pleasures, when the beauteous forms 

Of Nature were collaterally attach'd 

To every scheme of holiday delight, 

And every boyish sport, less grateful else, 

And languidly pursued. 

 

                                                       When summer came 

It was the pastime of our afternoons 

To beat along the plain of Windermere 

With rival oars, and the selected bourne 

Was now an Island musical with birds 

That sang for ever; now a Sister Isle 

Beneath the oaks' umbrageous covert, sown 

With lillies of the valley, like a field; 

And now a third small Island where remain'd 

An old stone Table, and a moulder'd Cave, 

A Hermit's history. In such a race, 

So ended, disappointment could be none, 

Uneasiness, or pain, or jealousy: 

We rested in the shade, all pleas'd alike, 

Conquer'd and Conqueror. Thus the pride of strength, 

And the vain-glory of superior skill 

Were interfus'd with objects which subdu'd 

And temper'd them, and gradually produc'd 

A quiet independence of the heart. 

And to my Friend, who knows me, I may add, 

Unapprehensive of reproof, that hence 

Ensu'd a diffidence and modesty, 

And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much, 

The self-sufficing power of solitude. 

 

       No delicate viands sapp'd our bodily strength; 

More than we wish'd we knew the blessing then 

Of vigorous hunger, for our daily meals 

Were frugal, Sabine fare! and then, exclude 

A little weekly stipend, and we lived 

Through three divisions of the quarter'd year 

In pennyless poverty. But now, to School 

Return'd, from the half-yearly holidays, 

We came with purses more profusely fill'd, 

Allowance which abundantly suffic'd 

To gratify the palate with repasts 

More costly than the Dame of whom I spake, 

That ancient Woman, and her board supplied. 

Hence inroads into distant Vales, and long 

Excursions far away among the hills, 

Hence rustic dinners on the cool green ground, 

Or in the woods, or near a river side, 

Or by some shady fountain, while soft airs 

Among the leaves were stirring, and the sun 

Unfelt, shone sweetly round us in our joy. 

 

       Nor is my aim neglected, if I tell 

How twice in the long length of those half-years 

We from our funds, perhaps, with bolder hand 

Drew largely, anxious for one day, at least, 

To feel the motion of the galloping Steed; 

And with the good old Inn-keeper, in truth, 

On such occasion sometimes we employ'd 

Sly subterfuge; for the intended bound 

Of the day's journey was too distant far 

For any cautious man, a Structure famed 

Beyond its neighbourhood, the antique Walls 

Of that large Abbey which within the vale 

Of Nightshade, to St. Mary's honour built, 

Stands yet, a mouldering Pile, with fractured Arch, 

Belfry, and Images, and living Trees, 

A holy Scene! along the smooth green turf 

Our Horses grazed: to more than inland peace 

Left by the sea wind passing overhead 

(Though wind of roughest temper) trees and towers 

May in that Valley oftentimes be seen, 

Both silent and both motionless alike; 

Such is the shelter that is there, and such 

The safeguard for repose and quietness. 

 

       Our steeds remounted, and the summons given, 

With whip and spur we by the Chauntry flew 

In uncouth race, and left the cross-legg'd Knight, 

And the stone-Abbot, and that single Wren 

Which one day sang so sweetly in the Nave 

Of the old Church, that, though from recent showers 

The earth was comfortless, and, touch'd by faint 

Internal breezes, sobbings of the place, 

And respirations, from the roofless walls 

The shuddering ivy dripp'd large drops, yet still, 

So sweetly 'mid the gloom the invisible Bird 

Sang to itself, that there I could have made 

My dwelling-place, and liv'd for ever there 

To hear such music. Through the Walls we flew 

And down the valley, and a circuit made 

In wantonness of heart, through rough and smooth 

We scamper'd homeward. Oh! ye Rocks and Streams, 

And that still Spirit of the evening air! 

Even in this joyous time I sometimes felt 

Your presence, when with slacken'd step we breath'd 

Along the sides of the steep hills, or when, 

Lighted by gleams of moonlight from the sea, 

We beat with thundering hoofs the level sand. 

 

       Upon the Eastern Shore of Windermere, 

Above the crescent of a pleasant Bay, 

There stood an Inn, no homely-featured Shed, 

Brother of the surrounding Cottages, 

But 'twas a splendid place, the door beset 

With Chaises, Grooms, and Liveries, and within 

Decanters, Glasses, and the blood-red Wine. 

In ancient times, or ere the Hall was built 

On the large Island, had this Dwelling been 

More worthy of a Poet's love, a Hut, 

Proud of its one bright fire, and sycamore shade. 

But though the rhymes were gone which once inscribed 

The threshold, and large golden characters 

On the blue-frosted Signboard had usurp'd 

The place of the old Lion, in contempt 

And mockery of the rustic painter's hand, 

Yet to this hour the spot to me is dear 

With all its foolish pomp. The garden lay 

Upon a slope surmounted by the plain 

Of a small Bowling-green; beneath us stood 

A grove; with gleams of water through the trees 

And over the tree-tops; nor did we want 

Refreshment, strawberries and mellow cream. 

And there, through half an afternoon, we play'd 

On the smooth platform, and the shouts we sent 

Made all the mountains ring. But ere the fall 

Of night, when in our pinnace we return'd 

Over the dusky Lake, and to the beach 

Of some small Island steer'd our course with one, 

The Minstrel of our troop, and left him there, 

And row'd off gently, while he blew his flute 

Alone upon the rock; Oh! then the calm 

And dead still water lay upon my mind 

Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky 

Never before so beautiful, sank down 

Into my heart, and held me like a dream. 

 

       Thus daily were my sympathies enlarged, 

And thus the common range of visible things 

Grew dear to me: already I began 

To love the sun, a Boy I lov'd the sun, 

Not as I since have lov'd him, as a pledge 

And surety of our earthly life, a light 

Which while we view we feel we are alive; 

But, for this cause, that I had seen him lay 

His beauty on the morning hills, had seen 

The western mountain touch his setting orb, 

In many a thoughtless hour, when, from excess 

Of happiness, my blood appear'd to flow 

With its own pleasure, and I breath'd with joy. 

And from like feelings, humble though intense, 

To patriotic and domestic love 

Analogous, the moon to me was dear; 

For I would dream away my purposes, 

Standing to look upon her while she hung 

Midway between the hills, as if she knew 

No other region; but belong'd to thee, 

Yea, appertain'd by a peculiar right 

To thee and thy grey huts, my darling Vale! 

 

       Those incidental charms which first attach'd 

My heart to rural objects, day by day 

Grew weaker, and I hasten on to tell 

How Nature, intervenient till this time, 

And secondary, now at length was sought 

For her own sake. But who shall parcel out 

His intellect, by geometric rules, 

Split, like a province, into round and square? 

Who knows the individual hour in which 

His habits were first sown, even as a seed, 

Who that shall point, as with a wand, and say, 

'This portion of the river of my mind 

Came from yon fountain?' Thou, my Friend! art one 

More deeply read in thy own thoughts; to thee 

Science appears but, what in truth she is, 

Not as our glory and our absolute boast, 

But as a succedaneum, and a prop 

To our infirmity. Thou art no slave 

Of that false secondary power, by which, 

In weakness, we create distinctions, then 

Deem that our puny boundaries are things 

Which we perceive, and not which we have made. 

To thee, unblinded by these outward shows, 

The unity of all has been reveal'd 

And thou wilt doubt with me, less aptly skill'd 

Than many are to class the cabinet 

Of their sensations, and, in voluble phrase, 

Run through the history and birth of each, 

As of a single independent thing. 

Hard task to analyse a soul, in which, 

Not only general habits and desires, 

But each most obvious and particular thought, 

Not in a mystical and idle sense, 

But in the words of reason deeply weigh'd, 

Hath no beginning. 

 

                                              Bless'd the infant Babe, 

(For with my best conjectures I would trace 

The progress of our Being) blest the Babe, 

Nurs'd in his Mother's arms, the Babe who sleeps 

Upon his Mother's breast, who, when his soul 

Claims manifest kindred with an earthly soul, 

Doth gather passion from his Mother's eye! 

Such feelings pass into his torpid life 

Like an awakening breeze, and hence his mind 

Even [in the first trial of its powers] 

Is prompt and watchful, eager to combine 

In one appearance, all the elements 

And parts of the same object, else detach'd 

And loth to coalesce. Thus, day by day, 

Subjected to the discipline of love, 

His organs and recipient faculties 

Are quicken'd, are more vigorous, his mind spreads, 

Tenacious of the forms which it receives. 

In one beloved presence, nay and more, 

In that most apprehensive habitude 

And those sensations which have been deriv'd 

From this beloved Presence, there exists 

A virtue which irradiates and exalts 

All objects through all intercourse of sense. 

No outcast he, bewilder'd and depress'd; 

Along his infant veins are interfus'd 

The gravitation and the filial bond 

Of nature, that connect him with the world. 

Emphatically such a Being lives, 

An inmate of this active universe; 

From nature largely he receives; nor so 

Is satisfied, but largely gives again, 

For feeling has to him imparted strength, 

And powerful in all sentiments of grief, 

Of exultation, fear, and joy, his mind, 

Even as an agent of the one great mind, 

Creates, creator and receiver both, 

Working but in alliance with the works 

Which it beholds.—Such, verily, is the first 

Poetic spirit of our human life; 

By uniform control of after years 

In most abated or suppress'd, in some, 

Through every change of growth or of decay, 

Pre-eminent till death. 

 

                                                    From early days, 

Beginning not long after that first time 

In which, a Babe, by intercourse of touch, 

I held mute dialogues with my Mother's heart 

I have endeavour'd to display the means 

Whereby this infant sensibility, 

Great birthright of our Being, was in me 

Augmented and sustain'd. Yet is a path 

More difficult before me, and I fear 

That in its broken windings we shall need 

The chamois' sinews, and the eagle's wing: 

For now a trouble came into my mind 

From unknown causes. I was left alone, 

Seeking the visible world, nor knowing why. 

The props of my affections were remov'd, 

And yet the building stood, as if sustain'd 

By its own spirit! All that I beheld 

Was dear to me, and from this cause it came, 

That now to Nature's finer influxes 

My mind lay open, to that more exact 

And intimate communion which our hearts 

Maintain with the minuter properties 

Of objects which already are belov'd, 

And of those only. Many are the joys 

Of youth; but oh! what happiness to live 

When every hour brings palpable access 

Of knowledge, when all knowledge is delight, 

And sorrow is not there. The seasons came, 

And every season to my notice brought 

A store of transitory qualities 

Which, but for this most watchful power of love 

Had been neglected, left a register 

Of permanent relations, else unknown, 

Hence life, and change, and beauty, solitude 

More active, even, than 'best society', 

Society made sweet as solitude 

By silent inobtrusive sympathies, 

And gentle agitations of the mind 

From manifold distinctions, difference 

Perceived in things, where to the common eye, 

No difference is; and hence, from the same source 

Sublimer joy; for I would walk alone, 

In storm and tempest, or in starlight nights 

Beneath the quiet Heavens; and, at that time, 

Have felt whate'er there is of power in sound 

To breathe an elevated mood, by form 

Or image unprofaned; and I would stand, 

Beneath some rock, listening to sounds that are 

The ghostly language of the ancient earth, 

Or make their dim abode in distant winds. 

Thence did I drink the visionary power. 

I deem not profitless those fleeting moods 

Of shadowy exultation: not for this, 

That they are kindred to our purer mind 

And intellectual life; but that the soul, 

Remembering how she felt, but what she felt 

Remembering not, retains an obscure sense 

Of possible sublimity, to which, 

With growing faculties she doth aspire, 

With faculties still growing, feeling still 

That whatsoever point they gain, they still 

Have something to pursue. 

 

                                                             And not alone, 

In grandeur and in tumult, but no less 

In tranquil scenes, that universal power 

And fitness in the latent qualities 

And essences of things, by which the mind 

Is mov'd by feelings of delight, to me 

Came strengthen'd with a superadded soul, 

A virtue not its own. My morning walks 

Were early; oft, before the hours of School 

I travell'd round our little Lake, five miles 

Of pleasant wandering, happy time! more dear 

For this, that one was by my side, a Friend 

Then passionately lov'd; with heart how full 

Will he peruse these lines, this page, perhaps 

A blank to other men! for many years 

Have since flow'd in between us; and our minds, 

Both silent to each other, at this time 

We live as if those hours had never been. 

Nor seldom did I lift our cottage latch 

Far earlier, and before the vernal thrush 

Was audible, among the hills I sate 

Alone, upon some jutting eminence 

At the first hour of morning, when the Vale 

Lay quiet in an utter solitude. 

How shall I trace the history, where seek 

The origin of what I then have felt? 

Oft in these moments such a holy calm 

Did overspread my soul, that I forgot 

That I had bodily eyes, and what I saw 

Appear'd like something in myself, a dream, 

A prospect in my mind. 

 

                                                       'Twere long to tell 

What spring and autumn, what the winter snows, 

And what the summer shade, what day and night, 

The evening and the morning, what my dreams 

And what my waking thoughts supplied, to nurse 

That spirit of religious love in which 

I walked with Nature. But let this, at least 

Be not forgotten, that I still retain'd 

My first creative sensibility, 

That by the regular action of the world 

My soul was unsubdu'd. A plastic power 

Abode with me, a forming hand, at times 

Rebellious, acting in a devious mood, 

A local spirit of its own, at war 

With general tendency, but for the most 

Subservient strictly to the external things 

With which it commun'd. An auxiliar light 

Came from my mind which on the setting sun 

Bestow'd new splendor, the melodious birds, 

The gentle breezes, fountains that ran on, 

Murmuring so sweetly in themselves, obey'd 

A like dominion; and the midnight storm 

Grew darker in the presence of my eye. 

Hence by obeisance, my devotion hence, 

And hence my transport. 

 

                                                          Nor should this, perchance, 

Pass unrecorded, that I still have lov'd 

The exercise and produce of a toil 

Than analytic industry to me 

More pleasing, and whose character I deem 

Is more poetic as resembling more 

Creative agency. I mean to speak 

Of that interminable building rear'd 

By observation of affinities 

In objects where no brotherhood exists 

To common minds. My seventeenth year was come 

And, whether from this habit, rooted now 

So deeply in my mind, or from excess 

Of the great social principle of life, 

Coercing all things into sympathy, 

To unorganic natures I transferr'd 

My own enjoyments, or, the power of truth 

Coming in revelation, I convers'd 

With things that really are, I, at this time 

Saw blessings spread around me like a sea. 

Thus did my days pass on, and now at length 

From Nature and her overflowing soul 

I had receiv'd so much that all my thoughts 

Were steep'd in feeling; I was only then 

Contented when with bliss ineffable 

I felt the sentiment of Being spread 

O'er all that moves, and all that seemeth still, 

O'er all, that, lost beyond the reach of thought 

And human knowledge, to the human eye 

Invisible, yet liveth to the heart, 

O'er all that leaps, and runs, and shouts, and sings, 

Or beats the gladsome air, o'er all that glides 

Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself 

And mighty depth of waters. Wonder not 

If such my transports were; for in all things 

I saw one life, and felt that it was joy. 

One song they sang, and it was audible, 

Most audible then when the fleshly ear, 

O'ercome by grosser prelude of that strain, 

Forgot its functions, and slept undisturb'd. 

 

       If this be error, and another faith 

Find easier access to the pious mind, 

Yet were I grossly destitute of all 

Those human sentiments which make this earth 

So dear, if I should fail, with grateful voice 

To speak of you, Ye Mountains and Ye Lakes, 

And sounding Cataracts! Ye Mists and Winds 

That dwell among the hills where I was born. 

If, in my youth, I have been pure in heart, 

If, mingling with the world, I am content 

With my own modest pleasures, and have liv'd, 

With God and Nature communing, remov'd 

From little enmities and low desires, 

The gift is yours; if in these times of fear, 

This melancholy waste of hopes o'erthrown, 

If, 'mid indifference and apathy 

And wicked exultation, when good men, 

On every side fall off we know not how, 

To selfishness, disguis'd in gentle names 

Of peace, and quiet, and domestic love, 

Yet mingled, not unwillingly, with sneers 

On visionary minds; if in this time 

Of dereliction and dismay, I yet 

Despair not of our nature; but retain 

A more than Roman confidence, a faith 

That fails not, in all sorrow my support, 

The blessing of my life, the gift is yours, 

Ye mountains! thine, O Nature! Thou hast fed 

My lofty speculations; and in thee, 

For this uneasy heart of ours I find 

A never-failing principle of joy, 

And purest passion. 

 

                                                Thou, my Friend! wert rear'd 

In the great City, 'mid far other scenes; 

But we, by different roads at length have gain'd 

The self-same bourne. And for this cause to Thee 

I speak, unapprehensive of contempt, 

The insinuated scoff of coward tongues, 

And all that silent language which so oft 

In conversation betwixt man and man 

Blots from the human countenance all trace 

Of beauty and of love. For Thou hast sought 

The truth in solitude, and Thou art one, 

The most intense of Nature's worshippers 

In many things my Brother, chiefly here 

In this my deep devotion. 

 

                                                            Fare Thee well! 

Health, and the quiet of a healthful mind 

Attend thee! seeking oft the haunts of men, 

And yet more often living with Thyself, 

And for Thyself, so haply shall thy days 

Be many, and a blessing to mankind. 

from The Prelude: Book 2: School-time