For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Wisdom And Spirit Of The Universe

What better way to illustrate Wordsworth's boyhood 'rapture', his joyous immersion in nature, and the intensely lived experiences of his youth, than in this extract from his great autobiographical poem The Prelude. It's long been one of my favourite passages. It's also 1 of the 7 poems by Wordsworth included in that seminal volume of my childhood, The Golden Treasury Of Poetry, selected by Louis Untermeyer.

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul that art the Eternity of Thought!
And 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 vouchsafed 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, homeward I 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 blazed,
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 tolled six; I wheeled about,
Proud and exulting like an untired horse
That cares not for his home. - All shod with steel,
We hissed along the polished ice, in games
Confederate, imitative of the chase
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 reflex of a star;
That gleamed 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,
Stopped short, yet still the solitary cliffs
Wheeled by me, even as if the earth had rolled
With visible motion her diurnal round.
Behind me did they stretch in solemn train,
Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched
Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep.


1799.

I think in this piece we can see condensed everything Wordsworth ever wanted to say; it remains a core passage for me, at the heart of my imaginative and walking life.

2 comments:

am said...

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul that art the Eternity of Thought!

Thanks so much for your post today, solitary walker!

Dominic Rivron said...

Powerful stuff. Those first four lines are complicated. The third and fourth reminded me of that Zen koan about the moving flag - not the flag, not the wind, but the mind moves, as I remember it. A lot to think about...