Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Prelude is a long, blank-verse poem with a complicated history. It was begun as early as 1798-1799. Then it may have been conceived as a short autobiographical poem, before it was expanded to thirteen books by 1805. The poem was never published during Wordsworth’s life, but when it was, soon after his death in 1850, The Prelude: Or, The Growth of a Poet’s Mind had been revised extensively and expanded to fourteen books. There are significant differences among the three versions of the poem. For convenience, the poem published in 1850 may be assumed for discussion.
The subject of the poem is a review by the poet of his life to explain the growth of his mind as a poet; it examines his past for evidence to account for the growth of his imagination and to justify his calling as a poet. Because Samuel Taylor Coleridge strongly urged Wordsworth to believe in himself as a poet and to use his talent to compose a modern epic poem, Coleridge is given credit for causing Wordsworth to write The Prelude. What Coleridge wanted from Wordsworth was not a poem about his own life, however, but rather a poem about the modern state of philosophy and science, as in the Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.; English translation, 1553), La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802), and Paradise Lost (1667, 1674). Wordsworth planned to write such an epic, but he could not make...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Prelude, which was not published until shortly after William Wordsworth’s death in 1850, was planned as the introductory section of a long autobiographical and philosophical poem that was never finished, titled The Recluse. In that ambitious work, Wordsworth intended to trace in blank verse the development of his views on humanity, society, and nature. Of the projected three parts, only the second, The Excursion (1814), written between 1799 and 1805, was completed and published. The important “Friend” to whom the poem is addressed is Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Wordsworth strongly advocated the use of poetry for the expression of individual emotions and insights. The Prelude contains many fine passages that illustrate the clarity and force of his use of language to provide both a precise description of nature and a grasp of its meaning. Although the poem contains long prosaic stretches, it also conveys a sense of the calm beauty and power of nature that distinguishes Wordsworth’s verse.
The work begins with an account of the poet’s childhood in the English Lake District. With many digressions addressed to nature and its power, wisdom, and infusing spirit, the poet describes the influence of nature on his solitary childhood. Some of the sense of awe and pleasure that he found in nature, as well as some of his clearest and most penetrating uses of diction, is evident in the passage in which he...
(The entire section is 1282 words.)