What are some examples of the ways in which The Prelude by William Wordsworth is a "Romantic" poem?

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Firstly, The Prelude is strongly concerned with the link between humanity and the natural world. Wordsworth describes his childhood experiences with nature and his almost religious union with the natural world at that time. The Romantics revered nature, which they saw as a purer state of being than human society...

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Firstly, The Prelude is strongly concerned with the link between humanity and the natural world. Wordsworth describes his childhood experiences with nature and his almost religious union with the natural world at that time. The Romantics revered nature, which they saw as a purer state of being than human society with its customs and artifice.

Secondly, the poem deals strongly with the individual. Romantics believed the individual was of great importance and conformity was to be resisted. Alone in nature, the young Wordsworth is alone with himself, and he claims this was a positive thing, to have time in solitude and not have anyone else influence him. This is a kind of freedom, as he describes in the passage from Book One below:

Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.
Whate'er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free,
Free as a bird to settle where I will.

The individual alone in nature, separated from the influence of society, was the Romantic's idea of humanity in its more natural state. Wordsworth links such experiences with a state of almost spiritual grace.

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Many examples can be cited to support the claim that William Wordsworth’s poem The Prelude is a “Romantic” work. The mere fact that Wordsworth wrote at such length about his own life exemplifies the typical Romantic emphasis on the importance of the individual. Specific quotations from the work that support the assertion that it is a Romantic poem include the following:

  • 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.

This quotation exemplifies such typical Romantic emphases as childhood, the soul, the importance of one’s youth in determining one’s nature in later life, the appeal of beauty, the influence of the emotions, and the influence of one’s natural surroundings.

  • . . . 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 . . .

This quotation exemplifies once more the importance of nature, which is here personified, as if it were almost divine and worthy of a kind of worship. The Romantics in general emphasized the Christian God much less than earlier poets had done, and often in place of that deity they substituted a kind of deified version of Nature. Here again the importance of childhood is emphasized, as is a very beneficent view of nature: nature as kind, good, and gentle. All these emphases are typical of much Romantic literature.

  • A gracious spirit o'er this earth presides, 
    And o'er the heart of man; invisibly 
    It comes, to works of unreproved delight, 
    And tendency benign, directing those 
    Who care not, know not, think not, what they do.

Here again Wordsworth celebrates an ideal harmony of man and nature; he celebrates the joy and goodness of which human beings are capable when they are most attuned to nature. He also emphasizes the importance of intuition over reason, and of inspiration over conscious, deliberate choice – all traits typical of a certain kind of benign Romanticism.

  • . . . he, who in his youth 
    A daily wanderer among woods and fields 
    With living Nature hath been intimate, 
    Not only in that raw unpractised time 
    Is stirred to ecstasy, as others are, 
    By glittering verse; but further, doth receive, 
    In measure only dealt out to himself, 
    Knowledge and increase of enduring joy 
    From the great Nature that exists in works 
    Of mighty Poets.

Here Wordsworth, in a typical Romantic way, not only celebrates physical nature and the lofty emotions and perceptions it can evoke but also associates such emotions and perceptions with the highest and most sublime kind of poetry. He here describes the kind of poet he himself wished to be.

 

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