The Prelude

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Wordsworth’s blank-verse narrative, often achieving Miltonic sublimity, is punctuated by hauntingly recalled “spots of time” which Wordsworth links to intimations of his future poetic calling. These “spots” include the earliest moments of moral and spiritual awareness and are usually associated with an intensely felt response to nature.

In the first two books, “School-Time,” Wordsworth concentrates on the pleasures of sports, mountain walks, and relationships with schoolmates and supportive adults. “Residence at Cambridge” records the impact of the first important intellectual influences in his life, while the “ministries” of nature are reaffirmed by “Summer Vacation,” a book that also conveys his first self-consecration to the poet’s task. Books contrasting an Alpine excursion with the overpowering density of London lead the poet to his discovery of the interface between man and nature, the “Love of Nature leads to Love of Man.”

The poem now rises to the challenge of the French Revolution, which Wordsworth confronts as a great cataclysm in the moral history of mankind. Man’s essential nature is revealed anew. Returning to England and desperate over his native country’s declaration of war against the Revolution (which he felt was already endangered from within France itself), Wordsworth finds strength in his own ripening powers as a poet. THE PRELUDE concludes with a magnificent hymn to the Imagination,...

(The entire section is 501 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. William Wordsworth’s “The Prelude.” New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Contains an introductory essay with a comprehensive overview of The Prelude as well as nine essays on the poem. Includes a chronology and a bibliography.

Drabble, Margaret. Wordsworth. New York: Arco, 1969. A short introductory study of Words-worth’s life and works for the general reader. Chapter 4, in which Drabble discusses The Prelude, notes that the various texts of the poem cover a long period in Wordsworth’s life, during which his style and opinions changed considerably.

Lindenberger, Herbert. On Wordsworth’s “Prelude.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963. Asserts that much of the success of The Prelude is due to the manner in which Wordsworth was able to find a mode of language and organization to encompass his poem’s personal history and prophetic utterance.

Noyes, Russell. William Wordsworth. Updated by John O. Hayden. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Provides an overview of Wordsworth’s life and works. Chapter 4 deals with The Prelude and notes that the poem is an idealization, not a factual rendering, of the poet’s life.

Wordsworth, William. “The Prelude,” 1799, 1805, 1850. Edited by Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. Contains excerpts from sixteen sources of contemporary reaction to Wordsworth’s poem as well as seven modern critical essays. Also includes a selected bibliography and chronology of Wordsworth’s life.