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Last Updated on September 15, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 521

The Enduring Effect of Childhood

At the beginning of his poem The Prelude, Wordsworth is wandering in the countryside of England’s Lake District. This region was the location of Wordsworth’s childhood, and as he narrates vivid memories from his past here, the reader understands the profound effect Wordsworth’s childhood in nature has had on him. Wordsworth’s deep affection for nature was instilled in him during childhood, when he would ride horses or participate in sports outside with his friends. Wordsworth believes that a poet is formed in infancy; the baby, asleep in his mother’s arms, “drinks in the feelings of his Mother’s eye.” In most people, this “poetic spirit” is lost in “after years,” but Wordsworth claims he will retain it “till death.” Wordsworth believes that the love for nature and poetic tendencies that shape who he is originated in his childhood, when, as he writes in book 1, he was given

Among the fretful dwellings of mankind,

A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm

That Nature breathes among the hills and groves.

Additionally, Wordsworth demonstrates the importance of childhood experiences on a person’s development when, in book 5, he writes to Samuel Taylor Coleridge that he does not know what they would have become if they had been raised in the way that modern children are. The modern child of Wordsworth’s day, in his opinion, grows up in “forlorn servitude” without the freedom that he and Coleridge experienced as children. Wordsworth’s childhood of “wandering” allowed him to become the poet he is; if he had been “followed” and “noosed” instead, he thinks that the lack of liberty would have “dried [him] up, body and soul.”

The Artistic and Intellectual Impacts of Nature

As he writes in the last book, Wordsworth senses a “majestic intellect” in nature. Throughout the poem, Wordsworth addresses, praises, and personifies nature, and he ultimately credits nature with his development as a poet. He writes in book 5 that he has depended upon nature to write this poem: 

In progress through this Verse, my mind hath looked

Upon the speaking face of earth and heaven

As her prime teacher . . .

Wordsworth felt as a child that nature was instructing and disciplining him: when he stole birds from other people’s traps, he heard “low breathings coming after [him]”; when he borrowed a boat without asking permission, he felt that a peak on the horizon “strode after [him].” Wordsworth perceives these memories as instances of nature’s discipline, and he is grateful for it, as it has made him who he is: nature has “purif[ied] . . . the elements of feeling and of thought” and “sanctif[ied] . . . both pain and fear” in him.

During his time at the University of Cambridge, Wordsworth became preoccupied with his studies and social life, but he returned to nature when he grew bored. Wandering in nature once more, Wordsworth called upon “earth and sky” to “teach [him] what they might.” He saw “moral life” in every aspect of nature around him and looks to nature as his guide throughout his life and his development as a poet.

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