on 15 September 2005
To argue over whether this is a good book or not would indeed, as the former critic suggests, be pretentious. So without further ado let us name this a masterpiece, for two reasons. The first that it is a watershed in Romantic poetry, completely unprecedented by any other poet in its length and grandeur; and secondly, this poem spans over fifty years of Wordsworth's life and tells us more about the great man than probably any of the numerous biographies written of him: this in itself is remarkable.
To form a balanced arguement and not cherish this book further, it does have pitfalls in my opinion. The initial qualm is that the 1799 version of the Prelude far surpasses either of its two later reincarnations, partly due to its light and more enjoyable style of poetry that reflects the actual situations described in its discourse more accurately. The later versions of the epic poem can tend to be superfluous in places and sometimes difficult to comprehend what the poet is trying to convey.
This is a particular problem of mine being that i am studying this book at this present time in Uni. Should this book be read for leisure purposes only, this hurdle may be easily missed , but as this hurdle is only to common to my given situation i cannot award this book full marks.
Apart from enclosing the full three versions of Wordsworth's masterwork, this book also holds a number of critical reviews and essays on the poem which are invaluable should you be studying this poem, or plainly just wish to find out more about the great work.
Should you like this poem, i also recommend reading Wordsworth's other great poem, and one he declares better, The Excursion, found in its entirety on [...]
The thing to remember about "The Prelude" is that it covers roughly the first twenty-seven years of Wordsworth's life -- i. e. from 1770 to around 1797 -- and seems to be about how he came to consciousness of himself as a poet, though you have to keep in mind that by "poet" Wordsworth didn't mean exactly what we mean by that word. He meant something like " an imaginative person who realizes the importance of imagination for the healthy mind." That sense of the word places him (and writers like Blake and Coleridge, different as they all were) in relation to the idea, coming out of what we now call the "enlightenment," that "reason" is the quintessentially human faculty -- the faculty that makes us human. In different ways, the romantic poets challenged that simplification, and in Wordsworth's case, the insufficiency of reason as a guarantor of human happiness and human mental health is shown not just in the limits of mathematics and "science" to give our lives meaning but also in the failure of the rationalistic politics of the French Revolution, to which Wordsworth had been, in the early 1790's, committed. The loss of his faith in this "reason" precipitated a spiritual or moral crisis, the overcoming of which is the focus of the second half of "The Prelude." In that part of the poem Wordsworth is concerned to demonstrate the roles of "nature," memory, and visionary experience in enabling his recovery from this crisis.
You also have to remember, though, that while the poem covers his first twenty-seven years, the poem was written over about seven years (roughly 1798-1805), during which time his ideas about nature, memory, and visionary experience were not static -- so this is a book about growth written by a man whose mind was changing (growing?) in the process of writing it. The three versions of the poem that this Norton edition prints gives you some idea of that, but this edition should be supplemented by information from studies that (a) allow you to see in more detail exactly what parts of the poem that Wordsworth was working on at specific times; (b) enables you to think about that process of composition in relation to the other poems of the 1798-1805 period; and (c) discourages you from worrying about the aesthetic status of the various stages of the poem and encourages you to focus instead on the process of the thinking and the writing.
The Cornell edition of Wordsworth is invaluable for this, and works like the chronologies of Mark Reed and studies by Geoffrey Hartman and Kenneth Johnson are also helpful. What's interesting about Wordsworth -- in a way that is less true of, say, Keats -- is the process of engagement over time with difficult questions of what we would now call epistemology and phenomenology in relation to a vision of a desirable human life.
on 18 October 2014
The Prelude is Wordsworth's remarkable psychological exploration of his relationship, when he was a growing boy, with the natural world. In the first two books he investigates the interface between his imagination and the Lake District rising up all around him in all its grandeur and awe. The Prelude is an early 19th century meditation on the environment and is profoundly reverential in its impact on the 21st century reader. He also illuminates the spiritual condition of joy, an experience he recognizes as coming to one in some way from the natural world:
"...when from excess of happiness my blood appeared to flow for its own pleasure and I breathed with joy."