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"The Prelude" (William Wordsworth)

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Matthew Juandy

on 7 January 2014

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Transcript of "The Prelude" (William Wordsworth)

Prompt
In the passage below, which comes from William Wordsworth's autobiographical poem "The Prelude," the speaker encounters unfamiliar aspects of the natural world. Write an essay in which trace the speaker's changing responses to his experiences and explain how they are conveyed by the poem's diction, imagery, and tone.
"The Prelude"(Wordsworth)
The Poem
Lines 1-6: Sense of anticipation, reveals potential dangers in his actions. Trepidation.

Lines 11-16: Tone shifts from one of anticipation to one of exhilaration

Lines 24-28: Crucial shift in poem, switches from tone of confidence and exhilaration to one of panic and trepidation as he encounters his first obstacle.

Lines 36-44: Concludes with tone of understanding.
Outline
Thesis: The distinct changes in the speaker's mood and tone from anxious, to confident, to panicked to understanding, are highlighted by Wordsworth's use of intense imagery.

Body 1: Foreshadowing of trepidation later in the poem. Anticipation and anxiety turns into confidence as he begins to row, this is highlighted by words like proud, lustily, and summit.

Body 2: Encounters challenge, and the speaker's initial shock, panic and trepidation is highlighted by "I struck and struck again" and "trembling oars" The end of the poem concludes with his understanding that he is powerless compared to the forces of nature.

Conclusion: Wordsworth's language changes according to perception and attitude through experience. As seen from change in word choice from benevolent and tranquil, to harsh and foreboding.

Annotations
One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon's utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,--
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o'er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon's utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,--
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o'er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.
Full transcript