The EDUQAS edition (Book 1: lines 150) of Excerpt from THE PRELUDE is remarkably similar in structure and intent to the AQA excerpt (Book 1, line 81 in the 1799 version), albeit with a very different ending.
A third of the way into the first book of Wordsworth’s ostensible autobiographical epic, we are presented with him as a boy enthralled, yet concurrently overwhelmed, by the forces of nature. The nostalgic impressions are vivid yet assiduously controlled, iambic pentameter deliberately woven into a single stanza, symbolising the blending together of the feelings, their inseparability characterising this period of Wordsworth’s life.
The first half of the excerpt is dominated by a positive tone, detailing the rapture it was for not just himself, but the confederate, emphasised by the deliberate use of the first person plural ‘we’ and its possessive, ‘us’. The use of the conjunction ‘And’ to begin the poem immediately suggests a continuation, as though we have missed something previous, but nevertheless, something happy, energetic and vivacious. The caesura before ‘happy time, it was indeed, for all of us’ emphasises the joy shared, but interestingly, Wordsworth is keen to highlight that his own sense of joy exceeds those around him. His rapturous sense of place and time is compared to an ‘untir’d horse’, wild and powerful, and free, again emphasised by caesura.
The sense of energetic movement is furthered in the vivid sound descriptions of the ice-skating, the sibilance echoing the blades slicing effortlessly along the ‘polished’ and pristine ice, and the commotion akin to ‘the chace’ understood in hunting, is presented as unequivocally festive. The revelry in nature is cleverly highlighted by the contrast to the cottage windows, the adjective ‘blazed’ connoting a sense of security the boy feels, knowing his home and the warmth contained therein is available at any time; the summons however, is not heeded because the outside world affords him an even greater assurance.
The second half of the excerpt however, delivered after the first clear full stop in the poem, contains a strong negative semantic field, and whilst there is still positivity expressed in the movement, the tone alters to reflect a psychological introspective perspective of the poet’s voice. Amongst the darkness, the echoing from the precipices is described as alien, and palpably misunderstood, and importantly, noticeably melancholic in nature. The extension of pentameter to trimeter emphatically signals significance, and it is here that Wordsworth’s intentions take centre stage: the depiction of a first, ineluctable, but crucial, existential crisis. It is the young boy’s vague acknowledgement of something nebulous, yet larger than himself existing in the world that governs the ending of the excerpt, his development taking him imperceptibly out of the impulsive and self-serving id, and into the more aware and conscious ego. Wordsworth’s Romantic notions are sublimely fulfilled in this way, presenting the poem as instructional, rather than simply entertaining. Nature has a great deal to teach us: least of all is humility and modesty in light of the irrepressible hubris of mankind that Wordsworth feels precipitated and continuously manifests in 19thcentury industrial Britain.
Necessarily, however, the poem ends with hope, affirming nature’s ultimate generosity, as the ‘sparkling clear’ stars that light the sky mitigate the death of the sun, the self-serving id, and provide us with the light needed to navigate the transition to the ego and the grappling with the loss of naïve innocence.
This essay can also be found on the Cloud 9 Writing platform here, a place where students can read expositions into texts that will push thinking and stimulate further analysis and writing.
I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger for more English resources, and discussions about teaching and learning.