The Prelude by Wordsworth: Autobiographical Elements; Childhood Experiences; Nature’s Influences

 The Prelude by Wordsworth has the subtle ‘growth of a poets mind’, for it was intended to be great poem tracing Wordsworth’s development as a poet. For this purpose he recounts the most important experiences of childhood, and concentrates most on the role of nature in shaping and stimulating his growing imagination. Although the poem is an apparent biography, it is important to remember that the poet was more concerned with his moral and spiritual growth. In the sense The Prelude can only be called a subjective autobiography. Although many childhood experiences may have been remembered, only these which are concerned with nature and which modified his sensibilities find a place in the poem.

The poet feels that nature itself had determined that he ought to be a poet. Therefore when Wordsworth seeks a topic grand enough to be of poetic material, he lights upon the poet’s mind. The poet brings by recalling the experience that he had in a river when he was five years old. The physical pleasure offered by nature led him to drench himself in it.:
            Basked in the sun and plunged and basked again…..
            Over the sandy fields, leaping through groves.

This bathing was a kind of baptism, a baptism into a life of nature’s influences. But the poets soul was to develop through there successive stages into a nature awareness of nature’s pantheistic power. If in the first stage nature was only the back drop for his glad ‘boyish movements’ and if in the second he would be haunted by the mysterious beauty of nature, in the would realize the vital formative influence of nature:
          Fair sad time my soul and I grew up
          Fostered alike by beauty and by fear……
As in Tintern Abbey, nature’s “ample power to chasten and subdue would mould Wordsworth’s poetic personality.

There are three significant episodes in the Prelude which would be direct examples of nature’s influence over the ‘nature worshipper’. Wordsworth was a naughty child who was once tempted to rob woodcocks from other peoples snares, his feeling of guilt does not originate from a moral sense embed from the adults. Nature itself impresses him with the knowledge that he is a ‘feel destroyer’. He hears sounds of ‘low breathings’ coming after him. Although his fear may have been a psychological projection of guilt, the boy is conscious of having violated ‘Nature”.

The next episode is the one involving the bird-nesting. Here he is a predator lobbing from the nests of rooks. He plucks out eggs from the mountain said nests while the mother bird is engaged in bringing food. Yet this act of plunder disturbs the tranquility of nature and the boy suddenly finds himself hanging vicariously the mountain side, giddy with fear, he still realizes that this is nature’s way of instructing him. Thus, although his object was inglorious such was the solicitousness of nature that ‘the end’ was not ignoble.

The third occasion on which he realizes the conscious and brooding presence of nature over all human misdeeds is when he tries to steal a boat. Although at first he feels exhilarated, his action also brings him a feeling of queasiness. The ‘act of stealth’ was to result in an illusion which Wordsworth would assume to be fostered by nature itself,
                    ……………… a huge cliff,
                    As if with voluntary power instinct,
               Uprear’d its head.
    The spectacle fills him with “grave and serious thoughts.” For the first time he looks on nature the mere back drop for the glad animal movements of his boyish days. Neither is it source of youthful appreciation of exquisite beauty.

Therefore, The Prelude is patently an autobiography. Wordsworth himself admitted that “it was a thing unprecedented in literary history that a man should talk so much about himself.” Yet he points out that this autobiographical account results not from “self conceit” but from “real humility”. The Prelude remains a rare poetic autobiography uniting, nature, poetry and Man.

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