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THE PRELUDE; OR, GROWTH

OF A POET'S MIND

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A Barn her winter bed supplies;
But, till the warmth of summer skies
And summer days is gone,
(And all do in this tale agree)
She sleeps beneath the greenwood tree,
And other home bath none.

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POEM
(Written 1799–1805. Publ. 1850)

BOOK I

[Lines 301-475] Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew Fostered alike by beauty and by fear: Much favoured in my birth-place, and no

less In that beloved Vale to which erelong We were transplanted;- there were we let

loose For sports of wider range. Ere I had told Ten birth-days, when among the mountain

slopes Frost, and the breath of frosty wind, had

spapped The last autumnal crocus, 'twas my joy With store of springes o'er my shoulder

An innocent life, yet far astray!
And Ruth will, long before her day, 230
Be broken down and old:
Sore aches she needs must have ! but less
Of mind, than body's wretchedness, .
From damp, and rain, and cold.

hung

310

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To range the open heights where wood

cocks run Along the smooth green turf. Through balf

the night, Scudding away from snare to snare, I plied That anxious visitation;- moon and stars Were shining o'er my head. I was alone, And seemed to be a trouble to the peace That dwelt among them. Sometimes it be

fell In these night wanderings, that a strong

desire O’erpowered my better reason, and the bird Which was the captive of another's toil 320 Became my prey; and when the deed was

done I heard among the solitary hills Low breathings coming after me, and

sounds Of undistinguishable motion, steps Almost as silent as the turf they trod.

I, too, have passed her on the hills
Setting her little water-mills
By spouts aud fountains wild -
Such small machinery as she turned 250
Ere she had wept, ere she had mourned,
A young and happy Child !

Farewell ! and when thy days are told,
Ill-fated Ruth, in hallowed mould
Thy corpse shall baried be,
For thee a funeral bell shall ring,
And all the congregation sing
A Christian psalm for thee.

Nor less, when spring had warmed the

cultured Vale, Moved we as plunderers where the mother

bird Had in high places built ber lodge; though

mean Our object and inglorious, yet the end

330

sky.

grows

,

340

Was not ignoble. Oh! when I have Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point hung

With an unswerving line, I fixed my view Above the raven's nest, by knots of grass Upon the summit of a craggy ridge, 370 And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock | The horizon's utmost boundary; far above But ill sustained, and almost (so it seemed) Was nothing but the stars and the grey Suspended by the blast that blew amain, Shouldering the naked crag, oh, at that She was an elfin pinnace; lustily time

I dipped my oars into the silent lake, While on the perilous ridge I hung alone, | And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat With what strange utterance did the loud Went heaving through the water like a dry wind

swan; Blow through my ear! the sky seemed not When, from behind that craggy steep till a sky

then Of earth - and with what motion moved The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black the clouds!

and huge,

As if with voluntary power instinct, Dust as we are, the immortal spirit Upreared its head. I struck and struck

again,

380 Like harmony in music; there is a dark And growing still in stature the grim shape Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles Towered up between me and the stars, and Discordant elements, makes them cling to

still, gether

For so it seemed, with purpose of its own In one society. How strange, that all And measured motion like a living thing, The terrors, pains, and early miseries, Strode after me. With trembling oars I Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused

turned, Within my mind, should e'er have borne a And through the silent water stole my way part,

Back to the covert of the willow tree; And that a needful part, in making up There in her mooring-place I left my The calm existence that is mine when I

bark, — Am worthy of myself ! Praise to the end! | And through the meadows homeward went, Thanks to the means which Nature deigned

in grave to employ;

351 And serious mood; but after I had seen 390 Whether her fearless visitings, or those That spectacle, for many days, my brain That came with soft alarm, like hurtless Worked with a dim and undetermined light

sense Opening the peaceful clouds; or she would Of unknown modes of being; o'er my use

thoughts Severer interventions, ministry

There hung a darkness, call it solitude More palpable, as best might suit her aim. Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes

Remained, no pleasant images of trees, One summer evening (led by her) I found Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields; A little boat tied to a willow tree

But huge and mighty forms, that do not Within a rocky cove, its usual home.

live Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping | Like living men, moved slowly through the in

mind Pushed from the shore. It was an act of By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

stealth And troubled pleasure, nor without the Wisdom and Spirit of the universe! 401 voice

Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on; That givest to forms and images a breath Leaving behind ber still, on either side, And everlasting motion, not in vain Small circles glittering idly in the moon, By day or star-light thus from my first Until they melted all into one track

dawn Of sparkling light. But now, like one who Of childhood didst thou intertwine for me rows,

| The passions that build up our human soul;

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450

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Not with the mean and vulgar works of Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous man,

throng, But with high objects, with enduring To cut across the reflex of a star things —

That fed, and, flying still before me, With life and nature — purifying thus 410

gleamed The elements of feeling and of thought, Upon the glassy plain; and oftentimes, And sanctifying, by such discipline,

When we had given our bodies to the wind, Both pain and fear, until we recognise And all the shadowy banks on either side A grandeur in the beatings of the heart. Came sweeping through the darkness, spinNor was this fellowship vouchsafed to me

ning still With stinted kindness. In November days, The rapid line of motion, then at once When vapours rolling down the valley | Have I, reclining back upon my heels, made

Stopped short; yet still the solitary cliffs A lonely scene more lonesome, among | Wheeled by me -- even as if the earth had woods,

rolled At noon and 'mid the calm of summer With visible motion her diurnal round! 460 nights,

Behind me did they stretch in solemn train, When, by the margin of the trembling Feebler and feebler, and I stood and lake,

420

watched Beneath the gloomy hills homeward I went Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep. In solitude, such intercourse was mine; Mine was it in the fields both day and night, Ye Presences of Nature in the sky And by the waters, all the summer long. And on the earth! Ye Visions of the hills!

And Souls of lonely places! can I think And in the frosty season, when the sun A vulgar hope was yours when ye employed Was set, and visible for many a mile Such ministry, when ye, through many a The cottage windows blazed through twi

year light gloom,

Haunting me thus among my boyish sports, I heeded not their summons: happy time | On caves and trees, upon the woods and It was indeed for all of us - for me

hills, It was a time of rapture! Clear and loud 430 | Impressed, upon all forms, the characters The village clock tolled six, - I wheeled Of danger or desire; and thus did make about,

The surface of the universal earth, Proud and exulting like an untired horse With triumph and delight, with hope and That cares not for his home. All shod with

fear,

Work like a sea ?
We hissed along the polished ice in games
Confederate, imitative of the chase
And woodland pleasures, — the resounding

BOOK II
horn,

[Lines 386–451] The pack loud chiming, and the hunted hare.

My seventeenth year was come So through the darkness and the cold we And, whether from this habit rooted now flew,

So deeply in my mind, or from excess And not a voice was idle; with the din In the great social principle of life Smitten, the precipices rang aloud; 440 Coercing all things into sympathy, 390 The leafless trees and every icy crag

To unorganic natures were transferred Tinkled like iron; while far distant hills My own enjoyments; or the power of truth Into the tumult sent an alien sound

Coming in revelation, did converse Of melancholy not unnoticed, while the stars With things that really are; I, at this time, Eastward were sparkling clear, and in the Saw blessings spread around me like a sea. west

Thus while the days flew by, and years The orange sky of evening died away.

passed on, Not seldom from the uproar I retired From Nature and her overflowing soul, Into a silent bay, or sportively

I had received so much, that all my thoughts

470

steel,

450

Were steeped in feeling; I was only then That fails not, in all sorrow my support, Contented, when with bliss ineffable 400 The blessing of my life — the gift is yours, I felt the sentiment of Being spread | Ye winds and sounding cataracts! 't is yours, O'er all that moves and all that seemeth Ye mountains! thine, o Nature! Thou hast still;

fed O'er all that, lost beyond the reach of | My lofty speculations; and in thee, thought

For this uneasy heart of ours, I find And human knowledge, to the human eye A never-failing principle of joy Invisible, yet liveth to the heart;

And purest passion. O'er all that leaps and runs, and shouts and

sings, Or beats the gladsome air; o'er all that

BOOK III glides

[Lines 1-166] Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself, And mighty depth of waters. Wonder not

RESIDENCE AT CAMBRIDGE If high the transport, great the joy I felt, Communing in this sort through earth and It was a dreary morning when the wheels heaven

411 Rolled over a wide plain o’erhung with With every form of creature, as it looked

clouds, Towards the Uncreated with a countenance And nothing cheered our way till first we Of adoration, with an eye of love.

saw One song they sang, and it was audible, The long-roofed chapel of King's College Most audible, then, when the fleshly ear,

lift O'ercome by humblest prelude of that strain, Turrets and pinnacles in answering files, Forgot her functions, and slept undisturbed Extended high above a dusky grove.

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Advancing, we espied upon the road Find easier access to the pious mind, 420 | A student clothed in gown and tasselled Yet were I grossly destitute of all

cap, Those human sentiments that make this Striding along as if o'ertasked by Time, earth

Or covetous of exercise and air ; So dear, if I should fail with grateful voice He passed — nor was I master of my eyes To speak of you, ye mountains, and ye lakes Till he was left an arrow's flight behind. And sounding cataracts, ye mists and winds As near and nearer to the spot we drew, That dwell among the hills where I was It seemed to suck us in with an eddy's born.

force. If in my youth I have been pure in heart, Onward we drove beneath the Castle ; If, mingling with the world, I am content

caught, With my own modest pleasures, and have While crossing Magdalene Bridge, a glimpse lived

of Cam; With God and Nature communing, re And at the Hoop alighted, famous Inn. moved

430 From little enmities and low desires — My spirit was up, my thoughts were full The gift is yours; if in these times of fear, of hope; This melancholy waste of hopes o'erthrown, Some friends I had, acquaintances who If, 'mid indifference and apathy,

there And wicked exultation when good men Seemed friends, poor simple schoolboys, On every side fall off, we know not how,

now bung round

20 To selfishness, disguised in gentle names With honour and importance: in a world Of peace and quiet and domestic love Of welcome faces up and down I roved; Yet mingled not unwillingly with sneers Questions, directions, warnings and advice, On visionary minds; if, in this time

Flowed in upon me, from all sides ; fresh Of dereliction and dismay, I yet

day Despair not of our nature, but retain 1 Of pride and pleasure ! to myself I seemed A more than Roman confidence, a faith | A man of business and expense, and went

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From shop to shop about my own affairs, Of College labours, of the Lecturer's To Tutor or to Tailor, as befell,

room From street to street with loose and care- All studded round, as thick as chairs could less mind.

stand,

With loyal students, faithful to their books, I was the Dreamer, they the Dream; I | Half-and-half idlers, hardy recusants, roamed

30 And honest dunces — of important days, Delighted through the motley spectacle ; Examinations, when the man was weighed Gowns grave, or gaudy, doctors, students, As in a balance ! of excessive hopes, 70 streets,

Tremblings withal and commendable fears, Courts, cloisters, flocks of churches, gate Small jealousies, and triumpbs good or ways, towers:

bad Migration strange for a stripling of the hills, | Let others that know more speak as they A northern villager.

know. As if the change Such glory was but little sought by me, Had waited on some Fairy's wand, at once And little won. Yet from the first crude Behold me rich in monies, and attired

days In splendid garb, with hose of silk, and Of settling time in this untried abode, hair

I was disturbed at times by prudent Powdered like rimy trees, when frost is

thoughts, keen.

Wishing to hope without a hope, some fears My lordly dressing-gown, I pass it by, 40 | About my future worldly maintenance, With other signs of manhood that supplied And, more than all, a strangeness in the The lack of beard. — The weeks went

mind, roundly on,

A feeling that I was not for that hour, With invitations, suppers, wine and fruit, Nor for that place. But wherefore be cast Smooth housekeeping within, and all with

down? out

For (not to speak of Reason and her pure Liberal, and suiting gentleman's array. Reflective acts to fix the moral law

Deep in the conscience, nor of Christian The Evangelist St. John my patron was:

Hope, Three Gothic courts are his, and in the first Bowing her bead before her sister Faith Was my abiding-place, a nook obscure; As one far mightier), hither I had come, Right underneath, the College kitchens Bear witness Truth, endowed with holy made

powers A humming sound, less tuneable than And faculties, whether to work or feel. bees,

Oft when the dazzling show no longer new But hardly less industrious ; with shrill Had ceased to dazzle, ofttimes did I quit 91 notes

My comrades, leave the crowd, buildings Of sharp command and scolding inter

and groves, mixed.

And as I paced alone the level fields Near me hung Trinity's loquacious clock, Far from those lovely sights and sounds Who never let the quarters, night or day,

sublime Slip by him unproclaimed, and told the With which I had been conversant, the hours

mind Twice over with a male and female voice. Drooped not; but there into herself returnHer pealing organ was my neighbour too ; And from my pillow, looking forth by With proinpt rebound seemed fresh as herelight

tofore. Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold At least I more distinctly recognised The antechapel where the statue stood 60 Her native instincts: let me dare to speak Of Newton with his prism and silent face, A higher language, say that now I felt 100 The marble index of a mind for ever What independent solaces were mine, Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, | To mitigate the injurious sway of place alone.

Or circumstance, how far soever changed

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