The Prelude By William Wordsworth Summary and Analysis Book 13: Imagination and Taste, How Impaired and Restored (Concluded)

Summary

As he continues his theory of the development of poetic genius, Wordsworth turns to one of his favorite themes: emotion recollected in tranquility. He says the strength of nature lies in the fact that it can deliver moods of emotional excitement as well as of tranquility. Both are essential to the creation of truth by the poet.

He tells again of his futile intellectual search for wisdom and the reversion on his part to the dependence on nature and feeling, as in his youth. This attitude brings meekness and an indifference to ephemeral objects. The soul sees eternal good only in us and in our everyday lives, in contrast to the immorality and confusion so apparent in historical events. The poet's ethical strength was thus renewed; he was able once again to give his intellect freer rein.

He suddenly attacks the statesmen and their books for ineptitude in attempting to preserve the public economy and welfare. He sets himself to inquire why so few leaders arise from humble origins and concludes it is because the common person is overburdened with toiling to satisfy animal appetites and daily wants. In simplifying his own wants to include those imperative to the soul, the poet has thrown off all constraints preventing the soul from soaring.

In a mood strange to the poem, he praises the delight in rambling with a loved one through the countryside. He speaks enthusiastically of wandering off alone to meditate. He tells of how he would pause and rest and watch the simple countryfolk pass and of all the wisdom he gained from talking with them every chance he got. He found that such people had profound souls, though to the careless observer they might appear to be crude individuals. He calls education artificial and sterile. He is dismayed that a person, forced to toil by nature, should be compelled by civilization to exist in ignorance. Wordsworth says it is a mistake to say that strong affection can be nurtured only amid leisure and opulence, though he says that truly harsh oppression may prevent its blossoming. He criticizes books for misleading, for watering down the truth, and for being addressed to the taste and imagination of the wealthy few:

. . . they most ambitiously set forth
Extrinsic differences, the outward marks
Whereby society has parted man
From man, neglect the universal heart.

He tells how he decided to devote his poetic efforts to exalting the common person. In one of several passages that are to exemplify his strong humanism, he says his theme will be "the very heart of man." He once more mentions the poet in the role of prophet. His mission will be to follow where his imagination leads and to reveal man's soul to man. Wordsworth contrasts the "eloquent" man-of-the-world with the poet. The former is a master of the spoken word, and his mind forever literally interprets things. But the poet and the noble common person can look directly into the inner life of things and interpret God's goodness.

Wordsworth's re-adoption of feeling as a guide brought him to a new mystical relationship with nature, and he gives an impassioned statement of his pantheistic views. "The forms of Nature have a passion in themselves," he says. Once more addressing Coleridge, he declares that all poets are related to one another because they share a vision of the truth. He mentions once again, somewhat apologetically, his wish to be an immortal poet. He recollects that this sense of mission came to him on the Salisbury Plain. His mood was matched then by his vision of the first Britons and their primitive rites. Near Stonehenge, he was reminded of the Celts and their Druid priests, practicing a pagan nature-worship religion much resembling the poet's own pantheistic communings. In his reverie, he sees the white-robed priest-lawgivers point alternately to heaven and then earth, a symbolic suggestion that deity and earthly nature are one and the same.

He reminds Coleridge of his improvisation of Guilt and Sorrow as they wandered along in Wiltshire. It was here that Coleridge told Wordsworth that the latter was able to transmute the everyday world into something divine through his philosophical verse. Coleridge had been given new insight into familiar things through the poems of Wordsworth. The poet, for his own part, recalls it was at this time he envisioned "a new world" of cosmic and earthly harmony to be described to anyone who would listen.

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