Search text must be between 2 and 255 characters.


The Prelude

William Wordsworth

Summary and Analysis Book 14: Conclusion


The poet recalls one of his walking trips in northern Wales. He and his friend rose early, intending to see the sunrise from Mount Snowdon, the highest point in Wales. They proceed to the base of the mountain and wake the shepherd who is to be their guide. After breakfast, they set out in the sultry, summer night. After talking at first, they proceed in silence. Wordsworth is soon climbing ahead of the others, and as he reaches the summit, the clouds overhead dissipate and the moon showers her silver beams upon him. There is the beautiful blaze of the moon rays upon the mist at his feet and upon the fog enveloping nearby peaks and stretching off over the Atlantic. There is no sound but the roar of mountain torrents amid the rugged and wild Welsh landscape.

Here the poet has a religious experience, and he says once more, pantheistically:

. . . it appeared to me the type
Of a majestic intellect, its acts
And its possessions, what it has and craves,
What in itself it is, and would become.
There I beheld the emblem of a mind
That feeds upon infinity, that broods
Over the dark abyss.

He proceeds to describe this transcendental power that even the most untutored mind would be compelled to acknowledge. Once more he proclaims that this active power which invests the natural world finds its counterpart in the mental faculties of the great thinker. In this way, the person who is poet is able to interpret the universe and does it spontaneously because nature continuously inspires him: "Such minds are truly from the Deity, / For they are Powers." These intellects know the highest possible happiness, states the poet. They experience ecstasy as they grow to learn that they are among the elect of humanity. They will create for themselves freedom from human desire — true liberty and the only kind worth knowing.

Wordsworth has sudden pangs about the time he has wasted in the past and about his many strayings from the path leading to truth and greatness. But he says by way of apology: "Never did I, in quest of right and wrong, / Tamper with conscience from a private aim." He was ready always to battle those mean cares and low pursuits which might interfere with his artistic development. His repetitions of this point are important, and none is better phrased than when he says:

. . . [he] shrunk with apprehensive jealousy
From every combination which might aid
The tendency, too potent in itself,
Of use and custom to bow down the soul
Under a growing weight of vulgar sense,
And substitute a universe of death
For that which moves with light and life informed,
Actual, divine, and true.

Wordsworth then draws upon the Platonic theory of love to reinforce his aesthetic. Plato identified love roughly with aspiration. He viewed it as a cosmic power impelling all natural things toward perfection, and in humanity it culminates in the desire for immortality. The poet has demonstrated the truth of this philosophy in his own living; his implicit devotion to it underlies the whole of The Prelude. Here once more he wants to be sure that its relation to artistic creativity is made obvious. Such varieties as maternal love, love of natural sights, love of man for woman, must lead humanity to a higher love — a love that leavens physical, sensuous love with spiritual love, with awe. In this way the soul is permitted to soar. The mind adores things, not because they are pleasing or merely useful, but because they are part of that marvelous unity that is being. We can come to know intellectual love, he says, only with the aid of the imagination. From it can be derived faith in humanity, in immortality, and in deity.

He hails his sister Dorothy as a kindred spirit and as a help to him in youth and maturity. Without her influence, he suggests, he would still have revered things but not loved them. He praises her for leading him out of the rationalist snare and back to feeling. He praises Mary Hutchinson, who had become his wife during the writing of The Prelude, for sharing all his mature experiences, great and small. Finally, he turns once more to praise Coleridge, who helped to mitigate his fears and encouraged him to write.

Wordsworth signals the end of the poem. He hopes that his abilities have been proved to the extent that there is no longer any doubt he will write an "enduring" philosophical epic. He cites some shortcomings in the poem he is presently writing: the slighting of books, of nature's immediate beauties, of psychology. Lastly, he pays tribute to Raisley Calvert, the friend who left the poet a small legacy when it was badly needed.

He has come a long way. He likens his vision of his own past to that of a lark which has ascended on wing, and his satisfaction is to be heard throughout the poem, which he compares with the lark's song. He is uncertain whether his future efforts will justify this somewhat conceited and long personal history. He observes that, when those artistically stimulating ramblings around Bristol are recalled, the poem will be justified to Coleridge himself at any rate. Wordsworth hopes once again for the restoration of his friend's health and looks forward to the moment when Coleridge first dips into The Prelude. He suggests that humanity may once more surrender to ignorance and tyranny, but our ultimate freedom is assured; he and Coleridge may find great happiness in the knowledge that they have contributed — even though in a small way — to our deliverance.