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CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


THE PRELUDE

BOOK TWELFTH

IMAGINATION AND TASTE, HOW IMPAIRED AND RESTORED

          LONG time have human ignorance and guilt
          Detained us, on what spectacles of woe
          Compelled to look, and inwardly oppressed
          With sorrow, disappointment, vexing thoughts,
          Confusion of the judgment, zeal decayed,
          And, lastly, utter loss of hope itself
          And things to hope for! Not with these began
          Our song, and not with these our song must end.
          Ye motions of delight, that haunt the sides
          Of the green hills; ye breezes and soft airs,               10
          Whose subtle intercourse with breathing flowers,
          Feelingly watched, might teach Man's haughty race
          How without Injury to take, to give
          Without offence; ye who, as if to show
          The wondrous influence of power gently used,
          Bend the complying heads of lordly pines,
          And, with a touch, shift the stupendous clouds
          Through the whole compass of the sky; ye brooks,
          Muttering along the stones, a busy noise
          By day, a quiet sound in silent night;                      20
          Ye waves, that out of the great deep steal forth
          In a calm hour to kiss the pebbly shore,
          Not mute, and then retire, fearing no storm;
          And you, ye groves, whose ministry it is
          To interpose the covert of your shades,
          Even as a sleep, between the heart of man
          And outward troubles, between man himself,
          Not seldom, and his own uneasy heart:
          Oh! that I had a music and a voice
          Harmonious as your own, that I might tell                   30
          What ye have done for me. The morning shines,
          Nor heedeth Man's perverseness; Spring returns,--
          I saw the Spring return, and could rejoice,
          In common with the children of her love,
          Piping on boughs, or sporting on fresh fields,
          Or boldly seeking pleasure nearer heaven
          On wings that navigate cerulean skies.
          So neither were complacency, nor peace,
          Nor tender yearnings, wanting for my good
          Through these distracted times; in Nature still             40
          Glorying, I found a counterpoise in her,
          Which, when the spirit of evil reached its height,
          Maintained for me a secret happiness.

            This narrative, my Friend! hath chiefly told
          Of intellectual power, fostering love,
          Dispensing truth, and, over men and things,
          Where reason yet might hesitate, diffusing
          Prophetic sympathies of genial faith:
          So was I favoured--such my happy lot--
          Until that natural graciousness of mind                     50
          Gave way to overpressure from the times
          And their disastrous issues. What availed,
          When spells forbade the voyager to land,
          That fragrant notice of a pleasant shore
          Wafted, at intervals, from many a bower
          Of blissful gratitude and fearless love?
          Dare I avow that wish was mine to see,
          And hope that future times 'would' surely see,
          The man to come, parted, as by a gulph,
          From him who had been; that I could no more                 60
          Trust the elevation which had made me one
          With the great family that still survives
          To illuminate the abyss of ages past,
          Sage, warrior, patriot, hero; for it seemed
          That their best virtues were not free from taint
          Of something false and weak, that could not stand
          The open eye of Reason. Then I said,
          "Go to the Poets, they will speak to thee
          More perfectly of purer creatures;--yet
          If reason be nobility in man,                               70
          Can aught be more ignoble than the man
          Whom they delight in, blinded as he is
          By prejudice, the miserable slave
          Of low ambition or distempered love?"

            In such strange passion, if I may once more
          Review the past, I warred against myself--
          A bigot to a new idolatry--
          Like a cowled monk who hath forsworn the world,
          Zealously laboured to cut off my heart
          From all the sources of her former strength;                80
          And as, by simple waving of a wand,
          The wizard instantaneously dissolves
          Palace or grove, even so could I unsoul
          As readily by syllogistic words
          Those mysteries of being which have made,
          And shall continue evermore to make,
          Of the whole human race one brotherhood.

            What wonder, then, if, to a mind so far
          Perverted, even the visible Universe
          Fell under the dominion of a taste                          90
          Less spiritual, with microscopic view
          Was scanned, as I had scanned the moral world?

            O Soul of Nature! excellent and fair!
          That didst rejoice with me, with whom I, too,
          Rejoiced through early youth, before the winds
          And roaring waters, and in lights and shades
          That marched and countermarched about the hills
          In glorious apparition, Powers on whom
          I daily waited, now all eye and now
          All ear; but never long without the heart                  100
          Employed, and man's unfolding intellect:
          O Soul of Nature! that, by laws divine
          Sustained and governed, still dost overflow
          With an impassioned life, what feeble ones
          Walk on this earth! how feeble have I been
          When thou wert in thy strength! Nor this through stroke
          Of human suffering, such as justifies
          Remissness and inaptitude of mind,
          But through presumption; even in pleasure pleased
          Unworthily, disliking here, and there                      110
          Liking; by rules of mimic art transferred
          To things above all art; but more,--for this,
          Although a strong infection of the age,
          Was never much my habit--giving way
          To a comparison of scene with scene,
          Bent overmuch on superficial things,
          Pampering myself with meagre novelties
          Of colour and proportion; to the moods
          Of time and season, to the moral power,
          The affections and the spirit of the place,                120
          Insensible. Nor only did the love
          Of sitting thus in judgment interrupt
          My deeper feelings, but another cause,
          More subtle and less easily explained,
          That almost seems inherent in the creature,
          A twofold frame of body and of mind.
          I speak in recollection of a time
          When the bodily eye, in every stage of life
          The most despotic of our senses, gained
          Such strength in 'me' as often held my mind                130
          In absolute dominion. Gladly here,
          Entering upon abstruser argument,
          Could I endeavour to unfold the means
          Which Nature studiously employs to thwart
          This tyranny, summons all the senses each
          To counteract the other, and themselves,
          And makes them all, and the objects with which all
          Are conversant, subservient in their turn
          To the great ends of Liberty and Power.
          But leave we this: enough that my delights                 140
          (Such as they were) were sought insatiably.
          Vivid the transport, vivid though not profound;
          I roamed from hill to hill, from rock to rock,
          Still craving combinations of new forms,
          New pleasure, wider empire for the sight,
          Proud of her own endowments, and rejoiced
          To lay the inner faculties asleep.
          Amid the turns and counterturns, the strife
          And various trials of our complex being,
          As we grow up, such thraldom of that sense                 150
          Seems hard to shun. And yet I knew a maid,
          A young enthusiast, who escaped these bonds;
          Her eye was not the mistress of her heart;
          Far less did rules prescribed by passive taste,
          Or barren intermeddling subtleties,
          Perplex her mind; but, wise as women are
          When genial circumstance hath favoured them,
          She welcomed what was given, and craved no more;
          Whate'er the scene presented to her view
          That was the best, to that she was attuned                 160
          By her benign simplicity of life,
          And through a perfect happiness of soul,
          Whose variegated feelings were in this
          Sisters, that they were each some new delight.
          Birds in the bower, and lambs in the green field,
          Could they have known her, would have loved; methought
          Her very presence such a sweetness breathed,
          That flowers, and trees, and even the silent hills,
          And everything she looked on, should have had
          An intimation how she bore herself                         170
          Towards them and to all creatures. God delights
          In such a being; for, her common thoughts
          Are piety, her life is gratitude.

            Even like this maid, before I was called forth
          From the retirement of my native hills,
          I loved whate'er I saw: nor lightly loved,
          But most intensely; never dreamt of aught
          More grand, more fair, more exquisitely framed
          Than those few nooks to which my happy feet
          Were limited. I had not at that time                       180
          Lived long enough, nor in the least survived
          The first diviner influence of this world,
          As it appears to unaccustomed eyes.
          Worshipping them among the depth of things,
          As piety ordained, could I submit
          To measured admiration, or to aught
          That should preclude humility and love?
          I felt, observed, and pondered; did not judge,
          Yea, never thought of judging; with the gift
          Of all this glory filled and satisfied.                    190
          And afterwards, when through the gorgeous Alps
          Roaming, I carried with me the same heart:
          In truth, the degradation--howsoe'er
          Induced, effect, in whatsoe'er degree,
          Of custom that prepares a partial scale
          In which the little oft outweighs the great;
          Or any other cause that hath been named;
          Or lastly, aggravated by the times
          And their impassioned sounds, which well might make
          The milder minstrelsies of rural scenes                    200
          Inaudible--was transient; I had known
          Too forcibly, too early in my life,
          Visitings of imaginative power
          For this to last: I shook the habit off
          Entirely and for ever, and again
          In Nature's presence stood, as now I stand,
          A sensitive being, a 'creative' soul.

            There are in our existence spots of time,
          That with distinct pre-eminence retain
          A renovating virtue, whence--depressed                     210
          By false opinion and contentious thought,
          Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
          In trivial occupations, and the round
          Of ordinary intercourse--our minds
          Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
          A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
          That penetrates, enables us to mount,
          When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.
          This efficacious spirit chiefly lurks
          Among those passages of life that give                     220
          Profoundest knowledge to what point, and how,
          The mind is lord and master--outward sense
          The obedient servant of her will. Such moments
          Are scattered everywhere, taking their date
          From our first childhood. I remember well,
          That once, while yet my inexperienced hand
          Could scarcely hold a bridle, with proud hopes
          I mounted, and we journeyed towards the hills:
          An ancient servant of my father's house
          Was with me, my encourager and guide:                      230
          We had not travelled long, ere some mischance
          Disjoined me from my comrade; and, through fear
          Dismounting, down the rough and stony moor
          I led my horse, and, stumbling on, at length
          Came to a bottom, where in former times
          A murderer had been hung in iron chains.
          The gibbet-mast had mouldered down, the bones
          And iron case were gone; but on the turf,
          Hard by, soon after that fell deed was wrought,
          Some unknown hand had carved the murderer's name.          240
          The monumental letters were inscribed
          In times long past; but still, from year to year
          By superstition of the neighbourhood,
          The grass is cleared away, and to this hour
          The characters are fresh and visible:
          A casual glance had shown them, and I fled,
          Faltering and faint, and ignorant of the road:
          Then, reascending the bare common, saw
          A naked pool that lay beneath the hills,
          The beacon on the summit, and, more near,                  250
          A girl, who bore a pitcher on her head,
          And seemed with difficult steps to force her way
          Against the blowing wind. It was, in truth,
          An ordinary sight; but I should need
          Colours and words that are unknown to man,
          To paint the visionary dreariness
          Which, while I looked all round for my lost guide,
          Invested moorland waste and naked pool,
          The beacon crowning the lone eminence,
          The female and her garments vexed and tossed               260
          By the strong wind. When, in the blessed hours
          Of early love, the loved one at my side,
          I roamed, in daily presence of this scene,
          Upon the naked pool and dreary crags,
          And on the melancholy beacon, fell
          A spirit of pleasure and youth's golden gleam;
          And think ye not with radiance more sublime
          For these remembrances, and for the power
          They had left behind? So feeling comes in aid
          Of feeling, and diversity of strength                      270
          Attends us, if but once we have been strong.
          Oh! mystery of man, from what a depth
          Proceed thy honours. I am lost, but see
          In simple childhood something of the base
          On which thy greatness stands; but this I feel,
          That from thyself it comes, that thou must give,
          Else never canst receive. The days gone by
          Return upon me almost from the dawn
          Of life: the hiding-places of man's power
          Open; I would approach them, but they close.               280
          I see by glimpses now; when age comes on,
          May scarcely see at all; and I would give,
          While yet we may, as far as words can give,
          Substance and life to what I feel, enshrining,
          Such is my hope, the spirit of the Past
          For future restoration.--Yet another
          Of these memorials:--
                                 One Christmas-time,
          On the glad eve of its dear holidays,
          Feverish, and tired, and restless, I went forth
          Into the fields, impatient for the sight                   290
          Of those led palfreys that should bear us home;
          My brothers and myself. There rose a crag,
          That, from the meeting-point of two highways
          Ascending, overlooked them both, far stretched;
          Thither, uncertain on which road to fix
          My expectation, thither I repaired,
          Scout-like, and gained the summit; 'twas a day
          Tempestuous, dark, and wild, and on the grass
          I sate half-sheltered by a naked wall;
          Upon my right hand couched a single sheep,                 300
          Upon my left a blasted hawthorn stood;
          With those companions at my side, I watched
          Straining my eyes intensely, as the mist
          Gave intermitting prospect of the copse
          And plain beneath. Ere we to school returned,--
          That dreary time,--ere we had been ten days
          Sojourners in my father's house, he died;
          And I and my three brothers, orphans then,
          Followed his body to the grave. The event,
          With all the sorrow that it brought, appeared              310
          A chastisement; and when I called to mind
          That day so lately past, when from the crag
          I looked in such anxiety of hope;
          With trite reflections of morality,
          Yet in the deepest passion, I bowed low
          To God, Who thus corrected my desires;
          And, afterwards, the wind and sleety rain,
          And all the business of the elements,
          The single sheep, and the one blasted tree,
          And the bleak music from that old stone wall,              320
          The noise of wood and water, and the mist
          That on the line of each of those two roads
          Advanced in such indisputable shapes;
          All these were kindred spectacles and sounds
          To which I oft repaired, and thence would drink,
          As at a fountain; and on winter nights,
          Down to this very time, when storm and rain
          Beat on my roof, or, haply, at noon-day,
          While in a grove I walk, whose lofty trees,
          Laden with summer's thickest foliage, rock                 330
          In a strong wind, some working of the spirit,
          Some inward agitations thence are brought,
          Whate'er their office, whether to beguile
          Thoughts over busy in the course they took,
          Or animate an hour of vacant ease.


CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


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