Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works




          FROM Nature doth emotion come, and moods
          Of calmness equally are Nature's gift:
          This is her glory; these two attributes
          Are sister horns that constitute her strength.
          Hence Genius, born to thrive by interchange
          Of peace and excitation, finds in her
          His best and purest friend; from her receives
          That energy by which he seeks the truth,
          From her that happy stillness of the mind
          Which fits him to receive it when unsought.                 10

            Such benefit the humblest intellects
          Partake of, each in their degree; 'tis mine
          To speak, what I myself have known and felt;
          Smooth task! for words find easy way, inspired
          By gratitude, and confidence in truth.
          Long time in search of knowledge did I range
          The field of human life, in heart and mind
          Benighted; but, the dawn beginning now
          To re-appear, 'twas proved that not in vain
          I had been taught to reverence a Power                      20
          That is the visible quality and shape
          And image of right reason; that matures
          Her processes by steadfast laws; gives birth
          To no impatient or fallacious hopes,
          No heat of passion or excessive zeal,
          No vain conceits; provokes to no quick turns
          Of self-applauding intellect; but trains
          To meekness, and exalts by humble faith;
          Holds up before the mind intoxicate
          With present objects, and the busy dance                    30
          Of things that pass away, a temperate show
          Of objects that endure; and by this course
          Disposes her, when over-fondly set
          On throwing off incumbrances, to seek
          In man, and in the frame of social life,
          Whate'er there is desirable and good
          Of kindred permanence, unchanged in form
          And function, or, through strict vicissitude
          Of life and death, revolving. Above all
          Were re-established now those watchful thoughts             40
          Which, seeing little worthy or sublime
          In what the Historian's pen so much delights
          To blazon--power and energy detached
          From moral purpose--early tutored me
          To look with feelings of fraternal love
          Upon the unassuming things that hold
          A silent station in this beauteous world.

            Thus moderated, thus composed, I found
          Once more in Man an object of delight,
          Of pure imagination, and of love;                           50
          And, as the horizon of my mind enlarged,
          Again I took the intellectual eye
          For my instructor, studious more to see
          Great truths, than touch and handle little ones.
          Knowledge was given accordingly; my trust
          Became more firm in feelings that had stood
          The test of such a trial; clearer far
          My sense of excellence--of right and wrong:
          The promise of the present time retired
          Into its true proportion; sanguine schemes,                 60
          Ambitious projects, pleased me less; I sought
          For present good in life's familiar face,
          And built thereon my hopes of good to come.

            With settling judgments now of what would last
          And what would disappear; prepared to find
          Presumption, folly, madness, in the men
          Who thrust themselves upon the passive world
          As Rulers of the world; to see in these,
          Even when the public welfare is their aim,
          Plans without thought, or built on theories                 70
          Vague and unsound; and having brought the books
          Of modern statists to their proper test,
          Life, human life, with all its sacred claims
          Of sex and age, and heaven-descended rights,
          Mortal, or those beyond the reach of death;
          And having thus discerned how dire a thing
          Is worshipped in that idol proudly named
          "The Wealth of Nations," 'where' alone that wealth
          Is lodged, and how increased; and having gained
          A more judicious knowledge of the worth                     80
          And dignity of individual man,
          No composition of the brain, but man
          Of whom we read, the man whom we behold
          With our own eyes--I could not but inquire--
          Not with less interest than heretofore,
          But greater, though in spirit more subdued--
          Why is this glorious creature to be found
          One only in ten thousand? What one is,
          Why may not millions be? What bars are thrown
          By Nature in the way of such a hope?                        90
          Our animal appetites and daily wants,
          Are these obstructions insurmountable?
          If not, then others vanish into air.
          "Inspect the basis of the social pile:
          Inquire," said I, "how much of mental power
          And genuine virtue they possess who live
          By bodily toil, labour exceeding far
          Their due proportion, under all the weight
          Of that injustice which upon ourselves
          Ourselves entail." Such estimate to frame                  100
          I chiefly looked (what need to look beyond?)
          Among the natural abodes of men,
          Fields with their rural works; recalled to mind
          My earliest notices; with these compared
          The observations made in later youth,
          And to that day continued.--For, the time
          Had never been when throes of mighty Nations
          And the world's tumult unto me could yield,
          How far soe'er transported and possessed,
          Full measure of content; but still I craved                110
          An intermingling of distinct regards
          And truths of individual sympathy
          Nearer ourselves. Such often might be gleaned
          From the great City, else it must have proved
          To me a heart-depressing wilderness;
          But much was wanting: therefore did I turn
          To you, ye pathways, and ye lonely roads;
          Sought you enriched with everything I prized,
          With human kindnesses and simple joys.

            Oh! next to one dear state of bliss, vouchsafed,         120
          Alas! to few in this untoward world,
          The bliss of walking daily in life's prime
          Through field or forest with the maid we love,
          While yet our hearts are young, while yet we breathe
          Nothing but happiness, in some lone nook,
          Deep vale, or anywhere, the home of both,
          From which it would be misery to stir:
          Oh! next to such enjoyment of our youth,
          In my esteem, next to such dear delight,
          Was that of wandering on from day to day                   130
          Where I could meditate in peace, and cull
          Knowledge that step by step might lead me on
          To wisdom; or, as lightsome as a bird
          Wafted upon the wind from distant lands,
          Sing notes of greeting to strange fields or groves,
          Which lacked not voice to welcome me in turn:
          And, when that pleasant toil had ceased to please,
          Converse with men, where if we meet a face
          We almost meet a friend, on naked heaths
          With long long ways before, by cottage bench,              140
          Or well-spring where the weary traveller rests.

            Who doth not love to follow with his eye
          The windings of a public way? the sight,
          Familiar object as it is, hath wrought
          On my imagination since the morn
          Of childhood, when a disappearing line,
          One daily present to my eyes, that crossed
          The naked summit of a far-off hill
          Beyond the limits that my feet had trod,
          Was like an invitation into space                          150
          Boundless, or guide into eternity.
          Yes, something of the grandeur which invests
          The mariner, who sails the roaring sea
          Through storm and darkness, early in my mind
          Surrounded, too, the wanderers of the earth;
          Grandeur as much, and loveliness far more.
          Awed have I been by strolling Bedlamites;
          From many other uncouth vagrants (passed
          In fear) have walked with quicker step; but why
          Take note of this? When I began to enquire,                160
          To watch and question those I met, and speak
          Without reserve to them, the lonely roads
          Were open schools in which I daily read
          With most delight the passions of mankind,
          Whether by words, looks, sighs, or tears, revealed;
          There saw into the depth of human souls,
          Souls that appear to have no depth at all
          To careless eyes. And--now convinced at heart
          How little those formalities, to which
          With overweening trust alone we give                       170
          The name of Education, have to do
          With real feeling and just sense; how vain
          A correspondence with the talking world
          Proves to the most; and called to make good search
          If man's estate, by doom of Nature yoked
          With toil, be therefore yoked with ignorance;
          If virtue be indeed so hard to rear,
          And intellectual strength so rare a boon--
          I prized such walks still more, for there I found
          Hope to my hope, and to my pleasure peace                  180
          And steadiness, and healing and repose
          To every angry passion. There I heard,
          From mouths of men obscure and lowly, truths
          Replete with honour; sounds in unison
          With loftiest promises of good and fair.

            There are who think that strong affection, love
          Known by whatever name, is falsely deemed
          A gift, to use a term which they would use,
          Of vulgar nature; that its growth requires
          Retirement, leisure, language purified                     190
          By manners studied and elaborate;
          That whoso feels such passion in its strength
          Must live within the very light and air
          Of courteous usages refined by art.
          True is it, where oppression worse than death
          Salutes the being at his birth, where grace
          Of culture hath been utterly unknown,
          And poverty and labour in excess
          From day to day pre-occupy the ground
          Of the affections, and to Nature's self                    200
          Oppose a deeper nature; there, indeed,
          Love cannot be; nor does it thrive with ease
          Among the close and overcrowded haunts
          Of cities, where the human heart is sick,
          And the eye feeds it not, and cannot feed.
          --Yes, in those wanderings deeply did I feel
          How we mislead each other; above all,
          How books mislead us, seeking their reward
          From judgments of the wealthy Few, who see
          By artificial lights; how they debase                      210
          The Many for the pleasure of those Few;
          Effeminately level down the truth
          To certain general notions, for the sake
          Of being understood at once, or else
          Through want of better knowledge in the heads
          That framed them; flattering self-conceit with words,
          That, while they most ambitiously set forth
          Extrinsic differences, the outward marks
          Whereby society has parted man
          From man, neglect the universal heart.                     220

            Here, calling up to mind what then I saw,
          A youthful traveller, and see daily now
          In the familiar circuit of my home,
          Here might I pause, and bend in reverence
          To Nature, and the power of human minds,
          To men as they are men within themselves.
          How oft high service is performed within,
          When all the external man is rude in show,--
          Not like a temple rich with pomp and gold,
          But a mere mountain chapel, that protects                  230
          Its simple worshippers from sun and shower.
          Of these, said I, shall be my song; of these,
          If future years mature me for the task,
          Will I record the praises, making verse
          Deal boldly with substantial things; in truth
          And sanctity of passion, speak of these,
          That justice may be done, obeisance paid
          Where it is due: thus haply shall I teach,
          Inspire; through unadulterated ears
          Pour rapture, tenderness, and hope,--my theme              240
          No other than the very heart of man,
          As found among the best of those who live--
          Not unexalted by religious faith,
          Nor uninformed by books, good books, though few--
          In Nature's presence: thence may I select
          Sorrow, that is not sorrow, but delight;
          And miserable love, that is not pain
          To hear of, for the glory that redounds
          Therefrom to human kind, and what we are.
          Be mine to follow with no timid step                       250
          Where knowledge leads me: it shall be my pride
          That I have dared to tread this holy ground,
          Speaking no dream, but things oracular;
          Matter not lightly to be heard by those
          Who to the letter of the outward promise
          Do read the invisible soul; by men adroit
          In speech, and for communion with the world
          Accomplished; minds whose faculties are then
          Most active when they are most eloquent,
          And elevated most when most admired.                       260
          Men may be found of other mould than these,
          Who are their own upholders, to themselves
          Encouragement, and energy, and will,
          Expressing liveliest thoughts in lively words
          As native passion dictates. Others, too,
          There are among the walks of homely life
          Still higher, men for contemplation framed,
          Shy, and unpractised in the strife of phrase;
          Meek men, whose very souls perhaps would sink
          Beneath them, summoned to such intercourse:                270
          Theirs is the language of the heavens, the power,
          The thought, the image, and the silent joy:
          Words are but under-agents in their souls;
          When they are grasping with their greatest strength,
          They do not breathe among them: this I speak
          In gratitude to God, Who feeds our hearts
          For His own service; knoweth, loveth us,
          When we are unregarded by the world.

            Also, about this time did I receive
          Convictions still more strong than heretofore,             280
          Not only that the inner frame is good,
          And graciously composed, but that, no less,
          Nature for all conditions wants not power
          To consecrate, if we have eyes to see,
          The outside of her creatures, and to breathe
          Grandeur upon the very humblest face
          Of human life. I felt that the array
          Of act and circumstance, and visible form,
          Is mainly to the pleasure of the mind
          What passion makes them; that meanwhile the forms          290
          Of Nature have a passion in themselves,
          That intermingles with those works of man
          To which she summons him; although the works
          Be mean, have nothing lofty of their own;
          And that the Genius of the Poet hence
          May boldly take his way among mankind
          Wherever Nature leads; that he hath stood
          By Nature's side among the men of old,
          And so shall stand for ever. Dearest Friend!
          If thou partake the animating faith                        300
          That Poets, even as Prophets, each with each
          Connected in a mighty scheme of truth,
          Have each his own peculiar faculty,
          Heaven's gift, a sense that fits him to perceive
          Objects unseen before, thou wilt not blame
          The humblest of this band who dares to hope
          That unto him hath also been vouchsafed
          An insight that in some sort he possesses,
          A privilege whereby a work of his,
          Proceeding from a source of untaught things,               310
          Creative and enduring, may become
          A power like one of Nature's. To a hope
          Not less ambitious once among the wilds
          Of Sarum's Plain, my youthful spirit was raised;
          There, as I ranged at will the pastoral downs
          Trackless and smooth, or paced the bare white roads
          Lengthening in solitude their dreary line,
          Time with his retinue of ages fled
          Backwards, nor checked his flight until I saw
          Our dim ancestral Past in vision clear;                    320
          Saw multitudes of men, and, here and there,
          A single Briton clothed in wolf-skin vest,
          With shield and stone-axe, stride across the wold;
          The voice of spears was heard, the rattling spear
          Shaken by arms of mighty bone, in strength,
          Long mouldered, of barbaric majesty.
          I called on Darkness--but before the word
          Was uttered, midnight darkness seemed to take
          All objects from my sight; and lo! again
          The Desert visible by dismal flames;                       330
          It is the sacrificial altar, fed
          With living men--how deep the groans! the voice
          Of those that crowd the giant wicker thrills
          The monumental hillocks, and the pomp
          Is for both worlds, the living and the dead.
          At other moments--(for through that wide waste
          Three summer days I roamed) where'er the Plain
          Was figured o'er with circles, lines, or mounds,
          That yet survive, a work, as some divine,
          Shaped by the Druids, so to represent                      340
          Their knowledge of the heavens, and image forth
          The constellations--gently was I charmed
          Into a waking dream, a reverie
          That, with believing eyes, where'er I turned,
          Beheld long-bearded teachers, with white wands
          Uplifted, pointing to the starry sky,
          Alternately, and plain below, while breath
          Of music swayed their motions, and the waste
          Rejoiced with them and me in those sweet sounds.

            This for the past, and things that may be viewed         350
          Or fancied in the obscurity of years
          From monumental hints: and thou, O Friend!
          Pleased with some unpremeditated strains
          That served those wanderings to beguile, hast said
          That then and there my mind had exercised
          Upon the vulgar forms of present things,
          The actual world of our familiar days,
          Yet higher power; had caught from them a tone,
          An image, and a character, by books
          Not hitherto reflected. Call we this                       360
          A partial judgment--and yet why? for 'then'
          We were as strangers; and I may not speak
          Thus wrongfully of verse, however rude,
          Which on thy young imagination, trained
          In the great City, broke like light from far.
          Moreover, each man's Mind is to herself
          Witness and judge; and I remember well
          That in life's every-day appearances
          I seemed about this time to gain clear sight
          Of a new world--a world, too, that was fit                 370
          To be transmitted, and to other eyes
          Made visible; as ruled by those fixed laws
          Whence spiritual dignity originates,
          Which do both give it being and maintain
          A balance, an ennobling interchange
          Of action from without and from within;
          The excellence, pure function, and best power
          Both of the objects seen, and eye that sees.



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