Tuesday Poem: extract from the 1799 Prelude

from Part 2 of the 2-Part Prelude

by William Wordsworth, 1799.

Blessed be the infant Babe
(For with my best conjectures I would trace [2.270]
The progress of our being) blest the Babe
Nursed in his Mother’s arms, the Babe who sleeps
Upon his Mother’s breast, who when his soul
Claims manifest kindred with an earthly soul
Doth gather passion from his Mother’s eye!
Such feelings pass into his torpid life
Like an awakening breeze, and hence his mind
Even in the first trial of its powers
Is prompt and watchful, eager to combine
In one appearance all the elements [2.280]
And parts of the same object, else detached
And loath to coalesce. Thus day by day
Subjected to the discipline of love
His organs and recipient faculties
Are quickened, are more vigorous, his mind spreads
Tenacious of the forms which it receives.
In one beloved presence, nay and more,
And those sensations which have been derived
From this beloved presence, there exists
A virtue which irradiates and exalts [2.290]
All objects through all intercourse of sense.
No outcast he, bewildered and depressed:
Along his infant veins are interfused
The gravitation and the filial bond
Of nature that connect him with the world.
Emphatically such a being lives
An inmate of this active universe;
From nature largely he receives, nor so
Is satisfied but largely gives again,
For feeling has to him imparted strength, [2.300]
And powerful in all sentiments of grief,
Of exultation, fear and joy, his mind,
Even as an agent of the one great mind,
Creates, creator and receiver both,
Working but in alliance with the works
Which it beholds. Such verily is the first
Poetic spirit of our human life,
By uniform control of after years
In most abated and suppressed, in some
Through every change of growth or of decay [2.310]
Preeminent till death.
From early days,
Beginning not long after that first time
In which, a Babe, by intercourse of touch
I held mute dialogues with my Mother’s heart,
I have endeavoured to display the means
Whereby this infant sensibility,
Great birth-right of our being, was in me
Augmented and sustained. Yet is a path [2.320]
More difficult before me, and I fear
That in its broken windings we shall need
The Chamois sinews and the Eagle’s wing:
For now a trouble came into my mind
From obscure causes. I was left alone
Seeking this visible world, nor knowing why:
The props of my affections were removed
And yet the buildings stood as if sustained
By its own spirit. All that I beheld
Was dear to me, and from this cause it came [2.330]
That now to Nature’s finer influxes
My mind lay open, to that more exact
And intimate communion which our hearts
Maintain with the minuter properties
Of objects which already are beloved,
And of those only. Many are the joys
Of youth, but oh! What happiness to live
When every hour brings palpable access
Of knowledge, when all knowledge is delight,
And sorrow is not there. The seasons come [2.340]
And every season brought a countless store
Of modes and temporary qualities
Which but for this most watchful power of love
Had been neglected, left a register
Of permanent relations, else unknown:
Hence life, and change, and beauty, solitude
More active even than “best society,”
Society made sweet as solitude
By silent inobtrusive sympathies
And gentle agitations of the mind [2.350]
From manifold distinctions, difference
Perceived in things where to the common eye
No difference is: and hence from the same source
Sublimer joy; for I would walk alone
In storm and tempest or in starlight nights
Beneath the quiet heavens, and at that time
Would feel whate’er there is of power in sound
To breathe an elevated mood by form
Or image unprofaned: and I would stand
Beneath some rock listening to sounds that are [2.360]
The ghostly language of the ancient earth
Or make their dim abode in distant winds.
Thence did I drink the visionary power.

William Wordsworth

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About Robert Sullivan

Robert Sullivan has written seven collections of poetry, coedited two anthologies of Polynesian poetry, written a retelling of Maori myths and legends for children called WEAVING EARTH AND SKY illustrated by Gavin Bishop, and a graphic novel MAUI LEGENDS OF THE OUTCAST illustrated by Chris Slane. He has won several NZ book awards, and had writers' residencies at the University of Auckland and the University of Hawai'i. As well as teaching, he directed the creative writing program at the University of Hawaii.
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