One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cove, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon’s utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark, -
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.
Wordsworth is a poet who makes recollection central to creativity: for without memory, Wordsworth would argue, ‘we’ cannot or do not exist, for our identity is built upon remembrance.
Think about it.
Look at the way the word ‘re-collection’ is assembled and what it is assembling.
Remember how we remember.
Are we not fragments of this memory and that?
Shards of ‘being’ in one place and then another: feeling this and that; putting together our sense of a ‘me’ through all these parts of re-collected experience?
It is hardly surprising that when a memory is challenged, we may literally feel as as if the ‘I/me’ is falling into bits.
The Prelude is a long, autobiographical poem by Wordsworth who explores his past in the text, through a series of recollections.
The title of this long Romantic poem, suggests that these events and emotions are a’Prelude’ to his adult self or being.
It is as if by narrating tales of his past, the first person narrator can ‘arrive’ at his identity.
Worth Thinking about.
Wordsworth’s poem has similarities to Norman MacCaig’s ‘Below the Green Corrie‘ as it explores the enduring impact of nature, particularly a wild, ungoverned. ancient nature that is awe inspiring and dangerous.
Both poets find such natural places characters in their own right and these personified versions of nature both fascinate and terrify, hence their enduring impact on the writers.
We wonder at the identity of the ‘her’ in the poem and accept that this mysterious female is a presence whose influence remains compelling and unresolved. Such a presence is deliberately open to interpretation as this makes the poem more Romantic and alluring.
The ‘her’ seems sometimes to be the special, even magical boat, sometimes the landscape itself-ungoverned by mortal, human considerations or control.
Finally we feel the poem suggests an experience that unsettles and trobles teh writer. It seems to explaore a form of haunting and communicates a series of images ‘that do not live /Like living men..’
In other words this is a poem about ‘things’ beyond human translation or comprehension. ‘A trouble to my dreams’
The intial sense of setting off with a direction and purpose, yields to fearfulness and disorientation: ‘Unknown modes of being’. Perhaps it is the otherness of this experience that haunts the poet most powerfully.
Human beings have to accept their ultimate inconsequentiality too. Yet the Romantic irony remains that it is the genius of the poet which creates the poem.
The ‘I’ is special enough to have the experience because he is exceptional and unlike ordinary men.
Analysis to Follow.
The Woman in Black
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