Extract From The Prelude Analysis by William Wordsworth

Extract From The Prelude Analysis: On the surface level, this is a poem about a man stealing a boat and being terrified of the huge mountains.

However, we know that there is often more to a poem than what meets the eye. Let's begin with the first line:

"One summer evening (led by her) I found"

Already, we have the scene set for us. We know that the poem takes place on a summer's evening. If we wanted to analyze this further, the four stages of our life are most represented throughout the seasons. Spring, being new growth, summer being adulthood, autumn being elderly, and winter being a time of death.

If we were to use this understanding of how our life is represented, we could understand that this poem takes place in the adulthood of a man's life. Looking at (led by her), we can assume that the poet has personified nature, labeling it "her". We know nature is leading this man to something, that nature is showing him something.

"A little boat tied to a willow tree/Within a rocky cove, its usual home."

In this poem, the boat represents man's influence. The poet comes across a boat, a man made vehicle used to transport things over water, something used to control an element that we previously had no control over. The willow tree is again a symbol of nature.

The poet says the boat was tied to a willow tree and we know that if the boat represents man's influence, we can assume this means that man's influence was tied to nature, that we worked closely with nature.

"Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in/Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth"

In these lines, the poet has personified the boat. This could have done because he was alone. "Unloosing her chain" could also signify how the poet views mankind stepping on its own -- away from nature. He uses the word "stealth" which means to do something sneaky or subtly.

This says that he stole the boat. This could be a metaphor for stolen youth.

"And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice/Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;"

Focusing on "without the voice/of mountain-echoes". This shoes that the poet is again personifying nature by giving it a voice. This line gives an unsettling feeling. Before this, it was calm and a sort of narrative, but why would a mountain echo? How would a mountain-echo?

"Leaving behind her still, on either side,/Small circles glittering idly in the moon,/Until they melthed all into one track/Of sparkling light"

The highlighted sections is describing the lake and the moon reflecting. This displays a peaceful scene and a sort of romantic description.

Extract From The Prelude Analysis

The image that is put in our mind is one of peaceful reflection. Of a man on a boat, gently gliding on the water, not rowing, just enjoying being in the presence of nature.

"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," 

This section of lines shows a mood change. The poet went from the romantic description of the water and the moon to how he became focused and more set in a direction. He began rowing like an experienced rower.

He saw the summit (top of a mountain). "I fixed my view" shows that he knew where he wanted to go.

"The horizon's utmost boundary; far above/Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky."

The word "boundary" draws our attention here. When we think of the word "boundary", we think of words like limit. Suddenly, nature has gone from being peaceful to being something that limits or hinders our progress.

He mentions "the stars and grey sky" again to paint an image of there being nothing more than that in the sky. No heavens, no gods, just the stars.

"She was an elfin pinnace; lustily/I dipped my oars into the silent lake"

With the first word of this line, the poet is again personifying nature, in this case, the mountain. Elfin refers to elves that are delicate and supernatural. They are the symbols of nature. A pinnace is a small boat. In this line, we are again seeing the poet paint the picture of a peaceful scene, perhaps showing that when we are in awe and working with nature, we are at peace.

"And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat/Went heaving through the water like a swan;"

The poet uses a simile here, comparing his boat to a swan. A swan is graceful so the author is saying his boat was gracefully heaving through the water. This comparison to an animal also shows that we mimic nature but fail to be as graceful or as perfect as a swan landing upon the water.

"When, from behind that craggy steep till then/The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge"

This line is very simple. The poet is saying the closer he got to the mountain, the bigger it appeared. He uses a bit of repetition here ("huge") only to ensure the reader understands how large the mountain really is. 

"As if with voluntary instinct,/Upreared its head. I struck and struck again/And growing up still in stature the grim shape"

From this line on, the language starts to shift. The author shifts from peaceful language, acknowledging the beauty of nature to being intimidated by the huge mountain.

"Towered up between me and the stars, and still,/For so it seemed, with purpose of its own"

Again, the poet mentions the stars. He could be mentioning the stars to compare the large mountain to the large emptiness of the sky and the wondrous stars. "with purpose of its own" shows the mountain as aggressive. This is showing nature as becoming aggressive and powerful.

"And measured motion like a living thing,/Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned"

The poet uses another simile in this line. He compares the mountain to a living thing, saying that the mountain was coming after him. He was intimidated by the mountain. He felt vulnerable, fearful. It was overwhelming him.

"And through the silent water stole my way/Back to the covert of the willow tree;"

The poet was like a wounded animal, hurrying its way back to safety. He was frantically trying to find his way back as the enormous mountain was too much for him to handle. He returns to the willow tree which signifies man's return to nature.

"There in her mooring-place I left my bark,/And through the meadows homeward went, in grave"

The use of juxtaposition here shows the contrast between the meadow and the mountain. A meadow is a place of peacefulness and joy. The differences are shown here to show how fast nature can change. This line also signifies another mood change.

We started the poem feeling peace, then fear, and now a sense of graveness or seriousness. The poet uses "grave" to show the poet is conscious of his own mortality, that he will not live forever.

"And serious mood; but after I had seen/That spectacle, for many days, my brain/Worked with a dim and undetermined sense"

This section of lines shows that the poet is feeling small after seeing such a huge mountain. He is feeling grave and serious. This sight and these thoughts have been on his mind for many days; he can't stop thinking about it.

"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,"

The unknown modes of being refer to not knowing where we belong. It's unknowable. This feeling he has is ineffable, it can't be put into words. He is feeling like the world has left him. He is feeling dark, sinister, morbid, and melancholic. He feels alone in this world.

"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."

The poet uses juxtaposition here again to show how the poet is reflecting on the peaceful side of nature but also the harsh extremes. This experience has ruined his view of the world, nothing is the same. He can't fathom or understand. He refers to nature as like a living man but something that is not of this world. These thoughts stayed with him, they were constantly being reflected upon.

The power that nature has is causing him to rethink his place in the world. It's showing that we can try to control nature but nature will always be more powerful. 
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