Wordsworth in Cambridge

The transition from book 2 to book 3 of The Prelude is a little difficult.  Not that the poetry is any less wonderful, but the setting had changed so dramatically that there is a kind of withdrawal into more abstract considerations--certainly worthy of those college years when the carefree days of youth begin to undergo greater codification and abstraction. 

But as I said, the quality of the poetry does not diminish, as in this excerpt that begins the transition from country life to town/city life.:

from The Prelude Book III
William Wordsworth

I was the Dreamer, they the Dream; I roamed
Delighted through the motley spectacle;
Gowns, grave, or gaudy, doctors, students, streets,
Courts, cloisters, flocks of churches, gateways, towers:
Migration strange for a stripling of the hills,
A northern villager.
What is intriguing here is the introduction of a kind of solipsism or early separation of Wordsworth from those with whom he will be associating.  "I was the Dreamer, they the Dream. . ." in the sense that they become the subject of the creative task and art.  But he is definitely, at this point at outsider, an observer and is "delighted through the motley spectacle,"  not merely of the people, but of the "flocks of churches, gateways, towers"  (and I find that turn of phrase delightful--the thought of all these non-animal things represented in the idiom of the country from which he is coming.  And Wordsworth himself recognizes the dislocation and alienation--"migration strange for a stripling of the hills,"  again, a wonderful natural metaphor for an unnatural transition.

A little further along, Wordsworth again gives us insight into the disorientation that comes from this transition.  Where once he sat in wide and woodsy silences contemplating the things that nature taught him, now:

Near me hung Trinity's loquacious clock,
Who never let the quarters, night or day,
Slip by him unproclaimed, and told the hours
Twice over with a male and female voice.
Her pealing organ was my neighbour too;
And from my pillow, looking forth by light
Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold
The antechapel where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.

You can almost hear Wordsworth knocking on the ceiling of his flat with a broom handle to get the noisy neighbors to shut up.   And again, rather than seeing what we would have seen through his windows in the lake country, here he sees and antechapel and the statue of Newton--the one who will stand for the transition from nature and union to analysis, atomization, and abstraction.  Those last three lines and particularly the lovely "the marble index of a mind,"  are striking.  But note also that the portrayal of Newton is not neutral, nor is it entirely positive--for that marble index portray a mind "voyaging through strange seas of Through, alone."  Here again, the phrasing is superb because even though preceded by a comma, it is possible to associate the word with "the strange seas of Thought" rather than with the person of Newton.  So, we have the "marble index of a mind for ever// Voyaging through stranges seas of Thought alone."  That is: not sensation, not emotion, not connection, thought alone.

Perhaps I wax rhapsodic over a minor point that has no substance in the remainder of the poem.  That is to be seen.  However, these are the Wordsworthian thoughts of the day.  I hope they help you appreciate the genius and perhaps encourage you to take him up again and engage with him.


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