William Wordsworth--One Long Poetic Paragraph

I paused, hesitated as I considered this next excerpt, but could think of no way to break it up and make it smaller without also fragmenting the understanding and so I post what has to be one of the most beautiful poetic paragraphs encountered thus far, both from imagery and the intensity of feeling and experience that it conveys.  Bear with it.  Read it slowly.  Read it twice.  Read it out loud if you are in a place you can do so.  Hear and revel in the words and in the images that Wordsworth brings forth.

from The Prelude Book IV
William Wordsworth

As one who hangs down-bending from the side
Of a slow-moving boat, upon the breast
Of a still water, solacing himself
With such discoveries as his eye can make
Beneath him in the bottom of the deep,
Sees many beauteous sights—weeds, fishes, flowers.
Grots, pebbles, roots of trees, and fancies more,
Yet often is perplexed and cannot part
The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky,
Mountains and clouds, reflected in the depth
Of the clear flood, from things which there abide
In their true dwelling; now is crossed by gleam
Of his own image, by a sun-beam now,
And wavering motions sent he knows not whence,
Impediments that make his task more sweet;
Such pleasant office have we long pursued
Incumbent o'er the surface of past time
With like success, nor often have appeared
Shapes fairer or less doubtfully discerned
Than these to which the Tale, indulgent Friend!
Would now direct thy notice. Yet in spite
Of pleasure won, and knowledge not withheld,
There was an inner falling off—I loved,
Loved deeply all that had been loved before,
More deeply even than ever: but a swarm
Of heady schemes jostling each other, gawds,
And feast and dance, and public revelry,
And sports and games (too grateful in themselves,
Yet in themselves less grateful, I believe,
Than as they were a badge glossy and fresh
Of manliness and freedom) all conspired
To lure my mind from firm habitual quest
Of feeding pleasures, to depress the zeal
And damp those yearnings which had once been mine—
A wild, unworldly-minded youth, given up
To his own eager thoughts. It would demand
Some skill, and longer time than may be spared,
To paint these vanities, and how they wrought
In haunts where they, till now, had been unknown.
It seemed the very garments that I wore
Preyed on my strength, and stopped the quiet stream
Of self-forgetfulness.

Let's take it a little at a time.  Wordsworth seems to recount at once a real experience--looking down into the wonders of the water world and a metaphor for the inability of the artist to separate what he creates from what is real--becoming so immersed in the creation that the difference between the two is at best uncertain.

Yet often is perplexed and cannot part
The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky,
Mountains and clouds, reflected in the depth
Of the clear flood, from things which there abide
In their true dwelling

The metaphor continues--as this befuddled creator gazes downward what he sees is often crossed with other things--things that while beautiful in themselves are at once distracting and perhaps in some sense create depth and perspective:

now is crossed by gleam
Of his own image, by a sun-beam now,
And wavering motions sent he knows not whence,
Impediments that make his task more sweet;

And one must ask oneself what task it is that is here referred--certainly gazing into the depths is not a task in itself--and so the poet demonstrates himself wrapped in his own metaphor and inviting the reader to participate with him, to come into an understanding of what it is to become so wrapped up in the world that you are seeing that it becomes part of the real world--so much a part that what you are doing there is understood without spelling it out.

With like success, nor often have appeared
Shapes fairer or less doubtfully discerned
Than these to which the Tale, indulgent Friend!
Would now direct thy notice.

The poet will now direct our attention to his point which is, that as pleasurable as all of this is--as wonderful as becoming lost in the world of one's own making, there are those things that pull one away.

Yet in spite
Of pleasure won, and knowledge not withheld,
There was an inner falling off—I loved,
Loved deeply all that had been loved before,
More deeply even than ever: but a swarm
Of heady schemes jostling each other, gawds,
And feast and dance, and public revelry,
And sports and games. . . all conspired
To lure my mind from firm habitual quest
Of feeding pleasures, to depress the zeal
And damp those yearnings which had once been mine—
A wild, unworldly-minded youth, given up
To his own eager thoughts.
 While the poet still loves these reflective cruises and these times spent within the embrace of the dream that makes the poetry--a "swarm of heady schemes" conspire to push all thought of such effort and such reflection away.  They push the thought of the beautiful and perfect out of mind and crowd the mind so full that there is little way to pull from their impulse.  The poetry stops and the revelry begins and so long as the revelry is dominant, the poetry is in abeyance.

To paint these vanities, and how they wrought
In haunts where they, till now, had been unknown.
It seemed the very garments that I wore
Preyed on my strength, and stopped the quiet stream
Of self-forgetfulness.

So, we come to the end of an admittedly long excerpt, but one central, I think to Wordsworth's thought and purpose.  We are to join in the artistic journey and if so, we need to know along the way that there will be Cyclops and Scylla and Charybdis--it is a journey filled with wonders and beauties--but one that is hard to take when the world with all its pomp, ceremony, and let's face it  hard realities press in upon one and distract one from the pursuits that feed the poetic impulse.  It may for this reason that so many poets flower in their youth and in their age produce adamantine verse--polished and high gloss, but often hard to penetrate and not really from the heart, but from the head--wrought as fine as the finest filigree, but filled with thought and not impulse--the emotion drained dry and the imagery perfect but somewhat sere and remote.  Perhaps--at least in Wordsworth's theory.  And it is this self-same theory that gave us a yourhful flourishing and then a long great silence during which the poet produced very little as he worked upon the refinement of this poem.

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