On Reading The Prelude

I have shared highlights from my own reading of The Prelude, but thought that it might be useful to make a couple of notes on how to go about reading The Prelude.  In our present high-speed world, we have forgotten the pleasures of reading something over a long period of time.  I hesitate to say in a "devotional" manner because it will sound as though there is some religious aspect to it, but there is a daily element to the devotional that brings the reader back into focus.

While it is certainly possible to read The Prelude in a sitting or perhaps two, and while that might be a practice for orienting oneself within the poem before beginning the real read, I would contend that any meaningful reading of the poem occurs over long time on a continuous basis.  While I have shared some highlights of it here, there is much that is missing, and much in which others might find delight and something to share.  The only way you discover that is with lingering, slow reading.  The poetry is tight, intricate, difficult sometimes to parse.  When you select a strophe, a marked off passage indicated by breaks and read it and read it and read it, three, four, five times, what happens is that you can experience the words unfold into meaning.  What you see in glancing blow as you gallop by at today's reading pace is opened up, made deeper, wider, more powerful--it breathes and it sings and it speaks to you where you are now.

Great poetry is read slowly.  The pleasure of reading it comes from hearing the words, so it should also be read aloud--something that we are reluctant to do today--but poetry--of all the written arts, is the one most bound up with the love of words and with the intricate relationships of sound-assonance, dissonance, rhyme, rhythm, meter.  These can be appreciated in one's head if one slows sufficiently to take the time to really hear them resound, but they are more properly appreciated when read aloud, or even declaimed.  And Wordsworth, in this poem in particular, is wonderful for speaking aloud, for hearing and reflecting. The rush of word and meaning becomes more substantial when time is taken to break it down, digest it, and pull out of it the reams of meaning packed into  few lines.  And by that, I do not mean those silly "hidden meanings" of sign and symbol that too many of us were taught to look for to the detriment of the work itself--I mean the real meaning of the words with respect to one another and the meaning that comes out of thinking about what the poet is saying and how that relates to one's own experience--to use Harold Bloom's trope--the meaning that comes from allowing the work of art to read you. 

So, really, I had one tip for you.  Read it slowly, savor it.  Pick it up each day and read a small part.  If it takes you a year to get through it, so what?  What's the rush?  Where are you going anyway?  Reading it this way will take you perhaps ten, fifteen minutes in a day--and it will enrich your day.  Perhaps not as much as reading Scripture or the Saints--but certainly enough to make the world a brighter place to be in for a day.


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