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Wordsworth’s ‘Boat Stealing’: reading

Professor Keith Hanley from Lancaster University reads Wordsworth’s ‘boat stealing’ epidsode from *The Prelude*.
One evening I went alone into a Shepherd’s boat, a skiff that to a willow-tree was tied within a rocky cave, its usual home. The moon was up, the lake was shining clear among the hoary mountains. From the shore I pushed, and struck the oars, and struck again in cadence, and my little Boat moved on– just like a man who walks with stately step, though bent on speed. It was an act of stealth and troubled pleasure, not without the voice of mountain-echoes did my boat move on, leaving behind her still on either side small circles glittering idly to the moon, until they melted all into one track of sparkling light. A rocky steep uprose above the cavern of the willow tree.
And now, a suited one who proudly rowed with his best skill, I fixed a steady view upon the top of that same craggy ridge, the bound of the horizon, for behind was nothing but the stars and the grey sky. She was an elfin pinnace. Twenty times 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 rocky steep, till then the bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff as if with voluntary power instinct, upreared its head. I struck and struck again.
And growing still in stature, the huge cliff rose up between me and the stars, and still with measured motion, like a living thing, strode after me. With trembling hands I turned, and through the silent water stole my way back to the cavern of the willow-tree. There, in her mooring-place, I left my bark, and through the meadows homeward went with grave and serious thoughts. And after I had seen that spectacle, for many days my brain worked with a dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being.
In my thoughts there was a darkness, call it solitude, or blank desertion, no familiar shapes of hourly objects, 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 my mind by day, and were the trouble of my dreams.

We hope you enjoyed our dramatisation of Wordsworth’s description of his ‘boat stealing’ from The Prelude.

For the video, we had to edit the passage down, but you can listen to the full account read by Professor Keith Hanley here.

Listen to the passage or read it carefully; in the next step we are going to make it the focus of a peer review exercise.

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William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

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