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Beginning The Prelude

Professor Keith Hanley from Lancaster University recites the opening lines of the earliest version of Wordsworth's "The Prelude".
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The two part prelude.
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Was it for this that one, the fairest of all rivers, loved to blend his murmurs with my Nurse’s song, and from his alder shades, and rocky falls, and from his fords and shallows, sent a voice that flowed along my dreams? For this didst thou O Derwent, travelling over the green plains near “my sweet birth-place,” didst thou beauteous Stream make ceaseless music through the night and day, which with its steady cadence tempering our human waywardness, composed my thoughts to more than infant softness, giving me among the fretful dwellings of mankind, a knowledge, a dim earnest of the calm which Nature breathes among the fields and groves? Beloved Derwent, fairest of all streams!
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Was it for this that I a four years’ child, a naked Boy, among thy silent pools, made one long bathing of a summer’s day? Basked in the sun, or plunged into thy streams, alternate all a summer’s day, or coursed over the sandy fields and dashed the flowers of yellow grunsel, or when crag and hill, the woods and distant Skiddaw’s lofty height were bronzed with the deep radiance, stood alone, a naked savage in the thunder shower?

Listen to Professor Keith Hanley reading the opening lines of the earliest version of The Prelude (sometimes called the ‘1799 Prelude’ or the ‘Two-Part Prelude’).

This is quite a difficult passage of poetry but don’t worry if you find it hard to understand – we will try and explain it in the next step.

As you listen to and/or read the passage, you might like to think about the following issues and questions:

  • The passage is structured as a series of questions. What do you think these questions mean?
  • How do the opening lines of the poem link Wordsworth’s past and present selves?
  • In the passage, Wordsworth describes his earliest memories. What are they?
  • What value does Wordsworth give to memory and childhood?
  • What are the main forms of nature Wordsworth describes here? What value does he give to nature?
  • Thinking beyond the poem, what is your own earliest memory?
  • Why is it significant for you?
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William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

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