William Wordsworth - Prelude (Extract) Power & Conflict Analysis Part 2

November 30, 2017

William Wordsworth Poems in Profile – ‘Prelude (Extract)’

GCSE English Literature - Power & Conflict - William Wordsworth Prelude (Extract)


You’ve read the text of this Wordsworth poem, and its summary/context. Now check out our expert-written analysis.

Prelude (Extract)

One summer evening (led by her) I found (poet’s placement of this embedded clause in the first line indicates the importance of this ‘here’; already, we are wondering who or what she is; we want to know; later, ‘evening’ seems an awkward choice of word: the moon soon makes an appearance, even though a summer ‘evening’ lasts quite a time before it gets dark; has a lot of time passed by the narrator’s reference to the moon’s reflection?)

A little boat tied to a willow tree

Within a rocky cave, its usual home. (‘usual’ implies that this is where the narrator expects to find the ‘little boat’ having made regular visits to this place in the past)

Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in (immediately)

Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth (sibilance for emphasis, perhaps of the subtlety of the narrator’s movements)

And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice (the narrator enjoys this action, though it provides him with some difficulty)

Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on; (could suggest that the narrator cries out/shouts in his efforts to move the boat, and that these echo back to him)

Leaving behind her still, on either side,

Small circles glittering idly in the moon, (the boat’s gradual movement creates ripples then waves in the water, which reflects the moon)

Until they melted all into one track

Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows, (a beautiful image of the moon’s reflection converging with the water, suggests that the water is calm once more, to the point where the narrator forgets [because the water is so still] that he is not looking at the moon, but its reflection in the water)

Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point

With an unswerving line, I fixed my view (another of the narrator’s references to his own skills and attributes; he is proud of his abilities to manipulate this boat)

Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,

The horizon's utmost boundary; far above

Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky. (further imagery of nightfall)

She was an elfin pinnace; lustily (a further reference to the seemingly mysterious ‘her’ of line 1; does the narrator just mean the boat, the hill, or is he referring to a person we’re yet to encounter, that he is rowing to meet? ‘elfin pinnace’ translates loosely as ‘fairy boat’); (this seems to be a description of an object – the boat – rather than a person, so perhaps the narrator is rowing to meet ‘her’, as ‘lustily’ might serve to confirm)

I dipped my oars into the silent lake, (now that the boat is launched, the narrator begins to row it)

And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat

Went heaving through the water like a swan;

When, from behind that craggy steep till then (further sibilance for emphasis; rhythm and musicality of these lines may be deliberate to evoke the rhythm of the narrator’s stroke)

The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,

As if with voluntary power instinct,

Upreared its head. I struck and struck again (the hill the narrator changes shape as he approaches it, as if it is now alert to his presence)

And growing still in stature the grim shape

Towered up between me and the stars, and still,

For so it seemed, with purpose of its own

And measured motion like a living thing,

Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned, (the hill grows and grows to the point where its powerful appearance almost frightens the narrator); (it seems as if it’s the hill’s startling appearance that encourages the narrator to turn around and return to the shore)

And through the silent water stole my way

Back to the covert of the willow tree; (‘covert’ here seems to mean ‘thicket’; it also implies a hiding place, where the narrator leaves his oars)

There in her mooring-place I left my bark,-- (now, we assume that the initial ‘her’ was the boat itself, and that the narrator was lusting after the act of rowing and the thrill it brought him, rather than a person)

And through the meadows homeward went, in grave

And serious mood; but after I had seen (the narrator cannot rid his mind of what he has seen and the effect the experience had on him)

That spectacle, for many days, my brain

Worked with a dim and undetermined sense

Of unknown modes of being; o'er my thoughts

There hung a darkness, call it solitude (the narrator’s vision continued to dominate his thoughts, to the point where it obscures his life and everyday experiences – even his memories)

Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes

Remained, no pleasant 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 the mind

By day, and were a trouble to my dreams. (the poem has transitioned from the narrator’s celebration of a seemingly nightly ritual, rowing his boat, to a reflection on how man can be consumed by a particular thing or experience at the expense of their lives, what is important, and the wonder of simply being; a reflection on human nature, perhaps)

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