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William Wordsworth - Extract from 'The Prelude'


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Leaving behind her still, on either side, / Small circles glittering idly in the moon
Wordsworth begins this extract with a calm and dream-like tone established by the repetition of typically Romantic nature imagery like the "glittering" ripples and "moon"
sparkling light
As with the earlier use of pathetic fallacy, Wordsworth here uses the positive emotive adjective "sparkling" to further compound the magical dream-like beauty of the scene. The more complete the expectation of loveliness at the beginning, the sharper the change in tone and mood from line 21 onwards
She was an elfin pinnace
The combination of the archaic "pinnace" (a small boat) and its adjective "elfin" (small and delicate but also 'elf-like') is later contrasted with the "huge peak" to emphasise the powerlessness of the speaker in comparison to nature
When, from behind that craggy steep till then / The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge, / As if with voluntary power instinct, / Upreared its head.
The discourse marker "When" is our first indication that Wordsworth is about to change his tone from the dreamlike pleasure of the first twenty lines to something more disturbing and frightening. This is enhanced by harsh adjectives like "craggy", "huge" and "black" to begin the characterisation of the previously hidden "peak"
As if with voluntary power instinct, / Upreared its head.
Not only is the mountain powerful, but it has agency (life and free will) according to Wordsworth's personification. The "peak"'s power is "voluntary" and it has "Upreared its head" to come and attack the speaker. Here, Wordsworth creates a monster in the darkness and plays on the childhood fears felt by many of us.
And growing still in stature the grim shape / Towered up between me and the stars
The negative emotive adjective "grim" here has echoes of the Grim Reaper (Angel of Death), personifying the natural feature as potentially fatal. Perhaps the part that getting lost in the mountains contributed to his father's death helped to shape this nightmarish vision for the poet.
and still, / For so it seemed, with purpose of its own / And measured motion like a living thing, / Strode after me.
The enjambment over four lines adds to the sense of powerful and purposeful pursuit created by Wordsworth's verb "Strode". Here we actively feel the mountain chase the poet as he imagines it as the sense flows over the lines.
in grave / and serious mood
The adjective "grave" here is a synonmy of "serious". However, by including both adjectives perhaps Wordsworth also wants to create a sense of death (being "in" a "grave") as he thinks about his own brief life in comparison to nature and the immortal mountain
huge and mighty forms, that do not live / Like living men
Nearing the end of the extract, Wordsworth once again makes reference to life and death by contrasting "living men" with the sense of power he felt expressed by the mountain. Compared to the "huge peak", our lives seem to be very brief and worth very little for the poet
a trouble to my dream
The poet's final line acts as a powerful negative contrast to the opening mood and tone, reiterating and enhacing the negative effects the mountain episode has had on him. This kind of natural power is disturbing, as created by the noun "trouble".
Level 3