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From the Two-Part Prelude (1799) to the Prelude (1805): The Structure’s Development, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1300

Essay

William Wordsworth’s “The Prelude” is an innovative epic poem, which was developed by the author from the earlier “Two Part Prelude”, an autobiographical poem that describes Wordsworth’s childhood and school years. Comprised of two books, this early version is much more compact and cohesive than the longer and much more complex “The Prelude”.  In developing the poem so as to become an epic, he author not only completed it and revised it almost to the point that it is unrecognizable as a variant of the final poem, but also gave it a direction, and a structure that is able to remind readers of earlier epic poems, such as Milton’s “Paradise Lost” or Homer’s “Odyssey”. Therefore, the structure is one of the most important elements in the transformation of the poem “The Two-Part Prelude” into the epic poem “The Prelude”, and it is in its structure that this work resembles the best other epic poems of European tradition.

There is a notable difference in structure between the two versions of the autobiographical poem. The first version is much shorter, covering the author’s childhood and school years only. It is comprised of 2 books, written in free verse. As compared to it, 1805 version contains 13 books, each with its own name, and is structured differently from the first. Thus, whereas in the first version, the poem is not separated in stanzas, the second is separated in unequal stanzas. The second version comprises the first, but it is revised to a great extent so that, apart from the unifying theme, and motives, such as the “spots of time”, there is little in the 1805 version that reminds of the earlier one. However, both versions are significant in English literature, and each accomplishes its own function, which is rendered through the structure.

Thus, whereas the first version is meant to be a reflection on the poet’s childhood, and the way in which the poetic mind was developed in childhood, the second version comprises a much larger period of time and reflects the poet’s experiences, and they way that these experiences shaped his personality and his poetic figure. “The Two-Part Prelude” recounts the child’s awakening of imagination, in the context of his free interactions with nature.  The persona’s description of the boy emphasizes his loneliness and his wildness, as if he was the first man in the world, and civilization did not exist:

Was it for this that I, a four year’s child,
A naked Boy, among thy silent pools
Made one long bathing of a summer’s day? (“Two-Part Prelude” 1. 17-19)

Nature will represent a recurrent theme in the second version as well, not only reflecting the most important aspects of the poet’s life as a child, but being important for him his entire life.

The major difference in structure between the two versions of The Prelude”, is not the obvious one, namely the much more extended length of “The Prelude”, but rather, it is related to the intended purpose of the author, namely that of writing an epic poem. Thus, the 1805 “The Prelude” has the structure of an epic poem, whereas the earlier poem does not.  Even though the epic poem is not a traditional one, depicting the adventures of a hero that must overcome many adversities in order to demonstrate his abilities, the structure of the work does hold many characteristics of the epic poem, particularly in what its structure is concerned. Thus, whereas “The Two-Part Prelude” begins in childhood, the second version begins with the present time, and explains the poet’s purpose and decision in writing the poem.  The poet feels inspired by his return to nature, to create, after having been suffocated by the civilization. He explains that,

For I, methought, while the sweet breath of heaven

Was blowing on my body, felt within

A corresponding mild creative breeze (“The Prelude” 1.41-45).

From this explanation and introduction, the poet returns to childhood through flashback, and it is from then that he begins to tell the story of his development as a poet. All epic poems have a story, and it is particularly this lack of action that transforms “The Prelude” into an unusual epic poem.

However, the work does have a direction and it is, like in all epic poems, comprised of the hero’s quest. Thus, whereas in the first version, the poem deals with the awakening of the child’s imagination, and his interactions with the world around him, in the second version, the structure is changed so as to follow the pattern of an epic poem. The ‘hero’ of the poem is the poet, who through a path of self discovery reaches the point where he is able to prove his abilities as a poet. Beginning to childhood, through the school years, and his experiences as an adult, he has accumulated knowledge and opened himself towards the world so as to be enriched with every experience that the world has to offer.  Each book recounts particular moments of his life– from spiritual and religious quests, to political experiences, and each of these enrich him and allow his poetic vision to mature. At the end of his quest, he demonstrated his abilities to write a great epic poem.

Among the characteristics of “the Prelude” that match those of an epic poem are the inclusion of the hero in a society which he represents. The epic poem represents a society at a certain moment in time and the hero is an ideal figure of that particular society. This is clear in the second version of the work, in which the poet’s experiences in various locations in England, and Europe are depicted. The poet interacts with his environment, and depicts various real historic events, such as the French revolution. The years spent at Cambridge, in London and in France, as well as his childhood in a rustic England are all able to portray the civilization in which the poet developed, and the moment in time in which the poet evolves. In the first version of the poem, particularly in the first book, the child’s interaction with nature is described more abstractly, and the image that is created is that of a corner of heaven, rather than a specific space. However, the boy does exist in his society, even though in childhood, the world around is not as important as it is for the grown-up.  In “The Two Part Prelude”, an ideal society is depicted:

Society made sweet as solitude
By silent inobtrusive sympathies
And gentle agitations of the mind   (“The Two Part Prelude” 2.348).

The above is the poet’s concept of the ‘best society’, which is not real, but rather, it is an idea and constitutes the child’s environment, filled with “change, beauty and solitude”.

As the present paper has tried to show, structure has a major role in turning “The Two Part Poem” into the epic poem “The Prelude”. The structure of the second work is different both in terms of the exterior aspect of the poem, and in its inner configuration. The later poem is split in stanzas and each of the 13 books has its own name. Its internal structure is even more important, because it follows the structure of an epic poem, with an introduction set in the present, and a flashback to the beginning of the ‘story’. As in all epic poems, the story depicts the mission of a hero. The hero is in this case the poet, and the mission is that of ‘growing’ his own mind so as to be able to produce important poetic works.  The journey of the poet begins in childhood and continues throughout his life, with every experience he has.  The end of his journey is not the end of his life, but rather, represents the beginning of life as a mature poet.

Works Cited

Wordsworth, William.  Two-Part Prelude. 1799. Web.

Wordsworth, William. The Prelude. 1805. Web.

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