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The Prelude (lit essay)

Posted on January 30, 2013 at 8:45 AM

Lines 356–400 of The Prelude (Wordsworth, 1850) explore the notion of guilt in a young boy. Wordsworth recounts the finding of a little boat. He argues that it was Nature herself that lead him to the vessel. The environment has taken on a voice of its own, and the boy is letting himself be guided and swayed by the forest and the river. On the other hand, perhaps the boy is very much in control, and is using the still canvas of nature to pour out his own whims and desires. A nervous excitement takes the boy as he unchains the vessel, and his awareness of the forest becomes heightened as his mischief echoes against the rocky hills. His “troubled pleasure” is magnified by the stillness of nature. The boy is no longer a part of his environment. He is changing it, and this guilt is given form in the clasping shadows of the river.


As the boy paddles the boat along the river, he becomes intensely aware of the moon and stars reflected in the water. He is shrouded by the vivid night sky, sailing through upon air. This vast open space may indicate the mixture of excitement and fear he bears from giving himself to nature, or straying from social morality. He drifts with his eyes planted firmly on the shore he is departing, his gaze blind to the path ahead. He is uncertain where his actions will lead him, and he has no conscience to anchor his passage into the dark future. He has defied society by stealing the boat, but there is no one around to judge him but himself. Yet he does feel guilt, and those feelings are made whole (at least in his own mind) by the grim black shapes that emerge out of the forest. Perhaps it is nature condemning him for disturbing order, or perhaps it is the boy’s own feelings (cultivated by society) giving weight to the shadows, and twisting them into figures of dread.


Categories: ESSAYS, Literature

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