Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected) | Study Guide

William Wordsworth

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Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected) | The Prelude, Book 13 : Conclusion | Summary



The final book of The Prelude describes the power of Imagination as the highest faculty of humans. In 1791 Wordsworth and a friend climbed the tallest mountain in Wales, Mt. Snowdon (c. 1000 meters). Over a decade later, he remembers the event as Book 13 begins. With their guide and a few stray animals, they ascend in bad weather. Suddenly the fog breaks, and they see the majestic view of a bright moon above and illuminated mist and mountain leading to the sea beyond. The poet sees the scene with the greatest delight, seeming to find in it an imagined presence of his own soul and a confirmation of the presence of God or some other divine force.

In such emotions he finds signs of truth and hope. He looks back on his life from the older viewpoint and justifies his prioritizing love over fear. Wordsworth exalts the role of Imagination as the theme of the The Prelude, a path to endless life and the Infinite. He is so affected by the visual impact of the moon and the mountain that "like a flash" he looks at the scene and also recognizes the power of his mind to be free of life's negativity. Instead he can find the "absolute strength of Imagination," which has been his goal throughout all the books of the poem.


It would be difficult to overemphasize the lyricism and joy of the concluding pages of The Prelude. Wordsworth has been in such deep communion with himself as well as with Dorothy and Coleridge, his two great influences. He has examined himself for all his heroic and anti-heroic, even blameworthy acts. Now, when the final illumination occurs, it is much more than success in climbing the highest mountain he can find. This "flash" is also critical in making the final realization that Wordworth's poet's mind is itself a peak he has been trying to scale. As the mist falls away and the moon shines with magical force, the validity of Wordsworth's acceptance of being a poet—a soul "dedicated" to thousands of words and lines—becomes unquestionable. "We have traced the stream / From darkness ... and followed it to light / And open day," he proclaims. The soul finds and expresses love as Imagination recalls "spots of time" and events. The long process ends in Book 13 with love conquering fear and doubt so that "the mind of Man becomes / A thousand times more beautiful than the earth / On which he dwells."

This ending is perhaps surprising since so much of the poem exults over the beauty found in nature. But now the final aim of The Prelude becomes an acceptance of the solace found in a beauty exalted somewhere above the earth. To quote the poem's last line, it is found in a place of "substance and of fabric more divine," that is, in man. Wordsworth has shown he is that man, but he need not be the only one.

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