The Prelude Study Guide

The Prelude Study Guide

Original title:
The Prelude
December 17th 1979 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1800)
ISBN 039309071X (ISBN13: 9780393090710)

The Prelude by William Wordsworth is an epic autobiographical poem the author dedicated all his life to. What is interesting is that The Prelude was meant to be only the first part, the introduction of a philosophical trilogy of poems that reflects Woodsworth’s worldview. But, unfortunately, the poet passed away in his eighties, leaving only The Prelude completed. The literature critics can only read through the scarce sketches of the next parts and guess what their final version could look like.

As Wordsworth himself stated, The Prelude is an autobiography with the new chapters, naturally, added during his life. It starts from the early childhood, illustrating the key emotions and experience that formed the worldview and philosophical ideas of Wordsworth.

The three last chapters focus more not at the biography of the author but at the impact it had on the development of his poetry style. He explicitly shows us that his poem is he, himself, and every change in the style, rhythm or rhyme reflects the changes in his own personality.

He didn’t give the name to this poem, calling it simply The Poem - this states the extremely important role of it in the life of Wordsworth, like it was the only one, default poem that includes everything else. The actual name was given to this work soon after the death of the author by his widow Mary.

In his letters we can see that Wordsworth took any delays and imperfections in writing of The Prelude very personally. He described how devastated he was when he understood that he had not enough time to finish all the three parts of his epic work.

He often refers to Paradise Lost by John Milton, but, unlike Milton, who took a Biblical plot to show the humanity through the divine, Wordsworth used his own mind, life and personality as a material to be turned into the epic tale that may be compared to the divine and legendary ones. The Prelude, though being only the third part of the whole poem, is considered the best of Wordsworth’s works until now.

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