1805 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Prelude.

The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet's Mind; an Autobiographical Poem.

William Wordsworth


Edmund Spenser appears in a catalogue of poets Wordsworth was reading at Cambridge; there are allusions to Spenser and other Spenserians throughout the poem. The Prelude was first published in a revised version in 1850 and was slow to assume the commanding reputation it now possesses — turn of the century discussions of romanticism sometimes neglect to mention it at all.

W. J. B. Owen: "Direct references to Spenser himself occur in The Prelude 2.279-83 (as a poet of 'visions' and of 'human forms and superhuman powers' which could not, however, match the fairy-like quality of an ash tree in winter on the Cambridge Backs). In 8.191-203, Spenser is used as the type of the English pastoral poet, perhaps actually in contact with rustic life; words and phrases are taken over SC, Maye" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 735.

On Wordsworth's reading at Cambridge, see also Christopher Wordsworth, Memoirs of William Wordsworth (1851).



Beside the pleasant Mill of Trompington
I laughed with Chaucer; in the hawthorn shade
Heard him, while birds were warbling, tell his tales
Of amorous passion. And that gentle Bard,
Chosen by the Muses for their Page of State—
Sweet Spenser, moving through his clouded heaven
With the moon's beauty and the moon's soft pace,
I called him Brother, Englishman, and Friend!
Yea, our blind Poet, who in his later day,
Stood almost single; uttering odious truth—
Darkness before, and danger's voice behind,
Soul awful — if the earth hath ever lodged
An awful soul — I seemed to see him here
Familiarly, and in his scholar's dress
Bounding before me, yet a stripling youth—
A boy, no better, with his rosy cheeks
Angelical, keen eye, courageous look,
And conscious step of purity and pride.

[Book III, 1805; Maxwell (1971) 116]

And Shepherds were the men that pleased me first;
Not such as, 'mid Arcadian fastnesses
Seqestered, handed down among themselves,
So ancient poets sing, the golden age;
Nor such, a second race, allied to these,
As Shakespeare in the wood of Arden placed
Where Phoebe sighed for the false Ganymede,
Or there where Florizel and Perdita
Together danced, Queen of the feast, and King;
Nor such as Spenser fabled. . . .

[Book VIII, 1805; Maxwell (1971) 306]