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Wordsworth’s infancy was indeed an inspiration to him, and references to his youth can be found throughout his poems, but most obviously in Books I and II of the Prelude. Here he compares his youth to a ‘visible scene on which the sun is shining’ and this is apparently so. It was also during his infancy where the seeds of Pantheism and his unique view on nature where planted. In order for us to investigate the validity of the above quote we must first look into accounts of his early life, and then into Books I and II of the Preludes and see how Wordsworth presents the facts of his earliest years.
Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, an area of the Lake District situated close to the River Derwent. Indeed this scene on the great river is immortalized in his poetry, and so is evidence of the ‘visible scene’ that is Wordsworth’s infancy. Growing up in the ‘eye of nature’ also did have a profound effect on Wordsworth, both as a boy and later as a man, and it is the subject of nature that shapes and epitomizes the verse of Wordsworth.
The seeds of Pantheism, and his belief that God lives in nature may have first occurred to him as a boy wondering the beautiful countryside and woodland of the Lake District.
Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy was also instrumental in instigating Wordsworth’s unique understanding of nature, and she provides him with ‘a valuable source of thoughts and impressions’.
So Wordsworth’s view of nature can certainly be traced back to the glades and vales that the young master Wordsworth played on. Let us look now at The Prelude itself, the poem described to be ‘the poem of my life’ by Wordsworth. Without a doubt we can say that some of the imagery is related to that of his youth, Wordsworth describes ‘silver clouds, and sunshine on the grass’ this could easily be a typical day in the Lake District.
We then move on to actual memories, some of which are fond, and some not so happy, such as that of him taking a shepherds boat and seeing a cliff, whereupon he became frightened for he believed that the cliff ‘like a living thing, strode after me’. It is unclear to me as to whether this event actually occurred, or whether Wordsworth is using some artistic license. Nevertheless, his childhood haunts of the Lake District provide us with the backdrop, as in many of Wordsworth’s other poems.
So if nothing more the beauty of his time both at Cockermouth, and later on at Hawkshead provided the insight into the beauty and splendour of nature that he goes on to describe in many a poem. Wordsworth’s early life is important, especially his attendance of the Hawkshead Grammar School where he no doubt learnt the classics, studied ancient Greek and Roman mythology as well as possibly Nordic myth, and again these can be found throughout his poetry ‘That Odin, father of a race by whom perished the Roman Empire’. Hawkshead was important also, as it became a crutch he leant on after the death of his mother, and a place he considered a home.
Hawkshead is also situated in the Lake District, and so his surrogate mother with whom he boarded during his time here, a women he calls a ‘fruggal dame’ provided him with the freedom to explore the beautiful surrounding unspoilt nature. So Wordsworth’s claim that his infancy was a ‘visible scene on which the sun is shining ‘ seems quite justified. Wordsworth in his youth lived in the eye of nature, a position as an adult and mature poet he searched for, Wordsworth’s youth was a reasonably happy one we can discern, and so it maybe that he is saying the sun shone on his youth.
The fact that Wordsworth’s youth was a happy one, and he lived in the midst of nature’s beauty is not a coincidence. Perhaps it is that because he lived in such beautiful surrounding that he had a happy youth, after all I think we can agree that Wordsworth was shaped by the beauty of his surroundings, both as a child and as an adult. Who knows if we would ever have heard his name if he was born in urban sprawl that is London.
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