The Prelude (1805) by Wordsworth is an autobiographical poem described by him as being ‘the poem of my life’, and deals with a variety of themes such as, Nature, and Freedom. These themes are influenced both by personal aspects of Wordsworth’s life, but moreover by the context in which they were written in. There are many more, just as important themes mentioned throughout such as loneliness and time, however I will not be able to go through them due to a lack of time.
Wordsworth is a pantheist and therefore believes that God resides in Nature, thus nature takes on a kind of divine quality. Burgess says on Wordsworth’s view of nature ‘Nature is the great teacher of morals, and the prime bringer of happiness, but much more then that: in Nature resides God’ English Literature (1974). This is helpful in explaining his unique way of looking at nature, wanting to ‘drink wild water, and to pluck green herbs’ perhaps by doing so he may becomes closer to God?
To Wordsworth nature and the spirit are linked, nature is the expression of a spiritual truth, and this truth can only be attained through a unity with nature. Wordsworth’s unique way of looking at nature as if seeing it for the first time is understandable as he lives through the Industrial Age, an age where man destroyed nature to make way for factories and mills. He talks of the sadness of seeing nature violated by man, and talks of seeing ‘sparrows in the gutters’.
His admiration of nature, and anger at mans senseless destruction of it are shared by all of the Romantic poets, Tennyson saying ‘The Woodmen with their axes: lo the tree! ‘ in verse 12 of The Princess. This respect of nature can also be found today with ideas ingrained firmly in some groups of society, for example vegetarianism, or even more famously the campaign to stop the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. The second theme that Wordsworth talks of in his play is freedom, this is closely connected to the theme of Nature, as it is his freedom that allows him to go and be at one with Nature.
He very much sees himself as being special, and says ‘My spirit, thus singled out, as it might seem, for holy services’ and so is free to ‘fix my habitat where I will’ in the ‘eye of Nature’. Wordsworth, just as all the Romantic poets share a desire to be free, free from the constrains of society, free from restrictions and expectations of those around him, and so this freedom may lead to loneliness, another theme seen throughout this poem. However Wordsworth is both an unconventional poet, and man, and his notion of loneliness can be summed up as the ‘bliss of solitude’.
Wordsworth’s notion of freedom and individuality is the precise philosophy of a Romantic, Burgess says ‘A Romantic is mainly concerned with himself’ English Literature (1974) and it is this selfish-ness if you like that marks out the Romantic as a rebel to the utilitarianism of the period, the philosophy of the greater good for the greatest number of people. Wordsworth was also in France during the time of the French Revolution, where one of the mottos of this revolution was liberty or freedom.
In the post-modern world of today we too share this ideal of freedom and liberty at least in principle, the ideal that all men are created equal and are free to act and do, as they want. However the reality of the situation is that the Romantic poets, and Wordsworth in particular took the ideal of freedom to another level, ‘But speedily a longing in me rose, to brace myself to some determined aim’ Wordsworth lived in the ‘eye of nature’ simply because he wanted to, he wrote poetry because he wanted to, and lived in the unorthodox way that he did for the simple reason that he wanted to.
So to conclude, the themes of The Prelude are many, having looked at both Nature and Freedom we see how closely connected they are, as are the other themes all interweaved with these. Such themes are quintessentially those of the Romantic Movement, and can be found in poetry by Coleridge, Tennyson, Shelly and Keats as well as Blake; these poets collaborated with one another, and so influenced each other, and were as well influenced by such historical context as the French and Industrial Revolutions.