With The Prelude, William Wordsworth invented a new genre, the autobiographical epic in verse. It was the poet’s masterpiece, but also a deeply personal work by a private man, and withheld from publication until his death in 1850. Wordsworth’s poem was to be the introductory portion of a tripartite epic project that was never completed in the poet’s lifetime. The poem presents a narrative of college life in the “other” Cambridge, and the record of a young man’s experience being caught up in the momentous political events of his day, especially the cataclysm of the French Revolution. Above all, Wordsworth’s poem is a psychologically astute and wholly modern account of “the growth of a poet’s mind.” We will read the poem in its earliest version of 1799, and in the full-length, 13-book version that Wordsworth completed in 1805. We will in addition read short works by predecessors and contemporaries (John Milton, Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge) to understand better the literary contexts of this powerful and enigmatic work.
Ends Oct. 20