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The Prelude and The Echoing Green

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In ‘The Prelude’ William Wordsworth is showing us that however much humanity destroys nature it will always be there. The poem also portrays that there is a point in everyone’s life when their childhood ends and they finally realise that there are much more powerful things than them in the world and however much they destroy this power it will always return.

In this poem the power Wordsworth is portraying is nature. Meanwhile, the poem ‘The Echoing Green’, by William Blake, is portraying a different relationship between humans and nature. It shows us that humans and nature can live side by side without conflict. The language used suggests innocence and childishness, until the end, when childhood is once again lost and life does not seem so innocent anymore. Both poets carefully select language and images that reflect their position on humanity’s relationship with nature.

In the opening line of ‘The Prelude’ William Wordsworth writes “In the frosty season”. This sets the atmosphere of the poem by using the word “frosty” which sounds sharp and crisp, implying that the poem is set in the middle of winter. This word also gives a sense of the surroundings glistening from the ice whilst everything is still and quiet.

Furthermore, on the second line, Wordsworth is capturing a picture in the poem when he thinks nature is at its most beautiful:

“When the sun

Was set, and visible for many a mile”

The word “set” gives the impression of the sun is going down but at the same time it seems as if time has stopped and Wordsworth’s memory of this moment in his childhood is now just a picture. This line also suggests there is no obstruction to the landscape so nature is undisturbed by humans at this moment, which paints a perfect picture in your mind. In addition to this point, Wordsworth uses enjambment effectively. He writes:

“When the sun // Was set”

When we pause to read the next line, Wordsworth makes it feel like the sun set as we paused, as if he was waiting for it to go down whilst he was writing.

In comparison to this, in ‘The Echoing Green’ Blake shows a different approach to the relationship between humans and nature:

“The sun does arise,

And make happy the skies.”

This has a different feeling to ‘The Prelude’ because when a sun rises it is a welcoming to a new day, this tending to be a moment of optimism. However, in ‘The Prelude’ it feels like something important has ended or even lost, and we come to find out that it is his childhood that has ended. There is also a similarity in the two poems. Even though this poem talks about the sky and ‘The Prelude’ talks about the land it gives the impression that in ‘The Echoing Green’ the sky, being part of nature, is pure and untouched by humans and, in ‘The Prelude’ the land is bare and there are no obstructions to the landscape. This shows us once more that nature is a powerful force.

On the seventh line of ‘the Prelude’, Wordsworth connects humans and nature through a man made object:

“The village clock tolled”

The word ‘tolled’ connects to sadness and death and reflects the references to sunset as the end of something despite the earlier impression of humans and nature content at living side by side. However this line suddenly makes the relationship between humans and nature not seem so perfect, as if humans are taking control over nature. Wordsworth is perhaps using this word is to show that this man made object is disturbing nature’s natural silence and it brings an end to the children’s play when they hear this sound.

On the other hand, in ‘The Echoing Green’ Blake shows a different relationship between humans and nature. On the third line of the first verse an object made by man welcomes nature:

“The merry bells ring

To welcome the spring”

Even though the bells might be disturbing nature, it is a celebration welcoming the natural cycle of seasons. The rhyming used throughout this poem has a calming feel which gives the impression that nature and humans can live together in harmony.

Throughout the poem of ‘The Prelude’ there is a connection between the boy and a horse. Wordsworth writes on the eighth line:

“Proud and exulting like an un-tired horse”

The word exulting has connotations towards a horse rearing up. Comparing the boy to the nature within a horse shows that the boy is free and in contact with nature around him, making him feel powerful against these forces. Wordsworth compared himself to a horse because horses are powerful and strong creatures, just like nature is powerful and strong, and when Wordsworth was around nature he also felt this way. In contrast to the boy’s solitude, the villagers in ‘The Echoing Green’ revel in their togetherness.

On the tenth line, Wordsworth compares the boy’s movements on the ice with a snake which is a part of nature:

“We hissed along the polished ice in games”

Wordsworth uses onomatopoeia to show the sounds the boys are making as they skate across the ice. It also illustrates the way they are moving, like a snake, in smooth circles and zigzags. However, it sounds like the children are poisoning nature, like a snake can poison humans.

This can compare with ‘The Echoing Green’ which uses a simile to compare the children with nature:

“Like birds in their nest”

This is a much calmer and more obvious comparison than the one in ‘The Prelude’. Blake manages to convey innocence in this line by using the image of an animal. This is in contrast to the very end of this poem which shows that life is not so innocent, and that nature is more powerful as the sun goes down.

Further on in ‘The Prelude’, Wordsworth shows the boy’s emotions successfully by using the sky as a part on nature:

“To cut across a reflex of a star”

The word ‘cut’ is a harsh word, and Wordsworth manages to use this word to show the boys actions as he leaves the ‘tumultuous throng’. This also shows that the boy is still trying to destroy nature. However the next line shows us that nature is still strong:

“That Fled, and, flying still before me”

This gives the impression that the boy is also moving quickly, and the reflection of the star is moving with him. The word ‘fled’ gives the impression that the boy is trying to escape from something and is frightened. The end of that line is when we first find out how strong nature is compared to the young boy.

Near the end of ‘The Prelude’, Wordsworth tries to make nature imitate the boy’s movements at the beginning of the poem:

“Stopped short; yet still the solitary cliffs

Wheeled by me-even as if the earth had rolled”

This is mimicking the boys movement when he was ice skating. The word wheeled shows the boy’s childishness at the beginning of the poem; however, nature does not seem childish. I think Wordsworth is trying to show how nature can play tricks on people, just like it tricked the boy by making him feel powerful against nature. Now the boy is realising how small he is in a big world which is controlled by nature. Furthermore, at the end of this line it shows that the boy is now seeing nature from a different perspective; it is almost as if he can see the earth moving, and he is powerless.

Three lines from the end of ‘The Prelude’, there is a link back to the bells tolling:

“Behind me did they stretch in solemn train”

This deliberate funeral feeling by Wordsworth is created to show the slow death of the boy’s childhood and carelessness. By using the word ‘they’ it could mean that ‘they’ is Wordsworth’s past memories of being the boy are stretching out and as they are stretching out the details of the memories are being lost, just like his childhood is lost.

At the very end, it becomes definite that the boy feels bewildered by the vastness of nature and this is when the main point of the poem is realised:

“Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched

Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep.”

This shows that the boy is helpless and small as he is realising that no man on this planet can change nature because nature’s powers are vast and strong. At the same time however, Wordsworth presents his urge to escape “the tumultuous throng” and be at one with “tranquil” nature.

Both Wordsworth and Blake chose to use a time of day to create the mood of their poems. However, whilst Wordsworth and Blake use similar methods of presenting the relationship between humans and nature, the images they evoke are very different. Wordsworth’s poem has melancholic undertones and a resentment of man’s destruction of nature. Blake on the other hand, celebrates humans and nature living in harmony.

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