The Prelude

Read by LibriVox Volunteers

(3.4 stars; 6 reviews)

Among monuments of narrative poetry, The Prelude; or, Growth of a Poet's Mind, by William Wordsworth, occupies a unique place. Wordsworth published the first version of the poem in 1798, but continued to work on it for the rest of his life. The final version, which is the subject of this recording, was published posthumously in 1850, by Wordworth’s widow, Mary.

The Prelude is the first major narrative poem in European literature which deals solely with the spiritual journey of the author. In this respect the only predecessor to which it can be compared in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is similarly a journey from personal confusion to certitude, from ignorance to realization. However, Dante starts his journey at the age of 35, and, through a lengthy rite of passage, involving both moral and intellectual purification, arrives at a state of illumination that he is not really able to describe. In The Prelude, on the other hand, illumination appears as the background on which the story is inscribed. Wordsworth is really no wiser at the end of his journey than he was at the start, but appears more accepting of the inexorable and sometimes bewildering fluctuations in the flow of human life. Despite Wordsworth’s occasional graceful genuflection to Providence, the poem has a secularity which would have been anathema to a writer like Dante, ensconced in the theocratic fastness of the Middle Ages.

The tone of the Prelude is gentle and reflective. Almost completely absent are the crashing cadences of narrative poems like the Aeneid and Paradise Lost, and there is nothing to match the terrible and multifarious griefs endured by so many characters in Dante’s Inferno. Wordsworth led an unheroic life, made remarkable by intensity of observation rather than incident. This is not to suggest that Wordsworth was unfamiliar with either grief or difficulty, but rather that he could accommodate such troubles in his view of life, which seems never to have quite lost its lustre.

The Prelude may be considered as Wordsworth’s crowning achievement, and one not really matched by any other poet. Despite the poem’s intractably self-referential nature, Wordsworth does not come across as either vain or tedious. The avoidance of tedium is largely due to his incomparable versification, which is a shining example of “the art which conceals art.” Nor are we tempted to see Wordsworth as unduly self-centred, because he communicates the potential glory of everyday events in a way that the reader (or listener) is drawn to share them. A hundred years before T.S.Eliot Wordsworth had arrived “'where we started “ and had “known that place for the first time.” (Summary by Algy Pug) (7 hr 55 min)


Introduction 29:36 Read by Bob Gonzalez
Book First - Introduction:—Childhood and School-Time 39:03 Read by thebicyclethief
Book Second - School-Time continued ... 25:23 Read by Carol Box
Book Third - Residence at Cambridge 33:20 Read by Algy Pug
Book Fourth - Summer Vacation 29:05 Read by thebicyclethief
Book Fifth - Books 35:48 Read by Rhonda Federman
Book Sixth - Cambridge and the Alps 34:37 Read by Cate Barratt
Book Seventh - Residence in London 52:39 Read by Martin Geeson
Book Eighth - Retrospect—Love of Nature Leading to Love of Man 41:06 Read by Bev J Stevens
Book Ninth - Residence in France 29:21 Read by DublinGothic
Book Tenth - Residence in France, continued... 32:27 Read by DublinGothic
Book Eleventh - France—concluded. 21:26 Read by Cate Barratt
Book Twelth - Imagination and Taste, How Repaired and Restored 19:23 Read by NoelBadrian
Book Thirteenth - Imagination and Taste, How Impaired and Restored—concluded. 21:34 Read by NoelBadrian
Book Fourteenth - Conclusion 30:40 Read by Martin Geeson