She was an elfin Pinnace; lustily
I dipp’d my oars into the silent Lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat
Went heaving through the water, like a Swan;
When from behind that craggy Steep, till then
The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Uprear’d its head. I struck, and struck again
And, growing still in stature, the huge Cliff
Rose up between me and the stars, and still,
With measur’d motion, like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling hands I turn’d,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the Cavern of the Willow tree.
There, in her mooring-place, I left my Bark,
And, through the meadows homeward went, with grave
And serious thoughts; and after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Work’d with a dim and undetermin’d sense
Of unknown modes of being; in my thoughts
There was a darkness, call it solitude,
Or blank desertion, no familiar shapes
Of hourly objects, images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty Forms that do not live
Like living men mov’d slowly through my mind
By day and were the trouble of my dreams.
About this poem
Introduced by a variety of writers, artists and other guests, the Scottish Poetry Library’s classic poem selections are a reminder of wonderful poems to rediscover.
Vicki Feaver on ‘The Prelude’:
When I was nine or ten I went to the Lake District with my parents on a caravan holiday. We stayed on a farm in Upper Langdale and one day we climbed up the nearby gill to a pool with a waterfall. It was a magical place, the pool surrounded by ferns and rowan trees and the water so clear that you could see the pebbles on the bottom.
The next morning, before my parents or sister woke, I got out of bed as quietly as I could and climbed up there on my own. I took off my clothes and stepped into the freezing water and swam as far as the waterfall and then felt suddenly terrified and swam back as quickly as I could. I didn’t feel safe until I was back in the caravan.
I hadn’t read Wordsworth at the time but later when we studied him at school I immediately recognised the feeling of being awed and at the same time fearful of nature – almost as if it was a live presence. There are several episodes in The Prelude where Wordsworth describes this feeling. But it is nowhere stronger than in his account from Book 1 of The Prelude of stealing a small rowing boat, the ‘elfin Pinnace’.
Read more about Vicki Feaver