Wordsworth’s ‘The Stolen Boat’ from ‘Prelude’

Posted on July 25, 2008


‘The Stolen Boat’ (text)
( photo source: http://www.flickr.com/)
One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon’s utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped 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 horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,–
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

The poem ‘The Stolen Boat’ is an extract taken from Wordsworth’s long autobiographical poem ‘The Prelude’ consisting of fourteen books. This poem has been taken from Book I. the subtitle of ‘The Prelude’: ‘The Growth of a Poet’s Mind’ hints at the autobiographical nature of the poem. The poet describes his inner life out of which his poetry grew.
The given poem ‘The Stolen Boat’ is related to one memorable incident of his boyhood. The poet describes that one summer evening led by the promptings of Nature he found a little boat tied to a willow tree within a rocky cave where it was usually tied. He immediately untied the chain and after getting into the boat pushed it away from the shore. It was an act of theft and his pleasure was mixed with anxiety. When the boat moved on, there came echoing sounds (of warning) from the mountain sides. The boat left small circles of water gleaming idly under the light of the moon till all of them were mixed up and dissolved giving way to one single track of glittering light. But then, like a person who rows with a sense of pride in his skill to reach straight to a selected spot without any deviation, I fixed up my gaze on the peak of an uneven mountain range which formed the farthest boundary on the distant horizon. Above the poet there were nothing but the great sky and the stars.
The poet’s lovely boat seemed to have a fairy like appearance. He dipped the oars vigorously into the silent lake and as he rose up after the stroke to move it forward, his boat moved from behind that uneven range of the high hill which had so far seemed to him to be the boundary of distant horizon, a huge and black peak put its head up, as if it were a living being endowed with a will and a power of its own. He continued to row on and on over the calm lake but slowly growing larger in stature the awful peak with its towering height seemed to stand between the poet and the stars. It seemed to the poet as if the peak was a living creature following him with regular steps with some fixed purpose of its own. With the oars trembling in his hand he changed his course and moved on silently over calm surface oof the lake to be back to the shelter of the willow tree.
The poet left the boat at the place where it was earlier tied and went back to his home in a serious and thoughtful mood through the grassy fields. But many days after he had seen that striking sight, his mind was haunted by a vague and strange feeling, that in nature there were mysterious forms of life beyond the knowledge of man. His mind was clouded by a deep darkness and all previous knowledge was wiped out. He was without any impression of all previously known objects and pleasing sights like that of trees, sea sky or of colours of green fields. Only huge powerful forms and shapes whose mode of life is absolutely different from that of man, haunted his mind during the day and also troubled the poet in his dreams at night.
The poet in the last stanza addresses wisdom and Spirit of the universe. He calls it as eternal as human thought and says that it transmits life and everlasting movement to all objects and forms. It was not in vain that from his earliest days of infancy by day as well as by starlit night it took up0on itself the task of shaping an intimate relationship between the human passions in my soul and high and everlasting things of nature and not the temporary and vulgar creations of man. Thus, by this mode of interlinking it refined elements of the poet’s feelings and of thoughts and through proper control and training lent a sacred quality to both pain and fear. And finally led him to recognize the grandeur and loftiness in the human heart beats.
Hence in this poem, an experience of his boyhood brings upon a poet a profound awareness of the wisdom and spirit of the universe.