Places to Go: ‘Climbing Snowdon’ from Book 13, The Prelude by William Wordsworth
Reader Leader, Sue Colbourn, takes us on today's audio adventure with an extract from The Prelude by William Wordsworth, 'Climbing Snowdown' from Book 13.
The theme for our readings in April is 'Balm for the Soul' and we hope the poetry, readings and recommendations we have chosen can help us stay connected over the coming weeks.
The last time I read this passage with a group, we read the whole thing aloud in one go, and then group members read out little chunks of it, and we pondered on the poem in stages.
Just after half-way through the session, as I reread the line
When at my feet the ground appeared to brighten
to take us back into the poem, my attention was drawn to one of the group members who was shifting to the edge of her chair, almost as if she were about to stand up. I suddenly realized she was, in fact, preparing herself - almost unknowingly, it seemed - to read aloud, as if she could not stop herself from speaking out those lines, which she then did, delivering them in a clear, strong voice, a voice the group had not heard at all until that moment.
Once she came to the end of the passage, everyone spontaneously applauded! And someone described the reading as feeling ‘triumphant’. It was as if we’d reached the summit of the mountain together and discovered the ‘breathing-space’ so dramatically revealed, in the poem, by the brilliant moonlight. Wonderful.
I have never climbed Snowdon, but it’s a place I’ve heard plenty about from my husband and sons who have walked it a number of times. I can remember my youngest son, when he was about 12, having to write a description of what he imagined Heaven might be like, and his vision drew very much on a particular view from his first visit to the national park a couple of years earlier. He recalled the blue pools and the waterfalls - the picture and associated feelings that had lodged in his memory just as, I imagine, Wordsworth’s experience of climbing Snowdon one ‘summer’s night’ had stayed in his.
I’m reminded of lines, elsewhere in The Prelude, that speak of ‘spots of time’ - perhaps experiences such as these, deeply embedded in us? - that can work with ‘a renovating virtue’, and which ‘invisibly’ repair and nourish the mind on those occasions when we might be in need of some form of restoration.
Balm, indeed, for the soul…… And in the same way, for me, works the poetry of William Wordsworth, always my poet of choice - to soothe, or, indeed, to stir - in times of such need.
‘Climbing Snowdon’ from Book 13, The Prelude (1805 version)
by William Wordsworth
In one of these excursions, travelling then
Through Wales on foot and with a youthful friend.
I left Bethkelet’s huts at couching-time,
And westward took my way to see the sun
Rise from the top of Snowdon. Having reached
The cottage at the mountain’s foot, we there
Rouzed up the shepherd who by ancient right
Of office is the stranger’s usual guide,
And after short refreshment sallied forth.
It was a summer’s night, a close warm night,
Wan, dull, and glaring, with a dripping mist
Low-hung and thick that covered all the sky,
Half threatening storm and rain; but on we went
Unchecked, being full of heart and having faith
In our tried pilot. Little we could see,
Hemmed round on every side with fog and damp,
And, after ordinary travellers’ chat
With our conductor, silently we slunk
Each into commerce with his private thoughts.
Thus did we breast the ascent, and by myself
Was nothing either seen or heard the while
Which took me from my musings, save that once
The shepherd’s cur did to his own great joy
Unearth a hedgehog in the mountain-crags,
Round which he made a barking turbulent.
This small adventure - for even such it seemed
In that wild place and at the dead of night-
Being over and forgotten, on we wound
In silence as before. With forehead bent
Earthward, as if in opposition set
Against an enemy, I panted up
With eager pace, and no less eager thoughts.
Thus might we wear perhaps an hour away,
Ascending at loose distance each from each,
And I, as chanced, the foremost of the band -
When at my feet the ground appeared to brighten,
And with a step or two seemed brighter still;
Nor had I time to ask the cause of this,
For instantly a light upon the turf
Fell like a flash: I looked about, and lo,
The moon stood naked in the heavens, at height
Immense above my head, and on the shore
I found myself of a huge sea of mist,
Which meek and silent rested at my feet.
A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved
All over this still ocean, and beyond,
Far, far beyond, the vapours shot themselves
In headlands, tongues and promontory shapes,
Into the sea, the real sea, that seemed
To dwindle and give up its majesty,
Usurped upon as far as sight could reach.
Meanwhile, the moon looked down upon this show
In single glory, and we stood, the mist
Touching our very feet; and from the shore
At distance not the third part of a mile
Was a blue chasm, a fracture in the vapour,
A deep and gloomy breathing-space, through which
Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams
Innumerable, roaring with one voice.
The universal spectacle throughout
Was shaped for admiration and delight,
Grand in itself alone, but in that breach
Through which the homeless voice of waters rose,
That dark, deep thoroughfare, had Nature lodged
The soul, the imagination of the whole