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Places to Go: ‘Climbing Snowdon’ from Book 13, The Prelude by William Wordsworth

Written by Rachael Norris, 23rd April 2021

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

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