1805 | Grasmere

Golden Gleam of Youth

The moment William Wordsworth will never forget.

There are in our existence spots of time, 
That with distinct preeminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence‚ depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds 
Are nourished and invisibly repaired; 
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.
This efficacious spirit chiefly lurks
Among those passages of life that give
Profoundest knowledge to what point, and how,
The mind is lord and master‚ outward sense
The obedient servant of her will. Such moments
Are scattered everywhere, taking their date
From our first childhood. I remember well,
That once, while yet my inexperienced hand
Could scarcely hold a bridle, with proud hopes
I mounted, and we journeyed toward the hills:
An ancient servant of my father’s house
Was with me, my encourager and guide:
We had not traveled long, ere some mischance
Disjoined me from my comrade; and, through fear
Dismounting, down the rough and stony moor
I led my horse, and, stumbling on, at length
Came to a bottom, where in former times
A murderer had been hung in iron chains.
The gibbet mast had moldered down, the bones
And iron case were gone; but on the turf,
Hard by, soon after that fell deed was wrought,
Some unknown hand had carved the murderer’s name.
The monumental letters were inscribed
In times long past; but still, from year to year,
By superstition of the neighborhood,
The grass is cleared away, and to this hour
The characters are fresh and visible:
A casual glance had shown them, and I fled,
Faltering and faint, and ignorant of the road:
Then, reascending the bare common, saw
A naked pool that lay beneath the hills,
The beacon on the summit, and, more near,
A girl, who bore a pitcher on her head,
And seemed with difficult steps to force her way
Against the blowing wind. It was, in truth,
An ordinary sight; but I should need
Colors and words that are unknown to man,
To paint the visionary dreariness
Which, while I looked all round for my lost guide,
Invested moorland waste, and naked pool, 
The beacon crowning the lone eminence, 
The female and her garments vexed and tossed 
By the strong wind. When, in the blessèd hours 
Of early love, the loved one at my side, 
I roamed, in daily presence of this scene, 
Upon the naked pool and dreary crags, 
And on the melancholy beacon, fell 
A spirit of pleasure and youth’s golden gleam; 
And think ye not with radiance more sublime 
For these remembrances, and for the power 
They had left behind? So feeling comes in aid 
Of feeling, and diversity of strength 
Attends us, if but once we have been strong. 
Oh! Mystery of man, from what a depth 
Proceed thy honors. I am lost, but see 
In simple childhood something of the base 
On which thy greatness stands; but this I feel, 
That from thyself it comes, that thou must give, 
Else never canst receive. The days gone by 
Return upon me almost from the dawn 
Of life: the hiding places of man’s power 
Open; I would approach them, but they close. 
I see by glimpses now; when age comes on, 
May scarcely see at all; and I would give, 
While yet we may, as far as words can give, 
Substance and life to what I feel, enshrining, 
Such is my hope, the spirit of the past 
For future restoration.

Contributor

William Wordsworth

From The Prelude. Wordsworth’s widow, Mary, selected the title for the final version of this long autobiographical poem, which he had referred to as “The Poem to Coleridge” or “Growth of a Poet’s Mind.” Wordsworth reflected that as a child he was of a “stiff, moody, and violent temper” and was “one who spent half of his boyhood in running wild among the mountains.” Along with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he published Lyrical Ballads in 1798. John Keats called Wordsworth’s The Excursion one of “three things to rejoice at in this age.”