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Explore Context in 'The Prelude'

In this worksheet, students will explore the context in 'The Prelude' and understand a little bit about Wordsworth's background and the nature of the poem.

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

Always wanted to practise your understanding of context in Extract from, 'The Prelude'?

 

Thought bubble

 

Well, you've come to the right place! 

 

This activity is quite simple. We're going to be looking at the background of the poem, the themes that Wordsworth uses and how they link to the context of his life and background. Wordsworth (1770-1850) was a Romantic poet- perhaps the Romantic poet. His focus, therefore, was on nature and the way it influences emotions of awe and wonder. This is known as the sublime- where Romantic poets would elaborate and muse on this mystical connection between the speaker and the natural world. 'The Prelude' is actually a really long, autobiographical poem (therefore, the speaker in the extract is most definitely Wordsworth himself) about Wordsworth's mental growth. It took six years to write the whole thing- but we're focusing on the beginning which details Wordsworth's childhood realisation about the power of nature.

 

As you do this activity, jot down some important facts that you notice along the way. It'll be really helpful for your exam, and your general knowledge.

 

 

 

 

Just a reminder: context is the background, environment and setting of a poem. 

 

Wordsworth was a Romantic poet- a lot of Romantics were influenced by the power of nature and the way it evoked sublime feelings (feelings of awe and/or inspiration).

 

 

Tick one box from below which showcases Wordsworth's feelings of awe.

 

"I dipped my oars into the silent lake"

"She was an elfin pinnace"

"A huge peak, black and huge"

Romantic poetry heavily focuses on the poet's imagination.

 

Many Romantic poets, like Wordsworth, believed that their imagination would influence and improve the world.

 

Write down the one number, from below, which showcases Wordsworth's belief in the power of imagination.

 

1. "I struck and struck again"

2. "My brain worked with a dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being"

3. "I fixed my view on the summit of a craggy ridge, the horizon's utmost boundary"

What can we infer about the overall meaning of the poem?

 

Tick the three answers that you think are the most logical.

That nature is intimidating and powerful

That nature has the power to transform and influence human beings if they open themselves up to the possibility

That nature has power over shaping the human mind and imagination

That nature is unimportant compared to human beings

That Wordsworth imagined everything that just happened in the poem

Why is it important for us to know that Wordsworth loved philosophy and topics concerning the human mind?

 

 

Pick one number out of the options below:

 

1. Because the poem is about nature

2. Because the poem is about the way that nature influences and transforms the human mind 

3. Because the poem is about the way Wordsworth views religion and the human mind.

Wordsworth presents nature as intimidating and scary.

 

Why do you think he does this?

 

To prove that mankind is stronger than nature

To prove that nature is stronger than mankind

To prove that nature and mankind are equal

Romanticism was heavily centred on the poet's awakening.

 

What one quote illustrates Wordsworth's awakening?

 

"But after I had seen that spectacle, for many days, my brain worked with a dim and undetermined sense..."

"With trembling oars I turned, and through the silent water stole my way..."

"I dipped my oars into the silent lake"

Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem. 

 

These ideas are all features of Romanticism.

Column A

Column B

Transformation and awakening
"A huge peak, black and huge, as if with voluntary...
Imagination
"Like living men, moved slowly through the mind by...
Influence and power of nature
"After I had seen the spectacle, for many days, my...

Once more! Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

 

 

Again, these ideas are all features of Romanticism.

Column A

Column B

Coming of age (sexual metaphors to showcase child ...
"Lustily, I dipped my oars into the silent lake"
Memory
"Call it solitude or blank desertion"
Selfhood and solitude
"One summer evening (led by her)..."

Tick one theme that's not in the poem.

 

Transformation/awakening

Solitude/selfhood

Marriage/togethernesss

What idea from the options below seems to be the most important one in the poem?

 

 

That nature has influence over the speaker

Wordsworth's realisation of the power of nature triggers his transformation from unaware boy to spiritual man

Wordsworth is warning his readers of the dangers of nature

Nature symbolises Wordsworth's wife

Nature causes Wordsworth to experience a sexual awakening

  • Question 1

Wordsworth was a Romantic poet- a lot of Romantics were influenced by the power of nature and the way it evoked sublime feelings (feelings of awe and/or inspiration).

 

 

Tick one box from below which showcases Wordsworth's feelings of awe.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
"A huge peak, black and huge"
EDDIE SAYS
The third quote emphasises Wordsworth's feelings of awe. The repetition of "huge" emphasises Wordsworth's loss of language and deliberately seems to highlight his awe and fear. One of the main focuses of Romantic poetry was the sublime- feelings of inspiration and awe (usually derived from nature) which took the poet beyond himself and into another realm. The sublime would often also focus on the "grotesque" or "grandeur". Anything which causes the poet to really reflect, ruminate or experience something surreal is classed as sublime. In this poem, we have a lot of language clues which pinpoint how Wordsworth is feeling- overwhelmed, fearful and preoccupied with the intimidating effects of the natural world seem to be a few emotions which come through! There you have it- these emotions, especially when brought forward by nature, are examples of Wordsworth's use of the sublime.
  • Question 2

Romantic poetry heavily focuses on the poet's imagination.

 

Many Romantic poets, like Wordsworth, believed that their imagination would influence and improve the world.

 

Write down the one number, from below, which showcases Wordsworth's belief in the power of imagination.

 

1. "I struck and struck again"

2. "My brain worked with a dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being"

3. "I fixed my view on the summit of a craggy ridge, the horizon's utmost boundary"

CORRECT ANSWER
2
EDDIE SAYS
A little tricky, so don't worry if you got it wrong. Just jot down, in note form, the explanation so you understand the point a little better. If you got it right, well done! It's number two which really highlights the power of the imagination. This question is a tricky one, because, you could argue that the entire poem focuses on Wordsworth's imagination! The poem, itself, is about the way Wordsworth's brain manipulates nature into something intimidating and terrifying, bringing on a transformation from boy to man. However, option 2 really showcases, in explicit detail, the effect of nature on Wordsworth's brain. He actually makes the point that he couldn't stop thinking about nature and it's terrifying and intimidating effect on his imagination and memory. So, this explicitly states and provides evidence that Wordsworth views nature, with the aid of his imagination, as something bigger, scarier and more transformative than the ordinary person might.
  • Question 3

What can we infer about the overall meaning of the poem?

 

Tick the three answers that you think are the most logical.

CORRECT ANSWER
That nature is intimidating and powerful
That nature has the power to transform and influence human beings if they open themselves up to the possibility
That nature has power over shaping the human mind and imagination
EDDIE SAYS
A core focus of the poem is the influence of nature over man. Wordsworth believed that nature was a great teacher, influence and God. This idea is expressed in the Prelude- this extract focuses on the intimidating and transformative influence that nature has over human beings.
  • Question 4

Why is it important for us to know that Wordsworth loved philosophy and topics concerning the human mind?

 

 

Pick one number out of the options below:

 

1. Because the poem is about nature

2. Because the poem is about the way that nature influences and transforms the human mind 

3. Because the poem is about the way Wordsworth views religion and the human mind.

CORRECT ANSWER
2
EDDIE SAYS
Wordsworth was really into the way the human mind worked and he would often express this through his poetry, emphasising emotions and feelings over rationality and logic (if there's one thing you should know about this guy, he loved emotions).
  • Question 5

Wordsworth presents nature as intimidating and scary.

 

Why do you think he does this?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
To prove that nature is stronger than mankind
EDDIE SAYS
Wordsworth presents nature as a lot stronger and "higher-up" than mankind. This emphasises his overall belief- that nature is there to teach us humans, and has a great amount of power over people.
  • Question 6

Romanticism was heavily centred on the poet's awakening.

 

What one quote illustrates Wordsworth's awakening?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
"But after I had seen that spectacle, for many days, my brain worked with a dim and undetermined sense..."
EDDIE SAYS
The first quote highlights Wordsworth's sense of awakening- we can also call this a transformation, as the poem could also illustrate Wordsworth's transition from boy to man (which could explain all the sexual metaphors in the poem), Remember, Romantic poets were very spiritual and vague. So everything that's introduced in this poem is purposefully vague and layered- everything is implied and represents Wordsworth's introduction into higher, spiritual thought (which is why the Romantics were considered so pretentious!).
  • Question 7

Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem. 

 

These ideas are all features of Romanticism.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Transformation and awakening
"After I had seen the spectacle, ...
Imagination
"Like living men, moved slowly th...
Influence and power of nature
"A huge peak, black and huge, as ...
EDDIE SAYS
Think about the overall meaning of the poem and what tone you think it conveys about Wordsworth's feelings/spiritual awakening? What do you think he's trying to convey about his awakening?
  • Question 8

Once more! Match each contextual idea with a quote from the poem.

 

 

Again, these ideas are all features of Romanticism.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Coming of age (sexual metaphors t...
"Lustily, I dipped my oars into t...
Memory
"One summer evening (led by her)....
Selfhood and solitude
"Call it solitude or blank desert...
EDDIE SAYS
This exercise of linking recurring themes to quotes really enhances our understanding of contextual ideas.
  • Question 9

Tick one theme that's not in the poem.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Marriage/togethernesss
EDDIE SAYS
The last one is not present in the poem- Wordsworth focuses on himself and his own awakening and transformation with nature as the catalyst (the cause of change).
  • Question 10

What idea from the options below seems to be the most important one in the poem?

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Wordsworth's realisation of the power of nature triggers his transformation from unaware boy to spiritual man
EDDIE SAYS
Thinking about overall themes gives us a sense of context and helps us understand the simple- from there, we can understand the more complicated way these themes are shown. In the Extract from, 'The Prelude', we see Wordsworth go from boy to man- he views nature as something very gentle and positive at the beginning of the poem. Only after the sexual awakening happens, does Wordsworth "transform" into a man, one who fears the effects of nature. Bear in mind, Wordsworth isn't making nature out to be a negative thing. Instead, the poem focuses on the effects of nature over Wordsworth. Nature is like the catalyst (the thing that transforms Wordsworth from boy to man). It represents Wordsworth's sexuality, his spirituality and his individuality.
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