Millennial Themes in The Prelude and Mont Blanc

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Millennial Themes in The Prelude and Mont Blanc

On reading Book VI of Wordsworth's thirteen-part version of The Prelude, I was particularly struck by the passage in which, following his crossing of the Alps, the poet describes "the sick sight / And giddy prospect of the raging stream" (VI. 564-565) of the Arve Ravine as both an apocalyptic foreboding and an expression of millennial unity in his theory of the One Mind:

The unfettered clouds and region of the heavens,

Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light,

Were all like workings of one mind, the features

Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree,

Characters of the great Apocalypse,

The types and symbols of eternity,

Of first, and last, and midst, and without end.

(VI. 566-572)

The unity of God, man, and nature is of course a common theme in Wordsworth's poetry, having been given equally memorable treatments in Tintern Abbey and elsewhere, but it was the seemingly paradoxical sentiment of this passage from The Prelude that made such a strong impression on me. As John Beer points out in his article "Romantic Apocalypses," "Although traditionally the apocalypse and the millennium have gone together, recently, the first, with its sense of doom, has been more prominent" (109). To a reader who has lived through the passing of both a new century and a new millennium, the phrase "Characters of the great Apocalypse" tends to evoke feelings of eschatological anxiety, and to suggest the fragility and transience of the landscape Wordsworth is attempting to describe. It is easy to forget that Wordsworth used the term in its original sense of "simply 'revelation,' the name given to the English version in the New Testament" (Beer 109); and that in its evocations o...

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... used the essential paradox of apocalypse and millennium not to prophesy the destruction of the existing world, but to make their readers aware of the greater harmony of the universe, both within and outside the boundaries of time.

Works Cited

Beer, John. "Romantic Apocalypses." Wordsworth Circle 32.2 (2001): 109-116.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. "Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamounix." 1816. Romanticism: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. 845-849.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Excerpt from "Journal-Letter from Percy Bysshe Shelley to Thomas Love Peacock, 22 July to 2 August 1876." Romanticism: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. 844.

Wordsworth, William. Excerpt from The Thirteen-Book Prelude, Book VI. 1806. Romanticism: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. 389-392.
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