Thursday, 1 October 2009


In his autobiographical work, The Prelude, William Wordsworth describes how, as a boy, he one night stole a shepherd’s boat and rowed it out into the middle of a lake. Above his point of departure there rose “a rocky steep” and it was upon the top of this cliff – beyond which “Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky” – that Wordsworth fixed his view as he pulled on the oars. Wordsworth rowed on, congratulating himself on his technique ...

... When from behind that craggy Steep, till then
The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature, the huge Cliff
Rose up between me and the stars, and still,
With measured motion, like a living thing,
Strode after me.

Wordsworth writes that this spectacle affected his mind for many days, creating in it a sense of “solitude ... [and] blank desertion” and dark visions of “mighty forms that do not live Like living men”. I don’t know why I mention it, except that attention is often drawn to Wordsworth’s use of the double negative, but this is the poet’s only use of a double bluff.

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