Comparing the Extract from the Prelude’ and ‘Storm on the Island 

 

Explore how nature is used as a vehicle for the poets’ thoughts and feelings in both Extract from The Prelude by Wordsworth and Storm on the Island by Heaney. 

Both Wordsworth and Heaney were fascinated in their respective lifetimes with the beauty and destructive force of nature. In “Extract from The Prelude”, Wordsworth uses his experience of growing up in the stunning landscape of the Lake District to write about how nature overwhelmed him at times and helped him recognise the transcendental nature of life, whereas Heaney used his poem Storm on the Island as a reflection of how the turbulent, stormy weather and bleak landscape represented the troubles in Ireland. Interestingly, both poets use nature as a metaphorical vehicle to represent how they were feeling about getting older, experiencing change and the political situation of their time. 

In this short extract from Wordsworth’s much longer epic poem we are positioned to perhaps empathise with the carefree, imaginative character who borrows a boat and then regrets this moment of abandonment. Unlike the empathy in Storm on the Island, we are positioned to feel pride in the resilience that many generations of Irish people have had to develop to ‘weather the storm’ both physical from the weather and metaphorical from the political unrest. Wordsworth personifies the boat in an aside “(led by her)” which could indicate that he was almost persuaded by the awe-inspiring nature to steal away in the boat under the cover of night “glittering idly in the moon” and that this stolen moment in time appears peaceful, enjoyable and without threat. At this time the persona is completely relaxed and at one with the time of day and the boat itself. In fact, connotations of “glittering” are positive, showing the pleasure given to the persona in the twinkling of the moon onto the stillness of the lake. In contrast, however Heaney’s Storm on the Island is a much more active and immediate presentation of fear with the use of collective pronouns and repetition “We are prepared: we build our houses squat,” which immediately feels more threatening, as there must be a reason for the preparation and the houses to be low to the ground, almost as if they need to hide and be stealthy for some reason. The use of “We” is interesting as it depicts a feeling that the people of Ireland are in this together and are ready for whatever life, the weather or the Irish troubles throw at them. In Ireland, when Heaney wrote this poem a political divide between protestants and Catholics had been raging for centuries and Heaney although discussing the weather and the landscape of Ireland, could be metaphorically exploring how he feels about this ongoing civil unrest. It beggars the question, what are they ready for?  is it just the weather battering the landscape or more bombings? Meanwhile, in Wordsworth’s poetry we get a sense of innocence through the oxymoronic “troubled pleasure”, while in Heaney’s poetry we can infer a sense of awareness and a lack of innocence “The wizened earth has never troubled us” which is ironic as part of the reason Irish people were fighting was the divide between British ownership and Irish ownership of land. So, although the land is not the trouble, it may imply that the people fighting over this land and religion may be what the problem is. Both poets are inspired by nature in different ways and use this to show a growing awareness of getting older in Wordsworth’s case and losing innocence and becoming more politically aware in Heaney’s case. 

As well as focusing on getting older or becoming more politically aware, change is explored through nature in both poems. Wordsworth depicts change as something fearful and to be worried about as he juxtaposes the graceful nature of a swan swimming through water elegantly “heaving through the water like a swan” with the imagery of it being a difficult accomplishment through the verb “heaving”. The juxtaposition of this elegant swan imagery with the volta in “a huge peak, black and huge,…upreared its head.” suggests that seeing the hills in this “glittering” moonlight has scared the persona and spooked them in some way, which is a direct contrast from earlier in the poem as the persona had “I fixed my view” in the first person on the “craggy ridge” without any indication that this was something to be fearful off. As we are aware of the autobiographical nature of the poem it appears that this experience, for Wordsworth, showed the transcendental nature of life and reinforced for him how small humanity is, when compared to the rugged scenery that he depicts. Although Heaney was not classified as a romantic poet, he too explores change in the landscape when he discusses the sea, which is interesting as both poets are using imagery through water and movement to explain experiences that they had. Heaney personifies the sea “You might think that the sea is company,” in a way that makes it sound comforting and reliable, perhaps to suggest that they are on an “island” surrounded by the sea and that they do need to rely on each other to weather the physical storm presented through the wind whipping the sea into a frenzy and the metaphorical storm suggested by the isolation from the mainland. Heaney uses an oxymoronic phrase “exploding comfortably” which describes the sea crashing into the rocks but could also allude to the bombings that were taking place due to the troubles. These bombings were not comfortable for the people experiencing them, but they were common place and perhaps Heaney is alluding to the strength of the people to continue with normal life while all around them while unpleasant and terrifying events were unfolding with an apparent inability for the politicians to resolve these issues peacefully. So, while both poems explore nature, they also explore change and insinuate that life is bigger than the individuals through their depictions of nature. 

Wordsworth, although not focusing on political change in the poem extract, was rallying against the age of the Englightment, where scientific advancement and reason were highly valued to the detriment of the natural world. Therefore, his descriptions of the lasting effect of his stealth filled boat trip is important as it helps to reinforce how deeply affected by nature Wordsworth was. His final line “were a trouble to my dreams.” With the end-stopping offering a finality to this extract without offering a resolution to the troubled mind that this experience gave Wordsworth. Unlike this focus on personal conflict Heaney’s final line “it is a huge nothing that we fear.” uses end-stopping to offer finality but also perhaps indicates that the reasons for fighting are irrelevant and that peace was needed in Ireland. Heaney was said to have a “complex relationship with politics” Hoey 2015 and perhaps the metaphorical depictions of the political unrest portrayed so beautifully through the poem “Storm on the Island” shows this difficulty that Heaney felt. Ironically, or perhaps purposefully, the title spells Stormont the political seat of Ireland and Heaney may have used this to show he was trying to make a point about the situation. Interestingly, both poets end the poems without a resolution. 

Wordsworth and Heaney were living in very different times and discussing different perspectives on nature. Woodsworth’s poem was a very introspective and personal reflection on an event that happened in his childhood, while Heaney’s is similarly introspective but from a collective viewpoint rather than a personal view. It is also clear that while they are encountering different experiences and discussing different events using nature, both poets’ thoughts and feelings are cleverly depicted throughout their poems both from a literal and metaphorical point of view. The poem becomes a vehicle for a wider symbolic significance in both cases: Wordsworth for a transformational experience from a personal point of view and Heaney as a depiction of the political unrest throughout his beloved Ireland. 

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