Understanding the Prospectus

MS 1: DC MS 45

Date not known: prob. 1800-1802

MS 2: DC MS 24

Date not known: prob. 1800-1802

Within MS B: DC MS 59


Published in The Excursion


The Prospectus shares with Home at Grasmere a doubled identity, existing both as part of a discrete poem and as the last part of the first section of The Recluse. However, unlike Home at Grasmere which was not published by Wordsworth, the Prospectus lines were published at the start of The Excursion (1814). Here their doubled identity is made manifest when they are published both as a discrete statement of purpose, following directly on from the prose "Preface" (as "a kind of Prospectus of the design and scope of the whole Poem" [x]) but also as "taken from the conclusion of the first Book of the Recluse"(x).

Also in his Preface to The Excursion Wordsworth famously used the image of The Recluse as "a gothic Church" with The Prelude as "anti-chapel" and minor poems as "little Cells, Oratories, and sepulchral Recesses" (ix).

The subject of The Recluse was to be "the sensations and opinions of a Poet living in retirement" (ix). The imagined poetic superstructure, was to be in three parts:

[Preparatory Poem: The Prelude]

Part 1: Home at Grasmere (First person text)

[The Tuft of Primroses?]

Part 2: The Excursion (Dramatic text)

Part 3: ? (First person text)


A Philosophical Poem

containing Views of Man,

Nature and Society

The Prospectus: Content and Context

The Prospectus consists of a varying number of lines of verse (77 in DC MS 45, 89 in MS B, 107 in The Excursion) beginning: "On Man, on Nature, and on Human Life". They stand as a self-consciously Miltonic declaration by Wordsworth of the subject and aims for The Recluse when placed at the start of The Excursion. They also redefine the subject of Epic in terms of the poet's own interior exploration, declaring his subject to be "the Mind of Man, /My haunt, and the main region of my Song" (xii). The Prospectus is a kind of prayer to the muse that the poet will be able to achieve his ambition.

When read at the end of Home at Grasmere, however, the context subtly alters our response to the lines. After descriptions of the valley and the poet's sense of identity with it, the reader is much more attuned to the poet-narrator's situation and grounded strength when he describes how Beauty "Pitches her tents before me when I move, /An hourly Neighbour" (MS B 995-996). Equally, the lines concerning the poet's desire to describe "fellowships of men"(1017) and their "authentic comment" (1024) with all the "little realities of life"(1040) seem to emerge from the tales of Grasmere community. Our sense of emphasis, and of what the poet's true subject is, subtly alters according to whether these lines are placed at the end of the text, as the culmination of what has gone before, or at the start of a text as a grand declaration of larger intent.