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“ . . . ‘Was it for this . . . ?’—these are the words with which the first version of The Prelude opens. Was It For This is actually the title under which that early version of the autobiography is indexed (as in Jonathan Wordsworth’s ‘The Prelude’: The Four Texts)—and the remorse and regret that this question communicates capture the mood in which William Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem was born. One important fact to bear in mind in this context is that, from the moment it was conceived, The Prelude was composed instead of the poet’s philosophical project: the story of writing The Prelude is, in other words, the story of not writing The Recluse. In a sense, the autobiographical project was a shelter from the philosophical poem, a place of escape. And the other important fact to record is that The Prelude was a shelter that gave no comfort. From the moment of its “spontaneous” conception it was a construction raised in guilt by a guilty mind that nervously repeats the self-reproachful questioning: ‘Was it for this . . . ?’”

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