The Prelude is an autobiographical conversation poem written in blank verse by William Wordsworth. It is an extremely personal and revealing work on the details of Wordsworth’s life. Wordsworth began The Prelude in 1798 at the age of 28 and continued to work on it throughout his life. The poem was published three months after Wordsworth’s death in 1850.
The poem was intended as the prologue to a long three-part epic and philosophical poem, The Recluse. However, Wordsworth never completed The Recluse. Wordsworth planned to write this work together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, their joint intent being to surpass John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Table Talk II.70–71; IG3). Had The Recluse been completed, it would have been approximately three times longer than Paradise Lost (33,000 lines versus 10,500).
Coleridge’s inspiration and interest is evidenced in his letters. For instance, in 1799 he writes to Wordsworth: “I am anxiously eager to have you steadily employed on ‘The Recluse’… I wish you would write a poem, in blank verse, addressed to those who, in consequence of the complete failure of the French Revolution, have thrown up all hopes of amelioration of mankind, and are sinking into an almost Epicurean selfishness, disguising the same under the soft titles of domestic attachment and contempt for visionary philosophies. It would do great good, and might form a Part of ‘The Recluse’.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge to William Wordsworth, Sept. 1799).