Stolen Boat by William Wordsworth Summary

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Last updated on August 23rd, 2020 at 08:46 pm

ABOUT THE POET: William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is one of the stalwarts of the English Literature canon. He precipitated the Romantic Movement along with fellow poet Coleridge. Their joint venture, ‘Lyrical Ballads’ of 1798 is considered a touchstone of the Romantic sentiment. His most ambitious work was ‘The Recluse’ but he never got around to completing it. His ‘The Prelude’ of which ‘The Stolen Boat’ is an extract was meant to be the preface of ‘The Recluse’. He is known for his precision and dedication to poetic representation and he was of the opinion that he owed his poetic skills to his imagination and memories.

He was the son of John Wordsworth and Anne Cookson. He had four siblings of whom he was closest to his sister, Dorothy. He was married to family friend, Mary Hutchinson but he had a relationship with a Frenchwoman named Annette Vallon before his marriage to Mary. He had a child named Caroline with Annette but could never marry her. However, he did support them financially.

He was great friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was also close to the poet Robert Southey. They all resided around/near/by the Lake District, northwest England, and was thus, called the ‘Lake Poets’.

Wordsworth was given the title and position of the Poet Laureate of Britain in 1843 and he remained so till his death in 1850.


ABOUT THE POEM: This particular poem is an excerpt from Wordsworth’s autobiographical epic poem, The Prelude. It was published and named posthumously in 1850 by his widow Mary.

This excerpt is taken from the 1850 edition. The poem is composed like an epic, amassing a total of 14 books. The poem traces the trajectory of the poet’s life, starting from his youth to the time he attains maturity, both as a poet and as a man. This particular excerpt deals with an incident in his childhood that had taught him a lesson and also strengthened his relationship with nature.

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SETTING OF THE POEM: MOOD: The mood of the poem is varied. It begins with a serene recounting of past tales. But as the poem gathers momentum, the mood tightens. The reminiscent and peaceful air of the poem is surpassed by a sense of fear mingled with a feeling of guilt when the poet is reminded of his stealth and its aftermath.

Stolen Boat by William Wordsworth Summary

Since the poem is an excerpt of a long epic, the whole poem forms one whole stanza. The poem begins with the poet confessing an incident form his childhood.

On a summer evening, the young poet found a little boat tethered to a willow tree in some rocky cave. He ‘stole’ the boat and took it on a joy ride across the lake. He was aware of his act of stealth but his guilt was intermixed with the feeling of pleasure. He says that his ride of the boat was accompanied by the echoes of the mountain. The poet steadily kept moving away from the shore and the reflection of the stars and moon left a trail of light on the surface of the water. As he sailed away from the shore, he kept his eyes on the horizon, which comprised a short crag and the stars above, to keep his path fixed to a straight, unswerving line. The poet praises the light boat he had stolen and calls is ‘an elfin pinnace’. He also praises his own prowess as a rower and compares himself and the boat to a swan that goes heaving through the water gracefully and effortlessly. This merry ride continued in peace until a mighty mountain peak upreared its head between the short crag and the stars.

As he kept rowing further away from the shore, the mountain grew in sight. The form of the huge shape frightened the poet and stirred his conscience. It seemed to chase after the poet as he kept drawing the boar away from its moor. Scared of this huge, black shape, the poet hurries back towards the cove he had stolen the boat from and returns home with a grave heart and a heavy conscience. The poet reminisces that following that incident, he had spent many days suffering from nightmares of the grim, huge shape. He says that the familiar forms, colours and shapes of nature that he had been accustomed to were replaced by the images of this huge mountain. This mountain, according to Wordsworth, was not a passive structure made of rocks or stone. It was like a living being yet different from living beings. It had taken over his thoughts by days and dreams by night. For many a day, he was tormented by the memory and solitude. Even though he realizes it’s only an optical illusion that the mountain was chasing him, it weighed heavy on his conscience and he realized the presence of beings unknown and unfathomable to him.

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‘led by her’- Here ‘her’ denotes Nature.

‘It was an act of stealth/And troubled pleasure’- What the poet is trying to say here is that stealing the boat gave him immense pleasure. It was a feeling of unrestrained freedom. Yet at the same time, he was disturbed by his guilt at having stolen someone else’s property. Hence, ‘troubled pleasure’.

‘unswerving line’- the poet kept rowing in a straight, unbending line.

‘She was an elfin Pinnace’- the boat the poet stole as a child was light and swift. It seemed as if it was enchanted, hence, he calls it an elfin pinnace.

‘craggy Steep’- by this the poet means a rocky hill.

‘the grim Shape’- the grim shape that the poet encountered in the poem was actually the form of a huge mountain.

‘Covert’- secretive; here it means a hidden place where the boat was stowed.

‘mooring-place’- mooring means a place or a structure where a vessel (like a boat) can be secured or fastened. In this poem, the boat’s mooring-place was within a rocky cave.

‘Bark’- the poet refers to the boat as bark.

‘spectacle’- an unusual or striking sight

‘That spectacle, for many days, my brain/Worked with a dim and undetermined sense/Of unknown modes of being’- the spectacle that the poet witnessed as a child, that is, the sudden, looming sight of the mountain left him wondering of things and presences beyond his understanding.

‘blank desertion’- a feeling of abandonment. He felt betrayed by the nature he had loved growing up when he was faced with its dark side.

‘But huge and mighty Forms, that do not live/Like living men, moved slowly through the mind/By day, and were a trouble to my dreams’- he was haunted by the memories of the huge shape he encountered. They looked like inhuman giants that troubled his waking as well as his sleeping hours. You may go through the detailed analysis of Stolen boat here. Keywords: Stolen Boat by William Wordsworth summary, Stolen Boat by William Wordsworth analysis, Stolen Boat by William Wordsworth  inner meaning, Stolen Boat by William Wordsworth notes, Stolen Boat by William Wordsworth  explanation.

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