The article mainly describes the way in which time fractures Wordsworth’s consciousness and examines how he uses language to both stabilize and problematize his identity in The Prelude. Such temporal overlayings produce expressions of uncertainty and doubt even about the poem’s central project, and push The Prelude into ambiguous visions of fragmented selfhood. The self formed through Wordsworth’s consciousness of temporality is built upon an intricate and dynamic interplay between various temporal moments in which his self lives in changeable relationships with the selves of other moments. This article argues that Wordsworth attempts to build and stabilizes a sense of self through his use of language. He projects a continuity of self by looking back to “a dark / Invisible workmanship” in his childhood communion with nature, which generated the aspiration to “some philosophic Song” that he, now, still feels and acts upon. I go on to explore how Wordsworth tries to establish his identity in the very act of rising to the challenge of being a poet posed by the French Revolution by aligning both his early support for the Revolution and its failure to the lessons taught by nature. Wordsworth’s complex feelings towards this historical event add further fragmentations of identity to be dealt with in his large project of self-identification. Wordsworth’s lifelong re-interpretation and re-evaluation of his project constitute an identity that is perpetually shifting, evolving, self-transforming. The uncertain fissures between past and present are The Prelude’s greatest philosophical problem—but they also give the poem some of its greatest poetic opportunities.
KEYWORDS: The Prelude, fragmented selfhood, “consciousness of temporality,” identity-formation, “the deferral and delay” of writing, New Historicism