The English language bristles with wonderful quotes, which are often detached from their poetic settings.

The column will look at some this week, starting with Wordsworth’s “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very Heaven.” Here is the background to the ecstatic claim from the biographical poem, The Prelude. The excesses of the French Revolution eventually disillusioned the youthful idealist.


O pleasant exercise of hope and joy!

For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood

Upon our side, us who were strong in love!

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

But to be young was very Heaven! O times,

In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways

Of custom, law, and statute, took at once

The attraction of a country in romance!

When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights

When most intent on making of herself

A prime enchantress – to assist the work,

Which then was going forward in her name!

Not favoured spots alone, but the whole Earth,

The beauty wore of promise – that which sets

(As at some moments might not be unfelt

Among the bowers of Paradise itself)

The budding rose above the rose full blown.

What temper at the prospect did not wake

To happiness unthought of? The inert

Were roused, and lively natures rapt away! . .

Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty

Did both find, helpers to their hearts’ desire,

And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish, -

Were called upon to exercise their skill,

Not in Utopia, - subterranean fields, -

Or some secreted island. Heaven knows where!

But in the very world, which is the world

Of all of us, - the place where, in the end,

We find our happiness, or not at all!