Introducing the poems

In a 2017 poll called ‘Literature in Britain today’, more people named Wordsworth as a ‘writer of literature’ than any other poet. Wordsworth poetry still speaks to us today.

New to Wordsworth?  Scroll down to read some of our favourite poems.

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This is probably my favourite extract from a Wordsworth poem. It’s one of the first that I learned by heart, and when I read it I immediately feel both calmed and energised. It’s the same feeling that I get when swimming in the middle of Grasmere lake! From an education point of view, the references to the weather and bird species give me so much to go on in terms of exploring native animals and the wonder of the Lake District landscape.
Zoë McLain, Education Development Manager at Dove Cottage since 2015 -

There was a roaring in the wind all night;
The rain came heavily and fell in floods;
But now the sun is rising calm and bright;
The birds are singing in the distant woods;
Over his own sweet voice the Stock-dove broods;
The Jay makes answer as the Magpie chatters;
And all the air is filled with pleasant noise of waters.

– 1802 –

I love this poem and use it a lot with small children. For me, it really conjures up the image of William and Dorothy sitting in their orchard next to Dove Cottage, breathing in the atmosphere and taking note of all the wonderful natural goings-on around them.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge described Dorothy Wordsworth as having an “eye watchful in minutest observation of nature”. I feel that here Wordsworth has been able to carry the essence of this appreciation for the small and touching interactions that man has with nature into his poem.

Zoë McLain, Education Development Manager at Dove Cottage since 2015 -

This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister’s flowers;
Here rest your wings when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!

– 1802 –

For me this extract of poetry summarises Wordsworth’s most important message for us in the 21st century. That of the importance of the natural world in terms of spirituality, and our need to conserve it – for ourselves and our mental and physical wellbeing, and for the other species with whom we share the planet.
Zoë McLain, Education Development Manager at Dove Cottage since 2015 -

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

– 1798 –

‘Michael’ is a Grasmere shepherd who feels for the landscape, “The pleasure which there is in life itself”. He has one son, Luke, brought up lovingly to follow in his father’s footsteps. When the family are threatened with the loss of their property, Michael decides to send Luke away to earn money to protect his inheritance. Before Luke leaves, Michael asks him to lay the first stone of a new sheepfold: a symbol of protection and permanence.Should Michael put his love for his land first? In trying to celebrate a threatened way of life, has Wordsworth sacrificed the human for the political?Maybe, and what happens next – Luke is corrupted by the city and forced “To seek a hiding-place beyond the seas” – seems like confirmation. Wordsworth’s simple yet devastating description of Michael’s broken heart sweeps away my doubts, and the description of unspoken empathy from the community even makes me re-evaluate my earlier responses. I think it is my mixed feelings that help make this a favourite poem.
Catherine Kay, Education Officer, has been welcoming school groups to Dove Cottage since 1996 -

There is a comfort in the strength of love;
Twill make a thing endurable, which else
Would overset the brain, or break the heart:
I have conversed with more than one who well
Remember the old Man, and what he was
Years after he had heard this heavy news.
His bodily frame had been from youth to age
Of an unusual strength. Among the rocks
He went, and still looked up to sun and cloud,
And listened to the wind; and, as before,
Performed all kinds of labour for his sheep,
And for the land, his small inheritance.
And to that hollow dell from time to time
Did he repair, to build the Fold of which
His flock had need. ’Tis not forgotten yet
The pity which was then in every heart
For the old Man – and ’tis believed by all
That many and many a day he thither went,
And never lifted up a single stone.

– 1800 –

One of my favourite poems was one that I loved as a child. I only lately realised it was a Wordsworth poem.

As I child I took it at face value, and learned the rhythms and the rhymes. As a teenager I began to understand the pessimism running through it. And as an adult I return to the simple message about nature and what it can teach us in these troubled times.

Bernadette Calvey, Education Development Manager at Dove Cottage since 2016 -

I heard a thousand blended notes
While in a grove I sat reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What Man has made of Man.

Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure —
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What Man has made of Man?

– 1798 –

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