Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

Page 1

by Lucy Stone

 

‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration between the Wordsworth Trust and the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership. These words open the sound piece The Daffodils, crafted by sound artists Conor Caldwell and Danny Diamond. A simple, melodic figure follows these words: it’s as if a musical shadow emerges and ‘sprightly’ dances behind the students’ readings and observations:

 

 

There are in fact a number of shadows at play here. The music itself, but also within the poem. If you listened carefully, you would have heard echoes of I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud in the prose that followed it. The prose is the journal entry Dorothy (William Wordsworth’s sister) made on 15 April 1802. But, in reality, the poem came after Dorothy’s writings. The poem was inspired and informed by Dorothy’s writings, and not the other way round. Yet it is William rather than Dorothy who has long received all the credit for the poem. The Wordsworth Trust is working to raise awareness of William’s and Dorothy’s collaborations. It is fitting that the students’ artwork made on the day of recordings for the sound pieces should show Dorothy as William’s shadow, drawing attention to her key role in his creative process:

 WT soundpiece

 

The words ‘daffodils’ and ‘Wordsworth’ have long been synonymous, but ‘daffodil’ has more recently joined with the words ‘Marie Curie’, and, in Australia ‘Cancer Council’, with each charity/organisation taking the daffodil as its logo. While I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud might be the most famous poem in the English language, I only came across it in my late teens in Australia (where I was born and raised) when I faced and thankfully overcame cancer. I wanted to know the cultural significance of the daffodil. I began researching it and soon found the poem.

 

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud became something of a Transitional Object (TO) for me. (Older) readers of the blog might remember something of Winnicott’s theory of TOs from teacher training courses in the 1960s or 1970s or his BBC broadcasts. Paediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott found that the TO, objects such as a blanket, doll or teddy bear that young children hold dear, could help children move from one state of being to another, such as from waking to sleeping by bridging children’s inner and outer realities (Playing & Reality, 1971). It is not only infants who use TOs, but also older children when faced with stress and anxiety at times such as illness.[1]

 

Moreover, it’s not just concrete objects that operate as TOs. Maria Tatar has thought about how reading can be like a TO for children, adolescents and adults: ‘Just as our hands once needed those concrete physical objects in childhood, so too do our minds seize on images and words from stories to help us make our way in the world’ (Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood 2009,). In this particular chapter of my life, it was the Wordsworths’ words which helped me. I walked by the lake in my mind, and between treatments, my father took me for walks by the sea, where, in my mind’s eye, the sea’s waves would ‘sparkl[e]’ as they would on the Cumbrian lake. In many ways, it has been words and nature that have really healed me over the years, and my love for and appreciation of literature and the great outdoors only continue to grow.

 

Robert Macfarlane’s writings really struck a chord with me, particularly his book Landmarks (2015) and his efforts to uncover, recover and discover the words of nature. Since setting out on this project, Macfarlane’s The Lost Words: A Spell Book (2017), a collaboration with illustrator Jackie Morris, has reached the hands of many children, parents/guardians and teachers and is working its intended magic to delight children in nature and save nature’s words from vanishing. Macfarlane kindly met with me in the lead up to our workshop with the Keswick School year ten’s, and his thoughts on the activities we might run were invaluable.

 

Dove Cottage runs its own fantastic programme of activities and events to foster links between the Wordsworths, their Grasmere home and its stunning surroundings, and we hope that our sound pieces might complement the museum’s programme for visitors. But we also want to encourage (young) people beyond the lakes and even across the seas to listen to the Wordsworths’ words and to take them into whatever bit of nature they might have access to, and let them ‘flutter’ and ‘danc[e] in the breeze’ as if they were daffodils.

 

[1] For a discussion on how, for example, children’s writer Catherine Storr (1913-2001) shows how older children use TOs in troubled times see Kimberley Reynold’s online article ‘“I Write to Frighten Myself”: Catherine Storr and the Development of Children’s Literature Studies in Britain’ here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10583-017-9339-1

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

Re-imagining the Wordsworths: A soundpiece

Page 1

by Jemima Short

This sound project is the product of collaboration between the Wordsworth Trust and the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership. A group of PhD Students, led by myself and Kate Sweeney of Newcastle University working alongside Lucy Stone (Newcastle University) and Hannah Piercy (Durham University), set out to create sound pieces that bring Wordsworth’s poetry to life whilst also highlighting the equally important work of his sister Dorothy. Students from Keswick School participated in the recording of the texts, which were then edited and mixed by two sound artists, Danny Diamond and Conor Caldwell. Danny and Conor also added their own sound work and instrumentation, mostly improvised, to create the beautiful pieces presented here.

 

 

‘Find somewhere secluded and just listen to the birds. … People don’t really appreciate nature anymore and they just sort of take for granted that it’ll always be there … I often go on hikes and things on my own and I think you need to appreciate time like that.’

This quote from a year 10 student at Keswick School can be heard in the first instalment of our four-part sound piece Re-imagining the Wordsworths. This is one of the key ideas behind this project: through reflections on the beauty of nature and the local area around Grasmere, we are encouraged to step away from our distractions to appreciate the wonder of the world around us. The four sound pieces present the writings of William and Dorothy Wordsworth performed by students from Keswick School, and whose discussions are interspersed with the texts.  Accompanying music and sounds from artists Danny Diamond and Conor Caldwell set the mood of each piece.

The first of our four sound pieces uses extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal. It is fitting that a reimagining of Wordsworth should start with words written by his sister, whose own work was so important for William’s creative process. Their relationship was one of collaboration, and Dorothy spent hours transcribing her brother’s texts. In this piece, we hear Dorothy’s beautiful descriptions of the area around Grasmere and the emotions she felt as she moved through the landscape. Her appreciation of the nature around her all those years ago is interspersed with Keswick School students talking about the area they call home. The readings are accompanied by a structured and rhythmic musical background. Layered pizzicato in the opening of this piece adds shape and momentum, mirroring the lightness of the fine showers Dorothy describes. There is a sense of movement to the sounds as we follow Dorothy through the landscapes at the centre of much of the Wordsworths’ writing.

Saturday 5th June 1802

‘A fine showery morning. I made both pies & bread, but we first walked into Easedale, & sate under the oak trees upon the mossy stones. There were one or 2 slight showers. The Gowans were flourishing along the Banks of the stream. The strawberry flower hanging over the Brooke – all things soft & green.-In the afternoon William sate in the orchard. I went there, was tired & fell asleep. William began a letter to John Wilson.’

Dorothy journal

Friday morning 16th May 1800           

‘Warm and mild after a fine night of rain. The woods extremely beautiful with all autumnal variety & softness – I carried a basket for mosses, & gathered some wild plants – Oh! that we had a book of botany – all flowers now are gay & deliciously sweet. The primrose till prominent The later flowers and the shiny foxgloves, very tall, with their heads budding. I was much amused with the business of a pair of stone chats. Their restless voices as they skimmed along the water following each other their shadows under them, & their returning back to the stones on the shore, chirping with the same unwearied voice. Could not cross the water so I went round by the stepping stones. Ryedale was very beautiful with spear-shaped streaks of polished steel. Grasmere very solemn in the last glimpse of twilight it calls home the heart to quietness. I had been very melancholy in my walk back. I had many of my saddest thoughts & I could not keep the tears within me. But when I came to Grasmere I felt that it did me good. I finished my letter to MH.’

Look out for part two, coming soon!
 

Our thanks go to the following people, without whom this project would not have been possible: Hannah Piercy (Durham University), Lucy Stone, Michael Rossington, Sarah Rylance and Evie Hill (Newcastle University), Jeff Cowton, Bernadette Calvey, Melissa Mitchell, and Susan Allen (Wordsworth Trust), Tracey Messenger, Helen Robinson, and the Students of Keswick School, Deirdre Wildy (Queen’s University Belfast), Robert Mcfarlane, and sound artists Conor Caldwell (Queen’s University Belfast) and Danny Diamond.

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

Finding Mary Wordsworth's voice

Page 1

by Erica Pratt
 
A tour of Dove Cottage always starts in the ‘Houseplace’. Guests enter, blinking against the darkness, and are invited to take a seat by the glowing fire or read extracts from Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal. The Houseplace is a warm, homely place and it isn’t hard to imagine food cooking on the fire, a dining table, children playing, and women reading or sewing on the window seat. In the next room, a silhouette of Dorothy Wordsworth and a painting of Mary Wordsworth hang over a simple washstand.
 
Houseplace
 
In a tour, it can be easy to over-emphasise Dorothy and briefly gloss over Mary. Dorothy is the passionate one, with her dramatic stories and endearing journal entries. She adds a spark to the story of the country poet, and through the publication of her Grasmere Journal, Dorothy has been given a voice.
 
Mary’s voice, by contrast, is a little harder to access. She not known for having written any particular works of literature. She, along with Dorothy, served as William’s amanuensis, and although the work the Wordsworth women accomplished is remarkable, it was a work which expressed William’s voice and not their own.
 
When I was given the opportunity to transcribe some of Mary’s letters, I was quite excited because I really wanted to understand Mary. I wanted to hear her voice, get a sense for her role in Wordsworth’s circle, and find out who she was.
 
At the time, I had recently finished transcribing the letters of George Ticknor, an American correspondent with William Wordsworth. Many of his letters are letters of introduction, so they are focused on others, but through them it is easy to get a sense of who Ticknor was. His letters were often meticulously written with a strong, measured hand. They are full of conventional courtesies, classical allusions, and travel notes and his style gives the impression that he is well-educated, well-connected, and confident. Although I felt that I was able to paint an accurate mental picture of Ticknor and his relationship with Wordsworth, I didn’t feel quite at home.
 
Ticknor letter
 
Mary’s letters make you feel at home. Her letters are littered with terms of endearment and sweet imagery. She talks about the health of her daughter-in-law Isabella, the weather, people who have come to visit, and the latest news from those she cares about.

Silver box

A silver box containing plaited strands of William and Mary’s hair


 
She tends to focus on other people throughout her letters, but it is easy to see how important these people are to her. In a letter to her friend Mary Stanger, Mary Wordsworth writes, ‘cannot you contrive to pass a night here on your way- at any rate you must not pass by without calling. We wish much to see you.’ Many of her letters record visitors and express the wish that others will visit her. Mary’s household was a bustling one, and she seemed to enjoy the company.
A handkerchief owned by Mary Wordsworth

A handkerchief owned by Mary Wordsworth


 
Equally important to Mary were the letters which were received at Rydal Mount. In a letter, Mary notes the ‘delightful letter from Dora,’ and then delightfully passes on information regarding Dora’s health. She is a connector, and whether she is connecting Isabella, Dora, Sara Hutchinson, or Mary Stanger, Mary seems to enjoy bringing people together.
MW and WW
The cameo brooch Mary is wearing in the portait above

The cameo brooch Mary is wearing in the portait above


 
Ticknor was the type of person I could turn to for debating philosophical points. Mary Wordsworth, in contrast, was the type of person who would carry on an intelligent and deeply meaningful conversation whilst bringing you tea. Her stories are full of warmth and humour. She doesn’t put herself into the limelight –even in writing a blog post about Mary I have used a lot of roundabout methods of reaching her, but she makes herself known. She cares for others, but that doesn’t mean her voice is silenced. In fact, quite the contrary. The sheer number of letters she writes attest to her strong voice.
A letter from Mary to William

A letter from Mary to William


 
There is something about the charm of Dove Cottage. It is warm and welcoming. On a nice day, the colours on the wall dance as the sunlight streams through the window. One can imagine Wordsworth lying on his couch in ‘vacant or in pensive mood,’ or dictating to Mary or Dorothy the latest changes in his poem, or walking back and forth composing poetry outside in the garden. Either way you choose to imagine Wordsworth, it is hard to fully and correctly imagine him without the cottage and the women who made this place a home.
 
A great deal of letters in the Wordsworth Trust’s collection have been transcribed and are available to research online here.
 
Erica Pratt is a student from Brigham Young University interning at the Wordsworth Trust. She is from Salem, Utah, but has been living and Ericaworking in Grasmere for the past four months. She is majoring in English Literature with a minor in European Studies.  Erica has been working on transcribing a series of manuscript letters in the Wordsworth Trust’s collection, including those by Mary Wordsworth.

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

Women behind the words

Page 1

Melissa Mitchell, Assistant Curator at the Wordsworth Trust, talks about a new digital exhibition at Grasmere
William Wordsworth was a lucky man. In his sister Dorothy, his wife Mary, and his daughter Dora, he had an endless supply of encouragement and love. Together, they were homemakers, a support network – but perhaps more remarkably, they were an industrious force of pen and paper quite unlike any other.


‘We have transcribed all William’s smaller Poems for you, and have begun the Poem on his Life and the Pedlar, but before we send them off we mean to take another Copy for ourselves, for they are scattered about here and there in this book and in that, one Stanza on one leaf, another on another which makes the transcribing more than twice the trouble.’

So wrote Dorothy, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge from Dove Cottage in March 1804. Together with Mary, William’s wife, she was busy bringing together a mass of her brother’s works, intended to accompany Coleridge on a journey overseas. The women faithfully copied thousands of lines on hundreds of pages, pulling together the ‘scattered’ drafts into beautiful, handwritten volumes.
 
This is just one example of work that spanned a lifetime. Many years later, when Dorothy was no longer able to act as her brother’s chief amanuensis, his daughter, Dora Wordsworth, inherited the role. In a household where poetry, writing and words were everything, the women also took care of everything else. The washing, cooking, cleaning, raising children, crafting and mending, hosting, caring for and loving – together they created a home and family that worked in unison to help William succeed.

When studying the manuscript drafts of Wordsworth’s poetry today, we often see the words from his mind shaped on paper in Dorothy, Mary or Dora’s hand. It is hard not to wonder just how far their involvement extended: did they ever suggest another word, rephrasing of a line, movement of a stanza? It is also possible to consider how the home they built, the world they created and most importantly, their own personalities, emotions and actions shaped the words on the page. How might things have been different if these women were not in Wordsworth’s life? By exploring their original journals and letters, their own words will help to build a picture of what their lives were like, and how they individually and collectively created the world in which the poems were written.

A fair copy in Mary's handwriting

A fair copy in Mary’s handwriting


A fair copy in Dorothy's hand

A fair copy in Dorothy’s hand


In these manuscripts, we catch fleeting glimpses of a household at work. In Dorothy’s Grasmere journal, for example (written in the first few years at Dove Cottage), writing and the making of poetry blends seamlessly with domestic chores, with accounts of conversations, with gardening, with walks to Ambleside to collect letters. For example:

Wednesday 17th [February 1802]. A miserable clashy snowy morning. We did not walk. But the old man from the Hill brought us a short letter from Mary H. I copied the second part of Peter Bell. William pretty well.

But then, Dorothy’s journal itself contributes to the creation of poetry, with her descriptions of ‘an old man almost double’, whose trade was ‘to gather leeches’ and the daffodils that ‘tossed & reeled & danced and seemed as though they verily laughed with the wind’ by Ullswater.
Melissa
In Mary, we find another key supporter. Her contribution is perhaps more quietly represented in letters and journals, but there is no doubt that she was a constant and steadying force behind the scenes. She formally joined the household in 1802 as William’s wife, but had known William and Dorothy for many years, and was well prepared for her new life as part of this unique literary household.

Portrait of William and Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (Replica on display in Dove Cottage.)

Portrait of William and Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (Replica on display in Dove Cottage.)


With Mary, came her sister, Sara Hutchinson, who also gave her time, thoughts and energy to William’s poetry. Sara has the most beautiful hand, and her fair copies of William’s poems are a pleasure to read and study.
Sarah Hutchinson
Dora Wordsworth stepped into the role of chief amanuensis as Dorothy’s health failed, as did William’s eyesight, many years later at Rydal Mount. ‘I hold the pen for father’, she writes in a letter, October 1833. She is setting her father’s words down on paper, in this instance simply to help him write a letter, and to distinguish his voice from her own. Yet, like her mother and aunts before her, holding the pen became a central part of Dora’s life.
Dora
All of these women held the pen for William Wordsworth, but the hands that operated it belonged to individuals with their own thoughts, emotions and motivations. They are the women behind the words.
Between November 2017 and March 2018, Melissa  will be posting a series of short films exploring the manuscript letters and journals of these women, held at the Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, in Grasmere. Melissa will also show behind the scenes glimpses into daily life in the Jerwood Centre, the Wordsworth Trust’s library and archive, and the planning of the project’s exhibition, which will be open from 1 February 2018 to 18 March 2018.
Follow the story here:
https://storify.com/wordsworthtrust/women-behind-the-words

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

Join us in the Big Wordsworth Bonanza

Page 1

by Jenny Uglow
I know it’s almost three years away – or only three years away – but 7 April 2020 is the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth, and the Wordsworth Trust want to celebrate it in style. There will be conferences, parties, walks on fells, radio and television programmes readings among daffodils, on Westminster Bridge – and wherever you can think of. We’ve even got hopes of ‘Romantics’ stamps, though nothing may come of this! So this is an invitation to all Wordsworth fans, and everyone interested in the Romantics, to join in looking ahead, planning, getting together with ideas world-wide.
RIww 2
 
No one ‘owns’ a great poet, and the Wordsworth Trust (where I’m a Trustee) is far from being the only group who want to mark this anniversary. However, it seemed a good idea to post something to tell you what we’re thinking. A small team has gathered, co-ordinated by Simon Bainbridge of Lancaster University, and including the Wordsworth family, the Wordsworth Trust, the team at Rydal Mount and the National Trust, who run Wordsworth’s House in Cockermouth. In time, there will be a separate website for Wordsworth 250, which will publicise all the events. Your ideas are welcome!
RIWW
In Grasmere itself, the Wordsworth Trust has plans to enhance the site at Town End, with Dove Cottage at its heart. In a project called ‘Reimagining Wordsworth’, the Trust will re-design the Wordsworth Museum for the first time in over thirty years, refurbishing its galleries to show Wordsworth’s manuscripts in fresh and exciting ways. Visitors will ‘step back in time’, and see Dove Cottage as the Wordsworths would have known it, and new research will mean that Dove Cottage garden, which William and Dorothy loved, has the right plants for the date. Parts of the site will be opened up, so that we can enjoy the green spaces and the views, and there will be new opportunities for children to play, and for visitors to rest and look – and write. Wordsworth’s poetry will come to life for the 21st century.
RIWW 3
This is a huge venture, and it should be a joyous transformation.
The Heritage Lottery Fund has committed £4 million to the project, but to unlock this funding, the Wordsworth Trust must raise a further £1 million by March 2018. We are planning Wordsworth and poetry-themed auctions in 2018 and 2019, but our urgent need now is to meet this target. You can find out more about the project and how to support it by visiting the new Reimagining Wordsworth website.
In short – forgetting money for the moment – this is a really exciting time for all Wordsworth fans, the start of great things. Do please get involved – we would love to hear from you.
 
Jenny Uglow’s latest book is In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815. She is a Trustee of the Wordsworth Trust.Jenny Uglow
 
 

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

Discovering Mary Wordsworth through her letters

Page 1

by Nicole Jacobsen
As an intern primarily focused on the curatorial aspects of the Wordsworth Trust, I have the opportunity to work hands-on with many of the Trust’s manuscripts. During the past two months, I have been involved in a project to locate and transcribe all of Mary Wordsworth’s unpublished letters in our collection. The Jerwood Centre’s collection includes over 500 of her manuscripts, so the search has been quite a treasure hunt. I feel much better acquainted with Mary, her life, and personality after having read through and carefully copied over the writing of many of these letters.

Portrait of Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (On display in Dove Cottage.)

Portrait of Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (On display in Dove Cottage.)


In the context of writings about the Wordsworth family, Mary often seems like a secondary character, someone who happened upon the literary genius of William and the passionate perceptiveness of Dorothy and never made a name for herself outside of her husband’s fame. In reading her letters, however, it becomes quite apparent that though her ambition was not to become a well-known figure in the poetic circles of the day, she succeeded as a self-sufficient and capable woman who always kept her family as her first priority.
Mary’s letters reveal much about her concerns and preoccupations. When writing to William, a tender affection and feeling of partnership shines through her even scrawl. Because she only wrote to him while he was away, her longing and the pain of separation is a major theme of these letters. Her willingness to sacrifice for the good of others is evident when she gives William permission to extend his journey: ‘particularly if your keeping to your time is to cost much pain to others, give it up for a short while longer.’ She often writes with tenderness about her children and her concerns for them, this motherly instinct extending to the last decade of her life, when she continues to ask after her grandchildren and influence the family relationships as a whole.
In order to complete a transcription, I first have to locate the letters which haven’t been transcribed, take care while handling them, and then meticulously read over the sometimes quite minuscule handwriting. In order to save on postage, words are crammed in wherever possible, often written in different directions on the same sheet of paper. After the first few letters, I started to notice patterns in her script which helped me decipher the trickier words.
An example of one of Mary’s letters—this one was easier to read than most.

An example of one of Mary’s letters—this one was easier to read than most.


One of the hardest aspects of letter transcription is making out smudged or otherwise difficult-to-read words on the page. As a twenty-first century American student, I live in a completely different frame of reference to Mary’s world in rural England more than two hundred years ago. Context clues are essential in discovering her intended meaning, but sometimes they aren’t enough. I often search several iterations of place names before stumbling across the Lake District landmark referred to in the letters.
For certain phrases, I will confirm my supposed reading through an internet search, sometimes discovering more information that adds richness to my understanding of Mary’s writing and relationships. For example, I recently came across a phrase that I read as ‘Castle of Indolence,’ certainly a dramatic way to refer to the family home! Context clues—her reference to Rydal Mount as ‘Idle Mount,’ and a self-mocking manner that seemed to highlight her insecurities about the lack of recent productivity coming from the poet’s household—made the phrase seem pertinent, but I looked up the phrase to be sure.
A letter from Mary to John Kenyon, the first to feature the phrases ‘Idle Mount’ and ‘Castle of Indolence.’

A letter from Mary to John Kenyon, the first to feature the phrases ‘Idle Mount’ and ‘Castle of Indolence.’


It turns out that Castle of Indolence was a poem published in 1748 by the Scottish poet James Thomson. In 1802, William published a poem entitled ‘Stanzas written in my Pocket-Copy of Thomson’s Castle of Indolence,’ confirming that the James Thomson and his poem must have been household names for the Wordsworths.
An edition of Castle of Indolence contemporary to the Wordsworths.

An edition of Castle of Indolence contemporary to the Wordsworths.


Discoveries like these fill out an image of Mary as a well-read and knowledgeable woman, able to keep up with her husband’s written work and often serving as his amanuensis—a literary assistant or scribe. Though Mary certainly valued learning and education, she also recognised the importance of balance. In a letter to her grandson Johnnie, she writes, ‘All work & no play makes – You know the Proverb – Besides I fear your too close confinement to your books may tell upon your health.’  The letters reveal a lighter side of Mary than what is portrayed in any of the stern portraits of her. In contrast to the passion and strong emotions of Dorothy, her wit and tenderness set her apart and give her personality that Wordsworth biographies often don’t explore with much depth.
Portrait of William and Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (Replica on display in Dove Cottage.)

Portrait of William and Mary Wordsworth, Margaret Gillies, 1839. (Replica on display in Dove Cottage.)


I have enjoyed getting to know Mary Wordsworth as more than just William’s wife—her letters are a great resource to gain insight into her personality and individuality. It’s uncommon to be able to read intimate communications between close friends, and having access to the letters in the Wordsworth Trust collection is a valuable resource. Imagining what my own correspondence would reveal about my personality and character is a little daunting, but as I read and transcribe, I feel like Mary is allowing me a little glimpse into her mind and heart through the words on the page.
Letters on display in the Jerwood Centre

Letters on display in the Jerwood Centre


The letters that have been transcribed as part of this project are available to search and read at http://collections.wordsworth.org.uk/wtweb/home.asp?page=Letters%20search%20home and the books and letters pictured throughout the post are currently on display in the Jerwood Centre.
 
19429791_10212236809651857_7443609467718592027_nNicole Jacobsen is an intern from Brigham Young University (Utah), a native of California who is living and working in Grasmere for three months. As an intern, she works with the Trust’s main collections, as well as providing visitor services in Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Museum and the shop. She is pursuing a double major (joint honours) in English Literature and French Studies.

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

Sounds of Wordsworth

Page 1

by Steven Matthews and Paul Whitty 
Steven Matthews, poet, and Paul Whitty, composer, share some insight into their exhibition ‘Sounds of Wordsworth’, which was on display at the Wordsworth Trust throughout June 2017.

Paul Whitty and Steven Matthews

Paul Whitty and Steven Matthews


This exhibition presented work from an on-going and evolving project to ‘map’ sounds in the landscape, as they continue at the sites where we know that Wordsworth was inspired to write poems. The shapes of the hills and mountains on the skyline in the Lake District continue to be very close to those which Wordsworth saw; similarly, the environmental sounds in the places he loved bear some proximity to the sounds he heard – sounds then registered in his poetry.
20170615_094056-01

Wordsworth sounds in the exhibition


The items included in the exhibition concentrated on the sounds of the rivers and streams around Grasmere with which Wordsworth was familiar. This booklet provides some reflection by the composer Paul Whitty, upon the experience of capturing these sounds at particular Wordsworthian locations. Part of our project is for both Paul and the poet Steven Matthews to create new work from their engagement with Wordsworth, sound, and the Lake District. The booklet also contains reflection upon Steven’s sequence made in response to Wordsworth, ‘The Stepping-Stones’.
If you would like to source some of the Exhibition materials you can do so via the following links…
Two of the films referred to in Paul’s and Steven’s pieces below can be accessed:
Duddon Valley, ‘The Stepping-Stones’:

Easedale:

A free-to-access Aporee sound map has been established for the project, which includes sounds not included in the Exhibition:
http://aporee.org/maps/projects/wordsworth
This website will be updated in future, with material from other important places relating to Wordsworth and sound.
 


 
Paul Whitty
Listening to the sounds of the Wordsworth’s rural everyday
Investigating everyday or quotidian sound has been an important part of my engagement with the sounding world since I began exploring ways in which it was possible to document everyday sounds through the Sound Diaries project – a long-term collaboration with artist Felicity Ford.
As part of this project I have explored the sounds of my kitchen; the sounding life of vending machines, airport luggage carousels and escalators. More recently I have been investigating the sounds of grassroots football and a field in the parish of Netherexe in Devon.
When Steven Matthews invited me to collaborate with him on a project exploring the soundscapes of the Wordsworth’s I was immediately fascinated at the prospect. On our first visit to Grasmere I spent time in the garden of Dove Cottage trying to capture the unique sounds of that space – as you would imagine many of the sounds that I heard were of the contemporary world – tyres on asphalt, mobile phones and the vibrations of passing air traffic. However, when we re-traced Wordsworth’s steps on the short walk to Easedale Tarn and as we left the world of the internal combustion engine behind there was a palpable sense of walking into a past soundscape – of walking into the soundscape of the Wordsworth’s.
 
The wind at Easedale Tarn
Easedale Tarn

Easedale Tarn


As part of this project I have so far visited Easedale Tarn on two occasions. On the first occasion the wind was creating ripples on the surface of the Tarn and these ripples made a delicate snapping sound as they came into contact with the rocks and pebbles on the shore. I made a recording of this with a hydrophone – an underwater microphone – and an ambient microphone so that I could capture, simultaneously, the uderwater sounds of the rippling surface of the Tarn and the calls of sheep on the surrounding hillside. On our second visit it was blustery and there was a storm approaching from the North. I could hear the fronds of some of the longer grasses brushing and tapping against each other in the wind and so I attached two small contact microphones to two grass stems and recorded the sound of the wind rushing through the grass.
 
Tumultuous waters at Greenhead Gill
Greenhead Gill

Greenhead Gill


The resounding tumult of the waters at Greenhead Gill creates a palpable physical space with a clearly defined boundary – defined by the presence and absence of the white noise of the fast moving waters. Standing on the edge of that boundary the listener is still aware of the sound of traffic on the A591 in the valley below and of sheep calling to each other across the hillside but once the threshold has been crossed all sound is set in relief against the relentless white noise of the waters. Stepping closer to the water I can hear a complexity in the sound. The ear seeks out the individual sounding moments that when combined create this resounding valley of noise. The composer Gyorgy Ligeti imagined and composed a music of micropolyphony in which each instrument in the orchestra sounded an individual part thereby creating a cloud of sounding activity. As you head further up the valley the micropolyphony of the rushing water becomes ever denser and more complex. I wonder if I could stay in this place for as long as it took to index every possible sounding event caused by water on stone. I make a series of recordings – some up close to an individual sounding event and others seeking to capture the resonance of the site.
 
Lost in the Duddon Valley
The Duddon Valley will not give up its secrets easily. It seems that the path we are seeking to follow has been washed away or covered by fallen trees. I listen to the water as it is channeled between the sheer granite of a gorge. I hear the wind in the trees as we move away from the river. The forest around us deadens the sound and silence becomes palapable – the air is still – vibration has ceased. We walk again towards the river through a landscape of felled trees. We find stepping stones thrown here by a storm perhaps or a surge upstream. I listen to the sound of the riverbank as grasses become sound-making objects activated by the wind and perhaps if I put my ear close enough I can hear the sound of water being absorbed by the moss that thrives and coats the rocks above the water line.
 
To find out more you can visit:
www.sound-diaries.co.uk
www.sonicartresearch.co.uk
 
Paul Whitty is a founder member of the SARU (Sonic Art Research Unit) at Oxford Brookes University who have generously supported the production of this exhibition.


 
Steven Matthews
 

 THE STEPPING-STONES

The water is wide, I cannot get o’er

I

STEP: weight moving

            forward two

feet evenly down

left arm

            out-arced

                        right out

like a bird

wild on the wing

a mind fulcrums:

the sky, the hills, the

            rushing speaking waters

the body offering from

            itself poised piercing into

                        hollow space

II

STEP: right knee bent,

            left foot held in air

trying to reach ahead

the interspace spanned

            left to right

foot joined

the body flirts

            with motion

with shrill space

            forward backward

backward forward

            still moves

air’s kiss over

            the thrilling clamouring

III

STEP: the mechanism exposed

hammers to pluck

strings

hitting

wood

as they articulate

            these blasted

remaining forms

don’t say intervals

don’t do transitions

don’t move me through space so

            I can’t see the bottom

here forever

            no Delian diver

IV

STEP: the next interspace greater,

            the arms raised higher

the whole body from the ground

                        leaps still gliding

            until the next rock

gives itself to the forefoot

the boy toddles towards

                        the zone of stones

and takes his leave

of surety

the old man totters,

arcing his stick across

the vocal torrential space

            and onto the far bank

V

STEP: step step

            the arms smooth bows

eyes held at

            the near stones tick tack

                        toe to

the bank

clatter-roll of stone into

chalked square

            hop-as-high-

as-you-can

and bob-a-foot

and boys,

girls singing-clapping

Bye Baby Bunting

VI

STEP: as you step, pause,

            step, pause,

eyes ahead,

            arms as wings

finding your

direct way

            what you do not look to

is the future arriving

            back to you

from the other bank

waters chanting athwart,

            your future

before you set out

            from your past

REFLECTIONS ON ‘THE STEPPING-STONES’
My six 14 line poems present a set of variations on the theme of Wordsworth’s 34 poems known as the ‘River Duddon Sonnets’. In particular, they respond to Wordsworth’s two sonnets in that sequence, themselves about stepping-stones which cross that river.
Wordsworth’s two ‘stepping-stones’ poems, like the rest of his sequence, meditate upon the course of our lives, from childhood to old age. The second poem enacts a kind of courting ritual dance. We watch two lovers playing back and forth, as they offer and withdraw their hands to their partner between the stones. These two Wordsworth sonnets, in other words, think about the passage across the river as a kind of passage through lived time. We are given a sense of these events happening in a specific place, with its specific sounds and sights, in words that suggest often a mixture of the two senses. The Duddon is ‘loud’, ‘fierce’, ‘wild’ ‘dizzy’; we hear ‘utterances’, the noise of a ‘clap’.
In fact, a key aspect of the ‘River Duddon Sonnets’ is how their liveliness – the energy of the river and so of the poems – depends on sound. There are roughly 60 ‘sound words’ in the 34 poems, and part of the way Wordsworth connects the poems, beyond their repeated pentameter rhyming form, is through the recurrence of the same ‘sound word’ from poem to poem. ‘Blast’, ‘hum’ roar’, ‘chant’, ‘voice’, even ‘silence’, come back across the sequence.
My variation on the Wordsworth sonnets absorbs some of these words about the Duddon, as well as other words spurred in him by this special place. But it also responds to the fact that our contemporary sense of time is very different from his. His swirling but regular rhymed lines reflect the continuity and brevity of life. Our sense of time is more complex and precarious and vulnerable, and my poems, although they retain the ’14 line’ structure of Wordsworth’s, also include that idea of the uncertainty we now all feel in time and across our lives.
Poetry itself plays variations with time and timing. Poetry can slow the world down, accelerate it. My idea is that stepping-stones, where we feel exposed, in danger of toppling, unclear as to the strength of our foot-hold, offer a good image (as they did differently to Wordsworth), for our relation to the world. Everything is slowed, we become more aware of our movements, of the need to balance, of the physical forces in the world which both support us, but threaten to tip us over.
When writing the 6 poems, I had in mind those sequences of photos of people moving, by the nineteenth-century Anglo-American photographer Eadward Muybridge. These are photo sequences where we watch, as, from frame to frame, slight progression is mapped. In fact Muybridge has a sequence of 36 pictures showing a model ‘Jumping from stone to stone across a brook’. When writing these poems, and thinking about movement in time, I also had in mind recent science, which has altered our perception of who we are: the idea that any movement, even that of a thrown ball, always has its destination ‘in mind’. Objects, atoms, like humans, have a destination as they move, their future is already paradoxically a part of their past.
My variations on Wordsworth’s sonnets are aimed, then, to lay bare these issues, to expose the mechanisms within and behind our stepping across our lives. They also take into themselves a further aspect of Wordsworth’s poetic ideas. In Book One of his autobiographical epic, The Prelude, the poet tells how his inspiration to write is derived from the sounds of the river he heard as a young child, and how those sounds ‘loved | To blend…with my nurse’s song.’ These new poems in response to Wordsworth take up that strain, themselves blending lines from lullabies which Wordsworth’s nurse might well have sung him into their texture.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who famously told us that we could not step into the same river twice, was also famously cryptic. When Socrates was handed the work of Heraclitus he said that ‘it would take a Delian diver to get to the bottom of it’ – divers from Delos being well known for their risk-taking and underwater stamina. These new poems try to take on the enigmas we are faced with, drawing on Wordsworth’s inspiration to do so.
 
Steven Matthews is a poet, and Professor in English Literature at the University of Reading. 

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

A Fairtrade Walk: In the footsteps of Wordsworth and Clarkson

Page 1

by John Coombe 

On 15 April 2017, John Coombe (Deputy Visitor Experience Manager) took part in a special walk from Pooley Bridge to Dove Cottage, which celebrated an important Wordsworthian anniversary and the International Festival of Fairtrade Walks. Here, he explains more about the event and its importance.

There were 3 particular reasons why we were walking the 17 miles from Pooley Bridge to Grasmere on Easter Saturday:

  1. To follow in the footsteps of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, exactly 215 years ago to the day since they walked this route, from their friend Thomas Clarkson’s home at Pooley Bridge to Dove Cottage, and saw ‘a long belt’ of daffodils by the shore of Ullswater – a moment that would later inspire Wordsworth’s most famous poem.
  2. To mark 110th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, a campaign in which Thomas Clarkson was heavily involved.
  3. To open a new branch of the Fair Trade Way.

I was spending the day with the directors of the FIG Tree (the world’s first international Fair Trade Visitor Centre), fair trade supporters and some fellow Wordsworth enthusiasts.  I was particularly looking forward to walking with Bruce Crowther, who was instrumental in the creation of the fair trade town movement and the creator of the Fair Trade Way.  Bruce gave up his vetinerary practice in Garstang to champion fair trade and make Garstang the world’s first fair trade town.  It was through his passion for fair trade, and his Quaker faith, that he felt a natural connection with anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson and found the inspiration for this walk.

We assembled at 7.30am at the Heughscar Close car park in Pooley Bridge, and walked up to see Thomas Clarkson’s home at Eusemere as closely as we could as a large group. Eusemere House holds a commanding presence over Ullswater, and there is a plaque by the lakeshore with the slogan of the anti-slavery campaign ‘am I not a man and a brother’.  It was designed by another fellow anti-slavery campaigner Josiah Wedgewood and serves as subtle memorial to Clarkson’s vital work.  Bruce told us that they also used the slogan ‘am I not a woman and a sister’.

Caption: John Coombe, Bruce Crowther, Graham Hulme and Danny Callery by the memorial plaque

John Coombe, Bruce Crowther, Graham Hulme and Danny Callery by the memorial plaque

We had a group photo by the plaque and then split into several different groups, some were taking the Ullswater way and some were driving, but Bruce, Graham, Danny and myself took the road along the lakeshore so that we could take as similar a route to William and Dorothy as possible. There was a key difference to William and Dorothy’s walk and our own at this point, as we crossed the River Eamont on a temporary pontoon bridge.  The old stone bridge that William and Dorothy used was washed away by Storm Desmond in December 2015.  A stark reminder of the power of nature

As we walked we also enjoyed some birdwatching and Graham had with him a book of birds mentioned in Wordsworth’s poetry. Every so often he’d say that we’d seen a red breasted merganser, or that we’d heard a chiff chaff. We heard a black cap, saw a song thrush, a goldfinch crossed the road in front of us and before we’d even set off on the walk we heard a great spotted woodpecker. We also saw a buzzard, and when Graham looked in his book to see which poem refers to a buzzard, funnily enough it was the poem Wordsworth wrote about the Brother’s Parting Stone, which we’d see later on.

Belinda Hulme reading from Dorothy’s Journal at Gowbarrow Park

Belinda Hulme reading from Dorothy’s Journal at Gowbarrow Park

We met up with the rest of the group at Aira Force, and walked en masse to the lakeshore in Gowbarrow Park where the Wordsworths famously saw the daffodils.  Belinda, dressed up as Dorothy, read the description of the daffodils from Dorothy’s journal:

‘I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake’

I then read both versions of I wandered lonely as a cloud. I wondered if in another 200 years whether people would still be coming to this spot to read the famous lines, I fancied they would.

lunch break with a view

Lunch break with a view

We had lunch on the shore, with the sun sparkling on Ullswater, and the lambs bleating in the distance. Even though the wild daffodils were passed their best, it was still an idyllic spot.  After lunch we continued to Patterdale, along paths full of walkers, and under the shade of many trees. Patterdale was the point of no return for some people. But for the 7 or 8 of us who were doing the full 17 miles, we began our ascent to Grisedale Tarn. Dorothy and William had stopped over for the night before doing the rest of the walk but we continued on to complete the journey in one day.  The wind was strong, and the ascent was longer than I remembered, but we made good time. Half way up we found Macmillan Cancer Support selling tea and cake in a shepherd’s bothy, which was a welcome surprise. They were doing a roaring trade with the Easter Saturday traffic.

We then continued up to the spot at Grisedale Tarn known as the Brothers’ Parting Stone, named because it was here that William said goodbye to his younger brother John for the last time before he drowned at sea in 1805.  I read Elegiac Verses in Memory of my Brother, John Wordsworth.

At the tarn we turned around and looked at a tiny patch of Ullswater, way off in the distance, and we could see how far we had come. The sun was casting that late afternoon sunlight that I’ve enjoyed so much towards the end of so many walks.

Walking the final stretch in the sunshine

Walking the final stretch in the sunshine

Our descent from the tarn felt incredible, as it was the home straight, and the sun was shining down upon us. Gravity took us to the road and then the pain really hit me, the last mile to Dove Cottage was a struggle but it felt like a real achievement to arrive at Dove Cottage. We enjoyed a spread of fair trade food and drinks, had a reading of the sonnet Wordsworth wrote to Clarkson, On the final passing of the bill for the abolition of the slave trade, and reflected on our day’s activity.  We were also proud to declare the new leg of the Fair Trade Way officially open.

John Coombe newJohn Coombe is Deputy Visitor Experience Manager and has worked full time at the Wordsworth Trust since 2008.

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

The winners of the 2017 Wordsworth birthday poetry competition

Page 1

We had so many great entries for this it was really hard to come up with a shortlist, and our judge Jenny Uglow had an even tougher task coming up with a winner.  As she said, “The shortlisted poems were fascinating, technically and in their subject matter. For almost all the writers spots of time rightly meant memories rising up: of childhood, of a lost love, of youthful happiness, of a much-loved mother or grandmother,  seen in a precise time and place,, often with the surging life of springtime set against the darkness of loss. I was impressed by the fidelity to the spirit of Wordsworth, less in the occasional archaisms, than in the carefully observed details and natural imagery. It was intriguing, too, to see that several writers used their 140 words to write sonnets, again in a Wordsworthian vein.”

The winning poem is Boating by Alison Carter.
Jenny said this poem stood out because of its strong personal voice, and its clever shift of ‘spots of time’, seen unusually, from a parent’s perspective, from the observed boy to the adolescent – with a lovely sly tribute to Wordsworth in the boy in the lake. It is very vivid, both visually and aurally, and the images continue its theme of the delicacy, and the near-painful tingle of recapturing time, with the barely audible voices ‘ like midges on the water’s skin.’

Here’s the poem:

Time shifts, and here’s my eldest son,
ten years back, caught in a loop, dizzy,
trying to break the arc he perfects,
oars swimming free of rollocks,
drifting on the water like signposts
he cannot follow. And now he rows
to the centre of the lake with ease
the same little boat almost weightless,
as a light wind carries him and his girl
to a place where my sight dissolves,
where voices, barely audible, waver
like midges on the water’s skin, where
an openwork of light fastens to glitter,
till out there is nothing, and everything.

Jenny said “Runners up were very hard to choose, but the first selection is Luna Tumida by Tiffany Francis, with its Blakean child-vision of the eclipse, and the way that the near, living, ‘golden’ dog replaces the vanished sun.” Tiffany is actually one of our bloggers, so a special shout-out to her (though, for the record, Jenny did the judging without knowing the names of the poets!).

When I was seven years,
We all went to the garden
To gaze up at the sun because
The milky moon had swallowed it,
Like a whole edam set alight;
Rusted round the edges.

They gave us plastic glasses
to stop us getting eye tumours.
I put mine on the dog,
Who had a golden face
And glistening nose,
And was simply more important.

The second runner up is Bringing in the Washing by Annette Skade, “which manages to avoid sentiment through an energetically graphic scene, with the wild and the domestic beautifully balanced.”

Rain whips window
like flex,
we break mid-sentence,
head out.
At the side the washing line
takes off
in wild geese formation,
the prop
tethers and leads
the V.

You and me, snatching at
shirt flaps
grown strong against grey sea,
shape shifters
we pin by one cuff:
blue cliff,
chough’s wing,
bear hug,
creased headland,
tattered island.

We fold them fast into us,
tuck away,
the bundle swells under elbow,
rain-spotted.
And in before they’re soaked,
pile all
on the chair while we finish
our tea.
I take my leave of you – as usual,
arms full.

Jenny also wanted to give an ‘honourable mention’ to Spring Wish by Alison Brown, which she called “bold and inspiring” and “makes a carefully judged, and very moving, use of metre, rhyme scheme and sonnet form”.

Fling open jealous doors and let spring in
to sad, dark rooms asleep with winter warmth.
Slip shoes on and step out; expect the best:
warm skin, green shoots and whisperings of life.

Ignoring distant surge and thrust of road;
forgetting endless lists of jobs to do,
close eyes and feel the dappled touch of sun,
quite undeserved and randomly bestowed.

Then wonder at the fortune of your birth
that quiet mornings wait outside for you
to notice them, despite the constant rush
to text and read and speak and spend and do.

Let your indifference to the pulse of things
expire and be replaced with all that sings.

Huge congratulations to all the winners!  Alison Carter will receive a copy of Alexander Larman’s book Byron’s Women, and Tiffany and Annette will receive copies of Frances Wilson’s  Guilty Thing: The life of Thomas De Quincey,   Many thanks again to the publishers for generously offering the books as prizes.
Prizes

Thank you, also, to everyone who entered – it’s wonderful that Wordsworth’s work can inspire so much creativity today. A fitting birthday present I’m sure he’d have enjoyed.

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More

Theatre review: 'William Wordsworth', by Nicholas Pierpan

Page 1

By Katherine Robson
As a Collections Trainee at the Wordsworth Trust, my role involves answering public enquiries about our collection. Recently, I was sent some interesting questions from actress, Emma Pallant. To prepare for her role as Dorothy Wordsworth in an upcoming play about William Wordsworth, Emma wanted to know more about Dorothy’s character and how she moved around the house. I enjoyed reading Dorothy and William’s letters, Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal and secondary sources to find the answers that Emma needed.
 
I must admit, I am always a little sceptical of historical films, TV series and plays, perhaps because of my training as a historian. For me, accuracy is paramount in these productions to give the audience the best possible understanding of who a person in the past was; his/her attitudes, concerns and motivations. So you can imagine that I was pleased to receive Emma’s email. It made me hopeful that this new play would present the life of an iconic poet as accurately as historical sources allow.
 
I was not disappointed. William Wordsworth is not without dramatic license but there have been great attempts to make the play accurate. Its writer, Nicholas Pierpan, chose William Wordsworth as the subject for his PhD. His supervisor was Professor Stephen Gill, a leading Wordsworthian scholar, and former Wordsworth Trust trustee, who came to show the cast some of William’s manuscripts. A voice teacher also helped the cast to perfect their Cumbrian accents, with the help of interviews of local people.
WW Pierpan
Set in 1812, William Wordsworth follows William, played by John Sackville, and his family in a particularly challenging year of their lives. It begins with William looking pensively at the Lake District landscape. But the bubble bursts and we are transported to the Grasmere Rectory , which Wordsworth was then renting, where Dorothy runs around cleaning, tries to keep William and Mary’s children under control and pleads with William to publish some poems so that they can get a new chimney.
General 2 Pierpan
The key strength of the play is that it allows the audience to decide whether William was a great poet or more interested in upholding his literary reputation than providing for his family. I thought that my mind was made up at the beginning. William comes across as ‘holier-than-thou’ as he tries to persuade fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, played by Daniel Abelson, to return to the Lakes to care for his family.
STC - Pierpan
 
As Coleridge tells William, ‘you live wholly among devotees – having every minutest thing, almost his very eating and drinking, done for him by his sisters or his wife’. Yet the next scene is a party of London’s elite, where William defends his poems, only to be mocked by the guests. I felt sorry for him when, as he and Coleridge leave, a guest says, ‘[t]here goes one seriously demented idiot, alongside a washed-up Mr Coleridge’. I still cannot decide whether I like William!
 
I was also impressed by the attempts to give a voice to the women in William’s life, particularly Dorothy and her sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson, played by Amiera Darwish. They are portrayed as strong-minded, not subservient housekeepers. But I would like to have seen more evidence of Dorothy’s many skills aside from her domestic work, such as her talents as a writer. During the play, Dorothy says, ‘I just want a chimney, William’, but was this really the height of her ambitions?
Women - Pierpan
Pierpan strikes the right balance between poignancy and humour. In a play such as this, it would be easy to get bogged down in the tragedy that the Wordsworths faced. Indeed, there is no shortage of sadness in the play. One moment, William is blissfully playing with his son, Thomas (the role is being shared by three actors). The next, William is standing over the graves of Thomas and his sister, Catherine. Yet these scenes are interspersed with light-hearted moments.
 
I was impressed by the creative design of the play as much as the story being told. In theatres today, hi-tech equipment is used to create seamless transitions between scenes. There is none of this in William Wordsworth. Instead, beautiful string music plays in the background whilst the cast sway to and fro to put furniture and movable walls in their rightful places for the next scene. It adds to the authenticity of the play; the audience is kept within 1812, not transported back to 2017 for a couple of minutes whilst the backstage team do scene changes. The subtle shifts in lighting also effectively capture the many ups and downs in William’s life.
General - Pierpan
I was left confused about a couple of things. Firstly, the play is set in the middle of William’s life, before which many key events had occurred, such as the tragic death of his brother, John, in 1805. Yet unless the audience has a prior understanding of the famous poet, I fear that they will sometimes be confused about what they are seeing on stage. Background information about William’s earlier life at the beginning of the play could resolve this issue.
 
Secondly, where is Mary Wordsworth? The reason for her absence is not made clear to the audience. Also, only one of William’s five children appears in the play. This and Mary’s absence made it difficult for me to imagine how the Wordsworth household fitted together and how challenging it was to live in the cramped rectory. But these minor issues did not spoil my enjoyment of William Wordsworth.
 
I and fellow trainees got the chance to meet the cast after the play. It was a pleasure to talk to Emma about how she developed Dorothy’s character. Despite the stress of opening night, the cast took the time to ask about our work at the Trust and to share some behind-the-scenes secrets!
 
William Wordsworth is a beautifully-crafted play which sheds light on a lesser-known story of William’s life when he struggled to balance his poetic ambitions with his family responsibilities. It is an effective reminder that success did not come easily to many of our revered literary figures and that they were not flawless; they were only human, just like us.
 
William Wordsworth is showing at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, until Saturday 22 April 2017.
Wordsworth play banner
Katherine Robson is a Collections Trainee at the Wordsworth Trust. Katherine helps to record and care for the Trust’s collection, develop Katherine Robsonexhibitions and works with researchers. She also delivers guided tours of Dove Cottage, welcomes visitors to the Wordsworth Museum and sells tickets and merchandise in the Trust’s shop. Her traineeship is funded by Arts Council England.
 

19.09.2018

Keats’ ‘To Autumn’: Turning a corner

by Ian Reynolds   From the exceedingly good cakes of Mr Kipling in nineteen-seventies TV commercials, to supermarket adverts in more recent times, and most often without even a passing nod to Keats, copywriters have borrowed heavily from what many consider to be the poet’s great last ode – ‘To Autumn’.     The changing […]

Read More
30.08.2018

Re-evaluating negative criticism of ‘Endymion’

by Wendy Shreve   Two hundred years ago, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, reviled John Keats’s ‘Endymion’ thus: As for Mr. Keats’s ‘Endymion’, it has just as much to do with Greece as it has with ‘old Tartary the fierce’; no man, whose mind has ever been imbued with the smallest knowledge or […]

Read More
28.07.2018

At home with the Wordsworths

by Pete May   It’s hard to enter the vale of Grasmere and not think of William Wordsworth. The village is dominated as much by the poet as by the contours of the Lakeland mountains. His old homes of Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount have long been open to the public, but they now have […]

Read More
23.07.2018

Film reviews: Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

by Michael Johnstone   A chief aim of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is established in the film’s opening shot: a young Mary Godwin sits on the ground against the gravestone of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, reading a Gothic novel. From there, we will learn that Mary looks like her mother, that William Godwin taught his […]

Read More
15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
Contact
  • Dove Cottage, Grasmere,
    Cumbria, LA22 9SH

Newsletter

Enter your e-mail below to receive updates from us: