‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

Page 1

by Jayne Thomas

 

In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between the two poets at a dinner given by Edward Moxon, Tennyson and Wordsworth’s publisher, in 1845. Tennyson was anxious to express to ‘the Old Bard his sense of the obligation which all Englishmen owed to him’. Wordsworth for his part was much pleased at the meeting, recording later in a letter to a friend:

I saw Tennyson when I was in London several times. He is decidedly the first of our living poets, and I hope will live to give the world still better things. You will be pleased to hear that he expressed in the strongest terms his gratitude to my writings. To this I was far from indifferent.

Yet, Wordsworth’s pleasure at Tennyson’s gratitude here mixes with a recognition that Tennyson is ‘decidedly’ the first of our living poets, and that the tide of public opinion is moving in his favour.

Tennyson in around 1840. Portrait by Samuel Laurence and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1850 an actual transition did take place, as Tennyson succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate. On becoming Laureate, Tennyson was keen to pay Wordsworth his due respect. Pondering his first Laureate poem, ‘To the Queen’ (1851), Hallam Tennyson records his father as ‘especially thinking of a stanza in which “the empire of Wordsworth should be asserted: for he was a representative Poet Laureate, such a poet as kings should honour, and such an one as would do honour to kings”’.

 

The ‘empire of Wordsworth’ notwithstanding, Tennyson’s relationship with Wordsworth was ‘never quite comfortable’, however, as Stephen Gill observes. They were on the surface two quite different poets; Arthur Henry Hallam in his famous review of Tennyson’s 1830 Poems, Chiefly Lyrical drew a distinction between the two, describing Wordsworth as the poet of the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘reflective’, and Tennyson as the poet of sensation, who, like Keats and Shelley, ‘trembled into emotion at colours, and sounds, and movements, unperceived or unregarded by duller temperaments’. But Tennyson nevertheless retained a profound respect for Wordsworth. Hallam Tennyson notes his father as saying in 1883 that Wordsworth was “‘at his best on the whole the greatest English poet since Milton’”.

 

Respect did not inhibit Tennyson from voicing his criticisms of Wordsworth, nonetheless, particularly in relation to the earlier poet’s prosaic poetic style: Wordsworth, Tennyson claims, is “‘thick-ankled”’, his work unequal, with a ‘heaviness of style seen somewhat too often in poems, the subject of which more or less defied successful treatment’. On a short tour of Europe in 1869 Frederick Locker-Lampson remembers Tennyson as saying:

You must not think because I speak plainly of Wordsworth’s defects as a poet that I have not a very high admiration of him. I shall never forget my deep emotion the first time I had speech with him. I have a profound admiration for ‘Tintern Abbey’.

And yet, Locker-Lampson notes how ‘even in that poem [Tennyson] considered the old poet had shown a want of literary instinct’; he thought the poem, for instance, ‘too long’ and too repetitive, a poetic trait to which he himself is not averse in his own work, however. Tennyson nevertheless ‘greatly praised the famous line “Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns” – “the permanent in the transitory”’, a praise he would reiterate in 1883, calling the line “‘almost the grandest in the English language, giving the sense of the abiding in the transient’”.

 

Tennyson remained fascinated by Wordsworth’s trope of the permanent in the transitory, reworking the themes of ‘Tintern Abbey’ in poems such as ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ (1847), ‘Tithonus’ and ‘In the Valley of Cauteretz’ (1864). ‘Tithonus’ works a ‘remarkable variation on the theme’, although ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ has to work with ‘heroic strenuousness to affirm a sense of continuity between past and present’, as Seamus Perry puts it.

 

Wordsworth’s poetic influence is also clearly felt in a group of poems that were later termed the English or Domestic ‘Idylls’; these include ‘Dora’, ‘Audley Court’, ‘Walking to the Mail’ and ‘The Gardener’s Daughter Or, The Pictures’. Tennyson attempts a Wordsworthian simplicity in ‘Dora’, such as that of Wordsworth’s blank verse narrative, ‘Michael: A Pastoral Poem’, which Edward Fitzgerald read to Tennyson in 1835 on a trip to the Speddings’ house, Mirehouse, by Bassenthwaite Lake, in the Lake District. Fitzgerald quotes Tennyson, in fact, as saying that he ‘remembered the time when he could see nothing in “Michael” which he now read us in admiration’. Wordsworth for his part is rather apocryphally accredited with saying of ‘Dora’: “‘Mr Tennyson, I have been endeavouring all my life to write a pastoral like your “Dora” and have not succeeded.”’ Like Wordsworth’s ‘Michael’, ‘Dora’ is one of ‘those domestic tales’ (‘Michael’, I. l. 22), a ‘history / Homely and rude’ (‘Michael’, I. ll. 34-5).

 

Despite his criticism of Wordsworth’s prosaic poetic style Tennyson re-channels a Wordsworthian ‘ordinariness’ in his so-called Lincolnshire dialect poems, ‘Northern Farmer, Old Style’ (1864), ‘Northern Farmer, New Style’ (1869), and ‘The Northern Cobbler’ (1880). Tennyson also turns to Wordsworth’s scenes of ordinary life in the 1880 Ballads and Other Poems such as ‘Rizpah’, ‘In the Children’s Hospital’ and ‘The Village Wife’, leading to suggestions that he turns away from his own ballad experiments of the 1830s and 1840s to adapt the Wordsworthian ballad, with its emphasis on incidents and situations from common life; the title of Tennyson’s collection is itself a reminder of Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems (1800).

But there are other, subtle to connections to Wordsworth’s poetics in Tennyson’s poems, often working at the level of language and phrasing, echo and allusion. In Memoriam A.H.H., written in lament for Hallam, dead from a brain haemorrhage at twenty-two, is concerned with absence, or rather with making an absence present. The poem, an elegy, was published anonymously the year Tennyson took over the Laureateship, combining private grief with public expression, as it explores faith, God, and science in its attempt to come to terms with Hallam’s unexpected loss. Tennyson draws from Wordsworth to help find his own form of consolation in the poem, however tenuous this consolation subsequently proves to be, and therefore to make his accommodations with his faith – ‘a poor thing’, as T. S. Eliot says – and with the claims of nineteenth-century science and religion. Wordsworth helps Tennyson both to stabilise his ‘public’ voice in the poem and to develop the pastoral elements of elegy. Tennyson borrows liberally from Wordsworth’s elegies as poetic models, as poems that articulate grief and work toward consolation, weaving their language and phrasing into new configurations and connections. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst notes how ‘So many of In Memoriam’s literary echoes emerge from contexts of loss (the splintered remains of earlier elegies that rise unpredictably to the surface of Tennyson’s verse, like the debris of shipwrecks)’. Wordsworth’s elegies do not randomly rise to the surface of In Memoriam, however, and nor do they lie inert like the debris of abandoned shipwrecks; rather, Tennyson borrows from Wordsworth’s elegies to help him conceive and write the poem, weaving their language and phrasing into new configurations and connections; the poem’s trajectory toward the ‘one far-off divine event, / To which the whole creation moves’ (‘Epilogue’, ll. 143-4) is facilitated by Wordsworth in this sense.

 

Tennyson reading ‘Maud’, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1855. Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery

 

Tennyson’s 1855 Monodrama, Maud, ‘a drama in lyrics’, is also heavily indebted to Wordsworth. Tennyson is keen to emphasise that in portraying the speaker’s phases of passion, he is developing a new form – the monodrama or monologue – but in so doing he is unable to break away from away from Wordsworth, relying on his predecessor to shape and structure his poem. Tennyson’s revisionary borrowings ‘reinvent’ Wordsworth’s ‘Lucy’ poems and to some extent ‘The Preface to the Second Edition’ of Lyrical Ballads (1800). Maud grows out of ‘The Preface’, in its concern with passion, but Tennyson loosens the poem from Wordsworth’s affiliation of passion with morality, communitarianism and sympathy. The speaker’s passion in Maud leads to madness, distortion, murder, and a sense of community found in the abstract concept of war rather than in the community of men and women. But echoes of Wordsworth’s language and phrasing also create thematic and structural links in the poem – the ‘Lucy’ poems underpin the trajectory of the later monologue, confirming Maud’s literary heritage and Maud’s destiny.

Wordsworth’s influence in Tennyson extends to the latter’s dramatic monologues, ‘Ulysses’ (1833) and ‘Tithonus’ (1860), poems ostensibly designed to break away from Romantic subjectivity through the creation of a fictional speaker. In ‘Ulysses’, Tennyson seemingly strengthens the form of the monologue, revising the universal subjectivity of the Wordsworthian speaker; and yet Wordsworth’s presence in the monologue remains vital, a fact underlined by Ulysses’ own search for that which the poem has itself defined as lost – the Wordsworthian imagination itself. ‘Tithonus’ and, in part the earlier ‘Tithon’ on which it is based, rewrites ‘Tintern Abbey’, effects achieved through echoes or borrowings from ‘Tintern Abbey’ itself, but also through the assimilation of words and phrases from An Evening Walk (1793) and ‘Resolution and Independence’ (1807). The rewriting of ‘Tithon’ in 1860 in dramatic form comes after the publication of In Memoriam and Maud, both of which see Tennyson as grappling with the complexities of religion, science, psychology and nature. Through the borrowing of Wordsworth’s language in ‘Tithonus’, Tennyson is able to rewrite the relationship between mind and nature, of the self reencountering itself in time, as it appears in ‘Tintern Abbey’. As a result, the later poet seemingly releases himself from a Wordsworthian trope that privileges a psychologised relationship with nature.

Wordsworth remains a vital presence in Tennyson’s major poetry until the end of his career. ‘Crossing the Bar’ was written in October 1889 whilst Tennyson was crossing the Solent, coming, Tennyson was to recall, “‘in a moment”’. It engages with familiar Tennysonian themes – death and what comes after it, the separation that comes with death – as well as with familiar Tennysonian tropes, such as the threshold (both between life and death and between day and evening), and the ‘boundless deep’. The poem also echoes with Wordsworth’s language and phrasing; in coming quickly to Tennyson, the poem reveals an automatic and instinctive recalling of Wordsworth. The ‘tide as moving seems asleep / Too full for sound or foam’ responds to Wordsworth’s ‘Elegiac Stanzas’ (1807). Writing as if his ‘had been the Painter’s hand’ (l. 13) to ‘express what then I saw’ (l. 14) Wordsworth’s speaker says of Peele Castle: ‘A Picture had it been of lasting ease / Elysian quiet, without toil or strife; / No motion but the moving tide, a breeze, / Or merely silent Nature’s breathing life’ (ll. 25-8). Wordsworth’s ‘moving tide’ in Tennyson becomes a ‘tide as moving seems asleep’, as the barely susceptible ‘motion’ of the tide in ‘Elegiac Stanzas’ reaches stasis. Tennyson’s speaker hopes to be carried home for one last time on his sleeping tide, as the stanza itself, in its wave-like rhythm, mimics the action of the tide itself, simultaneously confirming yet undermining the speaker’s wishes.

Tennyson thus reveals himself equally as reliant on the ‘Old Bard’ in 1889 as he is in any of his earlier poems. It is through Wordsworth that Tennyson is able to anchor himself as poet, Poet Laureate and Victorian cultural icon. If, as Arnold suggests, Tennyson overtakes Wordsworth in the public imagination from 1842, then this is a transition that is supported and facilitated by Wordsworth himself.

 

 

Dr Jayne Thomas is the author of Tennyson Echoing Wordsworth (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019). She is a Postdoctoral Researcher, specialising in Romantic influences in Victorian poetry. She received her PhD from Cardiff University in 2014. Her article ‘Tennyson’s “Tithonus” and the Revision of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey’” appeared in Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate in 2017. She has also published book chapters on the Anglo-Irish author George Moore in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

Page 1

by Fred Blick

There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the philosophical and artistic legacies of the fundamentally like-minded Wordsworth and Mahler are very relevant to the twenty-first century.

Sadak in search of the waters of oblivion, by John Martin (1812)

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was an Austrian, late Romantic conductor and composer of music, born about ninety years after the births of the English literary pioneers of Romanticism, Wordsworth and Coleridge. The most powerful influences upon Mahler and his preceding composers of the 19th century were the 5th and 6th Symphonies of the early Romantic, Beethoven (both these symphonies were premiered in 1808). These works symbolised dramatically the struggles, anxieties and joys of the individual in the ‘one’ environment of Nature.

 

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

 

The phrase ‘the one Life was used by Coleridge in ‘The Eolian Harp’, a poem in his 1796 Poems On Various Subjects. The sensing of motion, light, sound and music were for him key factors of that ‘one Life’. Coleridge wrote:

O! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light, ….
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument. ( ll. 26-33)

A most striking idea in these lines is “A light in sound, a sound like power in light” which implies a bond between motion, light and sound. Wordsworth had already adopted this combination in Descriptive Sketches (1791-2) when he wrote “He views the sun uplift his golden fire, / Or sink, with heart alive like Memnon’s lyre”. He was probably recalling Erasmus Darwin’s recent note of 1791, “The statue of Memnon …. is said for many centuries to have saluted the rising sun with cheerful tones, and the setting sun with melancholy ones”. The profound influence of light can be observed in Coleridge’s ‘Shurton Bars’, his ‘This Lime Tree Bower’ as well as in Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’, ‘Rainbow’ and his ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’, and elsewhere in their works.

Recollections of early childhood’s first instinctive impressions, both joyful and fearful, were seen by both Wordsworth and Mahler as part of a continuity or infinitude, in either pantheistic pre-existence and renewal, or in birth and Resurrection. In The Prelude (ll. 604-5) Wordsworth asserted “Our destiny, our being’s heart and home, / is with infinitude and only there”. Further, both were interested in the combination of childhood, music and light. In 1806 Wordsworth wrote ‘The Power of Music’ about a street musician who is “a centre of light”, charming all who hear him (including a mother who “dandles her Babe to the sound”), but whose music is ignored by the passing and roaring traffic. More generally, in 1828 he wrote ‘On the Power of Sound’. He seems to assert there, through aspects of the myths of Orpheus, Amphion, and Pan, how the power of the mind’s response to music becomes a means to conquer time, space and death i.e. as a key to infinitude. Connecting sound with Light, he writes:

A Voice to Light gave Being; ….
The trumpet (we, intoxicate with pride,
Arm at its blast for deadly wars)
To archangelic lips applied,
The grave shall open, quench the stars.

He had shown in the preliminary Argument of this same poem his interest in and understanding of Pythagorean musical theory. It commences “Thy functions are ethereal.” and he goes on to summarise the theme of Stanza 12 as “The Pythagorean theory of numbers and music, with their supposed power over the motions of the universe.” Speaking of music’s ‘one life’, the stanza reads:

By one pervading spirit
Of tones and numbers all things are controlled, ….
With everlasting harmony (ll. 177-184, my bolding).

In ‘Tintern Abbey’ the “one life” is seen associated with harmony, joy and light:

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, / We see into the life of things. ….
…. a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. (ll. 40-50 and 97-104)

There is ample evidence that Mahler’s music was much concerned with childhood, Nature and light. His work is filled with childhood recollections, both pleasant or fearful. In a psychiatric session with Sigmund Freud the traumatised Mahler recalled that as a child he ran screaming into the house in agony to the strains of a hurdy-gurdy playing outside. He endured the deaths of eight of his own siblings, which experience, not unexpectedly, made him conscious of the deaths of children generally. This led him to compose in 1901-4 his orchestral song settings of five of Ruckert’s 1833-4 Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children). In a more cheerful vein, he recalled from childhood bugle calls and military bands from a military garrison near to his home in Iglau, as well as coach horns or post-horns, folk songs and dances in the town square.

The first movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (1887-8) is full of the sounds of Nature and of seeming bursts of light which were to persist in his later symphonic works. Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn) is a set of folk poems, two dozen of which Mahler set to music or incorporated as movements in his Symphonies No.s 2, 3, and 4. Drawing on Das Knaben Wunderhorn , Symphony No. 2 (also known as ‘The Resurrection Symphony’, 1888-94) ends with “Urlicht!”, a child’s fervent hope for the light of everlasting, transcendent renewal:

‘Urlicht!’ (Primal Light)

O little red rose,
Man lies in greatest need,
Man lies in greatest pain.
Ever would I prefer to be in heaven.
Once I came upon a wide road,
There stood an Angel who wanted to turn me away.
But no, I will not be turned away!
I came from God, and will return to God,
The loving God who will give me a little light,
To lighten my way up to eternal, blessed life!

Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Alte deutsche Lieder, Volume 1 (1806)

Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Alte deutsche Lieder, Volume 1 (1806)

This idea of the child’s view of the Light of Heaven is similar to the uplifting view in Wordsworth’s ‘Rainbow’ and the “glory” sensed by the “Child of Joy” in his ‘Immortality Ode’:

There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore: (‘Ode’, 1- 6)

The sequence of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 (1896) centres on the place of “Me”, in Nature:

‘Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In’
‘What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me’
‘What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me’
‘What Man Tells Me’
‘What the Angels Tell Me’
‘What Love Tells Me’

He originally envisioned a seventh movement, ‘Heavenly Life’ (alternatively, ‘What the Child Tells Me’), but he eventually dropped this. He used it instead in his Symphony No. 4 which, again, is much concerned with Nature and the joys and fears of childhood. The last movement in Symphony No. 4 (1899-1900), ‘The Heavenly Life’,” is another song from ‘The Boy’s Magic Horn’ – ‘Das himmlische Leben’ – a child’s vision of danger and of the eternity of Heaven in which laughing and dancing and joy (like that described in Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’) play a prominent part. Clearly, Mahler portrayed childhood’s recollections of light, joy, fear and pain in his music, just as Wordsworth had done in the Prelude and other poems.

Mahler’s ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ (‘The Song of the Earth’, 1908/9) is one of his last and greatest works. It is a song-symphony, a setting of ancient Chinese verse, which captures a vision of natural, earthly beauty and of Man’s pleasures and pains, enhanced or alleviated by the company of friends drinking together amidst music, light and water-mirrored scenes. The moving and more personal last section, ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’), is not only about parting and death but also hope, envisioned in eternal light and infinitude:

The dear earth everywhere blossoms in spring and grows green anew! Everywhere and forever blue is the horizon!
ever … ever … (the last words of “Abschied”).

The parallels between Mahler’s and Wordsworth’s Romantic themes and motivations, as set out above, are now clear. Further, both Wordsworth and Mahler were traumatised in childhood by fearful experiences and by the deaths of children and adults. The works of each were affected thereby.

One may fairly ask whether such parallels and motivations are particularly relevant to our own times. I suggest that they are for the following reasons. The factors at play in the early 1800s, the early 1900s, and in the first two decades of the 2000s, are similar in many ways. The late 1700s and the early 1800s were times of rapid change and progress in science, technology and industrialisation, which many, including Wordsworth and Coleridge, found very disturbing. Their friend Humphry Davy had been deeply involved in new, electro-chemical experiments and discoveries involving Light as the suspected motive-force of life. Davy had said “A worshipper of Nature is a worshipper of Light”. Oxygen, a product of light had, with photosynthesis, been discovered about two decades earlier.

Mahler also lived in a time of fast-developing technology. Before he died in 1911, the gramophone and the cinema had captured lifelike sounds and light. Motor vehicles trundled the roads. Aeroplanes and Zeppelins zoomed overhead. Skyscrapers pierced the sky in New York while he was conducting there. Weapons of death and destruction, such as gas, machine-guns, long-range guns and searchlights had been perfected, soon to wreak havoc in the dreadful war which was to break out in just over three years. Like Wordsworth in his own time, many of Mahler’s fellow intellectuals feared what was just around the corner.

Today, digital technology has speeded up communication and discovery in all the sciences and engineering, in previously undreamt-of ways, bringing new individual joys and conveniences, but terrible, overarching mass anxieties about global control and destruction.

In such fast-changing times individuals, and especially artists, tend to cling to and recollect the continuities of Nature, as did Wordsworth, Mahler and other Romantics.

The final scene of Death in Venice (1971)

 

In 1971 Luchino Visconti directed a film of Thomas Mann’s 1911/12 novella Death in Venice, adapting it controversially to Mahler’s music. Mann had written about the death of a writer named Aschenbach, though it is clear he had Mahler in mind. It is striking that Mann and Visconti should both end their pieces with their heroes’ tortured and dying visions of a beautiful boy, standing alone in the sea and beckoning towards the light of the sky; like an ancient statue of Memnon responding to the eternal music of light – an Adagietto of love and infinitude.

 

 

Fred Blick is an independent scholar from a multi-disciplinary background. He has published a number of essays over the past twenty years; not only ‘Wordsworth’s Dark Joke in ‘The Barberry-Tree’’ in Romanticism journal in October 2014 and ‘Flashing Flowers and Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’’ in the Wordsworth Circle Journal in 2017, but also innovative essays in peer-reviewed academic journals worldwide on the subjects of the sonnets of William Shakespeare and of Edmund Spenser.

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

The ‘Rock of Names’

Page 1

by Ian O. Brodie

Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere and that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived for a time in Keswick., This small rocky outcrop above the eastern lake shore of Thirlmere, alongside the old turnpike road, marked a not infrequent meeting place for the friends, and is marked by their initials:

W. W.

M. H.

D. W.

S. T. C.

       J. W.

S. H.

 

 

The names are, of course, William Wordsworth, Mary Hutchinson, Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Wordsworth, and Sara Hutchinson. The obvious omission is Coleridge’s wife, also named Sara.

Painting of the Rock by Harry Goodwin. Courtesy of the Trustees of Dove Cottage.

 

So how did this slab of roadside rock come into being?

It’s possible the carving took place over a period of time, starting in 1802. On May 4th 1802, Dorothy noted, ‘We parted from Coleridge at Sara’s Crag after having looked at the Letters which C. carved in the morning. I kissed them all. Wm deepened the T with C.’s penknife.’ Around the same time Coleridge himself wrote ‘Cut out my name & Dorothy’s over the S.H. at Sara’s Rock.’

In other words, the first initials to be cut were those of Sara Hutchinson and were the work of Coleridge. Sara was his unrequited love and he inscribed her initials just as people have done on trees for hundreds of years. It also explains why the group always called the crag ‘Sara’s Crag’ or ‘Sara’s Rock’ – it only started to be referred to as the Rock of Names later in the nineteenth century. The friends had already carved their names before: in April 1801 William wrote to his future wife, Mary Hutchinson, ‘You will recollect that there is a gate just across the road, directly opposite the fir grove; this gate was always a favourite station of ours; we love it far more now on Sara’s account. You know that it commands a beautiful prospect; Sara carved her cypher upon one of the bars, and we call it her gate. We will find out another place for your cypher, but you must come and fix upon the place yourself. How we long to see you, my dear Mary.’

Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a founder of the Wordsworth Society, discussed the Rock in his Literary Associations of the English Lakes of 1894. He noted how hard the volcanic rock was, and commented, “For they were all poets who wrought their initials painfully upon the hard volcanic ash, and graved upon the rock’s smooth breast ‘letters / That once seemed only to express/ Love that was love in idleness’ (the lines are a reference to Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Waggoner’).

Dorothy’s journal has several references to the Rock, and as already noted, William referred to it in his original draft of ‘The Waggoner’:

We worked until the Initials took
Shapes that defied a scornful look. –
Long as for us a genial feeling
Survives, or one in need of healing,
The power, dear Rock, around thee cast,
Thy monumental power, shall last
For Me and Mine! O thought of pain,
That would impair it or profane!
Take all in kindness then, as said
With a staid heart but playful head;
And fail not thou, loved Rock! to keep
Thy charge when we are laid asleep.

Wordsworth recognised that the initials would still remain when he had departed the earth. And they survived thus for the following half-century, protected only by the slow growth of algae, lichens and moss, which as Professor William Knight noted in his The English Lake District as interpreted in the poems of Wordsworth (1878), “secured it from observation, even from the highway.”

However, in the mid-1870s, the city of Manchester drew up plans for a new reservoir at Thirlmere, and a bill was put before parliament. There were several objections to the plan, however, notably from Wordsworth’s son, William, who argued that new reservoir would literally submerge the Rock of Names. However, Cumbrian author John Wilson argued that the carvings weren’t the work of the poets at all, but rather of an eccentric local called John Longmire, whose hobby was stonecutting.

 

Water engineer G. H. Hill’s plan for the scheme

 

There were certainly similarities between the carvings on the Rock and known examples of Longmire’s work, and one plausible theory is that Longmire augmented and deepened the original carvings, perhaps adding a more ‘professional’ Roman lettered finish.

 

Herbert Bell’s photograph of the rock and lettering c1880. Courtesy of the Armitt Library Trustees.

 

What happened to the rock when Manchester constructed Thirlmere reservoir?

The Manchester Corporation Act was passed in 1879, and the Manchester Water Works committee eventually started construction of the Thirlmere dam in 1890. By this time Canon Rawnsley and his wife were at the heart of the campaign to stop Manchester from destroying the Rock.

 

Picture of the Thirlmere dam opening ceremony with Canon Rawnsley, who said the prayers, on the extreme left hand side. Picture courtesy of United Utilities.

 

Nor were the Rawnsleys the only people involved: there had been huge public interest during the parliamentary debate about the Thirlmere scheme, and people were now aware of the Rock’s existence as they had never been before. As a result, Manchester City Council reluctantly gave permission to the Cockermouth-based Wordsworth Institute to remove the rock. As Alderman Harwood wrote, “The fragments containing the initials were preserved, and have been built into a cairn on the solid base of mountain stone, at a point above the new road diversion, in a line with the rock from which they were taken. This was carried out by persons in the neighbourhood.” The local ‘persons’ in question included the Rawnsleys. As the Canon later noted, “The cairn, carefully built, contains only the fragments of certain letters, which are all that we are able to save from the cruel blasting powder of the contractors who wished to quarry the “Rock of Names” for material to make the water-dam.”

 

The Rawnsley cairn: photo courtesy of Geoff Darrall.

The photograph confirms that only parts of the lettering to have survived intact.

 

How did the rock fragments leave Thirlmere and come to Grasmere and to be ‘reassembled’ behind the Museum?

In 1984 the cairn’s fragments were ‘spirited’ away to Grasmere. This was a combined effort by the then chairman of the Wordsworth Trust, Jonathan Wordsworth, and Lakeland hotelier Michael Berry, who funded the operation. He told the BBC in 1984 that he’d been inspired to ‘save’ the Rock by reading about it in Dorothy’s Journals. The removal took place with the agreement of the North West Water Authority, who by then owned the Thirlmere site. The fragments were restored and reassembled on a wall above the Wordsworth Trust museum.

 

What do we see today?

The question which must now be asked is how much of the Rock we see today was actually the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge? Can the panel above Dove Cottage really be the fragments blasted by dynamite by Manchester’s contractors?

The work of breaking up Rawnsley’s cairn was attended by the press and a BBC North-West film team. It shows the contractor using a crowbar and lump hammer to break up the cairn. The fragments were then taken to a stonemasons in Bowness, where the blocks containing the initials were cut into two-inch pieces, laid out in their original order and bonded into one piece. The whole face was then sand-blasted to obtain the uniform appearance we see on site in Grasmere.

Brian Johnson, Michael Berry and Dr Robert Woof at the unveiling ceremony of Sara’s Rock.

 

All that remains on the original site, just above the A591 at Thirlmere, is a plaque placed close to where the Rock of Names and the ‘cairn’ used to stand. This is at Grid Reference NY320153.

Perhaps the BBC chose a most appropriate title for their 1984 film about the restoration of the Rock: ‘A Marvellous Piece of Illogical English History’. Whatever the current shape and form of Sara’s Rock we see toda,y it seems William’s wish is being met:

And fail not thou, loved Rock! to keep
Thy charge when we are laid asleep.

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

Page 1

by Rachael Tarrant

 

A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as an object that it is forbidden to touch, let alone open. What wonder could await us in this jade box? To my surprise, and rush of pleasure, the box is opened to reveal something apparently far less grandiose: a red leather travel notebook. Its cover is not simply ‘red’: it is rather a variegated motley of hues, a base rose colour overcome with deep patches of cherry, even shades of mahogany. This patchwork of colour; the book’s rough edges; the white wrinkles creasing its folding flap and webbing across intermittent areas of the cover combine to create the impression of a well-worn, weather-beaten journal. This travel notebook, we are informed, belonged to William Wordsworth. It contains fragments of verse written between 1797 and 1800.

 

Its cover immediately evokes outside space, just as the nature of the object’s materiality as a travel journal implies that the ideas and thoughts recorded within it have been inspired by the outside world. Having studied William’s poetry for several years now, I am well-versed in his great love of nature; I was thus struck by the idea of William wandering outside with this notebook by his side, ready to jot down poetic musings. Indeed, Rebecca Solnit asserts that “walking was [Wordsworth’s] means of composition. Most of his poems seem to have been composed while he walked and spoke aloud, to a companion or to himself” (Solnit, p 113). The outside form of the travel notebook seems to testify to the common conception of William, and, more generally, of the Romantic Poet, as the dreaming, solitary male musing in nature. Moreover, by considering this object in tandem with Solnit’s work, and Robin Jarvis’s 1997 study of the rise of pedestrianism in the Romantic period, one can understand William’s walking as part of a larger, radical move to explore the environment on foot.

Jarvis explains that walking had been traditionally associated with poverty, unrespectability and possible criminal intent. Though attitudes were to change during the first few decades of the nineteenth century, the increasing number of people choosing to travel on foot across the 1780s-90s were met with considerable prejudice. Jarvis thus sees an element of ‘deliberate social non-conformism, of oppositionality’, and a desire to pave one’s ‘own ideological space’ in the actions of late 18th century walkers. Elsewhere I have argued for William’s active rebellion against the forces of modernisation dominant in his society, seeing The Excursion, in particular, as William’s poetic endeavour to offer an alternative social vision. William thus seems to fit in with Jarvis’s model extremely well, and it is intriguing to consider walking as an intrinsic part of William’s method of conceptualising. My previous reflection on the “slow, ponderous pace of Wordsworth’s The Excursion” (Tarrant, p 5) takes on new meaning upon reading Solnit’s claim that William’s “steps seem to have beat out a steady rhythm for the poetry, like the metronome of a composer” (Solnit, p 114). Comforted by the rhythm of his feet through environmental space, William apparently felt best able to access his ‘own ideological space’ and compose unique poetry.

 

As a fellow student tentatively turns the leaves of the travel notebook, however, this idea of William as a solitary figure musing in nature is at once complicated. Within its scarlet cover lies the penmanship of many hands. Curator Jeff Cowton explains that the first hand is Dorothy Wordsworth’s, inking a fair copy of Samuel Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’. After several pages, and only part ways through ‘Christabel’, Dorothy’s handwriting stops. Abruptly, we are greeted with scribbled drafts and fragments penned by William. Jeff alerts us to the pin holes piercing these pages, indicating that this section was once stitched up. Following on from this, Mary Wordsworth’s hand resumes the work of inking ‘Christabel’. The inside of the travel book thus represents a meeting place for many voices. The space it evokes becomes one of domesticity, of talking and collaboration. The individual voices ring out in tangible, discernible styles, seen in the varying shapes and slants of the different handwriting and the blots of ink embodying different pressure and grasps. One page catches my eye in particular. An otherwise ordinary page with lines of neatly written poetry beginning half way down it; the page is made notable by a mesh of wild lines scribbled in circular motion, its focused web subsuming a third of the page, with looser, thinner lines sprawling off the edges. Jeff suggests this is the work of the Wordsworth children, gleefully drawing on the left-out notebook. In my mind the picture shifts; William’s solitary musings are rejoined with a chorus of other voices. The voices of his loved ones aid and inspire his creativity: he carries these voices with him as he wanders, composing drafts afoot, and he returns to them to “write the result down later” (Solnit p 113).

 

As a signifier of collaborative space, the inside of the travel notebook upsets the dominant conception of William as a solitary, self-obsessed figure. As Solnit quotes, William’s contemporaries recognised his focus on the self, with essayist William Hazlitt claiming “he sees nothing but himself and the universe”. Solnit echoes this view, over 150 years on, remarking that William’s “seems a remarkably impersonal life, since he remains reticent on his personal relationships” (p 106). Yet, this faded crimson notebook seems to testify to the importance of personal relationships to William, connecting him to a culture of community, sociability and collaboration. The incorporation of Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ within William’s notebook further contributes to this conception of the importance of collaboration to William’s creative process. It seems likely that William flicked over Coleridge’s lines whilst musing upon his own. Coleridge’s verse hugs William’s ‘work towards’ famous titles like ‘The Prelude’ and ‘The Ruined Cottage’; I wonder: what might be gained from reading these poems in dialogue with ‘Christabel’ – in replica of their first formation? The placement of William’s drafts, encircled by Coleridge’s completed text, tangibly evokes the idea that poetry has no finite end, even when published. Coleridge’s verse, enmeshed in this space of literary creation, becomes part of the creative process once again. It sparks ideas in another creator’s mind, illustrating that spaces are never singularly marked off, but are always overlapping.

 

This object appeals to me in a way that even the unanimously revered first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads did not. Seeing and handling this object is so unlike the way I typically encounter Romantic period texts. Whether this is through an anthology or a website online, I normally blindly accept the text’s materiality, anaesthetised through repeated encounters with an authoritative presentation – standardized fonts; exact, uniform line spaces; each pristine word confidently declaring its aptitude to stand in the final, publicised version of that text. In contrast, the material presence of Wordsworth’s travel notebook is impossible to ignore. The human, living body, with its actively processing mind, positively leaps off every page. It is a place of testing and mistakes: countless words are scored out with varying degrees of vigour and thickness of line, replaced with better phrases which squeeze in between the lines above and below. It is a place for Dorothy Wordsworth to test her pen, writing ‘amen’ five times horizontally across a particularly intriguing page.

 

Far from making this page unusable, William’s handwriting accompanies Dorothy’s: his poetic attempts fill the page, writing right up to, and around, Dorothy’s testing. Leafing through the notebook, we also see that several pages have been cut out with a knife, perhaps to be transferred elsewhere. These details contribute to the look and feel of the object as a kind of hodgepodge or patchwork, a place of creativity in action. It offers a rare glimpse into those half-formed first thoughts and inner musings that lie behind the finalised versions of William’s poems. To see William’s drafts is to glimpse at the person behind the idolised figure – a man drawn, perhaps, to the colour red, surrounded and inspired by family, friends and his partner.

The relaxed, even rough, treatment of the travel notebook by the Wordsworths strikes a dramatic, almost amusing, contrast with our student group’s gentle, careful handling of the same. This item, having withstood violent scribbles and even the sharp blade of a knife, is now gingerly cradled by hands that apply the lightest touch to turning its pages. The passing of 200 years, and the reputation of its owners, has ensured the notebook’s status as an object of preservation. Quick musings and jotted-down thoughts become treasured inscriptions on a sacred text. I find myself wondering what William would think of this – of a group of students pouring over and dissecting his mistakes and drafts. It feels like an invasion of private space; this was not a text designed in mind for the public eye. Yet, it is for this very reason that the notebook has made such an impression on me – it evokes the human and imperfect, the work-in-progress rather than the finished product. It is, in fact, somewhat reassuring to see the author of so many magnificent works struggle at times to find the exact words he requires. It has been an encouraging thought whilst composing this paper: to imagine myself sharing in that experimental space of the red leather notebook.

 

Bibliography
Cowton, Jeff and Simon Bainbridge. 28 August 2015. ‘Why did William Wordsworth cut pages out of his notebooks?’

Garvis, Robin. 1997. Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel (Great Britain: Macmillan)

Solnit, Rebecca. 2001. Wanderlust: A History of Walking (London: Verso)

Tarrant, Rachael. 2o19. ‘The Impulse to Intervene: Tempering Accelerated Modernisation in Anna Laetitia Barbauld and William Wordsworth’, (unpublished postgraduate essay for the University of Glasgow), pp. 1-11

 

Rachael Tarrant holds a first-class honours degree in English Literature from the University of Glasgow. Rachael is currently pursuing her studies into the literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, and is especially fascinated by poetry and poetics. Compelling close-readings in particular bring her genuine joy and excitement, as does spending time with her boyfriend, friends, family and cats.

 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Chasing Coleridge

Page 1

by Mark Patterson

It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the Lakes and it’s probable that Coleridge had timed his trip to take advantage of good weather.

The route of Coleridge’s walk. Original map from Cumbria County Council

 

 

Certainly, it must have been a dry summer that year because when Coleridge reached the steep top of Newlands Pass, a mile or so above Buttermere, he found that the flow of water in Moss Force waterfall was much reduced. Perhaps pausing just briefly here, Coleridge descended to Buttermere, his half-way mark for the day, had a cup of tea at the Fish Inn, read most of Revelations, and then began the long ascent to the day’s second pass, Floutern Cop, which eventually brought him out over Ennerdale Water. As the light failed he kept walking a few more miles to reach his bed for the night, at the home of a friend-of-a-friend just beyond the village of Ennerdale Bridge.

 

Ascending to Newlands Pass and Moss Force

I’m describing Coleridge’s movements on this first day in some detail because when I set out to shadow his movements in August 2018 I soon found that I couldn’t match his distance without discomfort. In fact, having plodded up to Newlands Pass with a heavy rucksack on a hot shadeless day, and then down the other side to Buttermere, packed out with holiday-makers, I was happy to call a halt for the day by mid-afternoon. Ennerdale, Scale Force, Floutern Tarn and the magnificent wild glacial landscape leading up to Floutern Cop could wait until the next day.

Where Coleridge had walked 15 miles in a long day, I did eight and took the rest of the day off, bed secured at the youth hostel. Over the next week or so a few of my other daily walking distances also fell short of the Coleridgean ideal. Where Coleridge walked the last 16-mile stretch from Ambleside to Keswick in a day, pausing at Dove Cottage to make a meal, I stopped at Grasmere for the night and did the final 12 the next day. Was I ashamed of myself? A little. But, in truth, I wasn’t strictly seeking to replicate, step-by-step, Coleridge’s journey. That, after all, had already been done by the late Keswick rock climber and journalist Alan Hankinson, whose book Coleridge Walks the Fells (Ellenbank Press, 1991) recounts his attempt to follow the poet’s exact route, see what he saw and stay where he stayed. I was on a different mission, which was to gain a measure of insight into how Coleridge, and his circle, managed to regularly walk long distances with so little preparation or apparent discomfort. In essence, the subject of the walk, and my related research, can be summed up as, How did the Romantics Walk So Far with So Little? Their walking clothes, their food, their accommodation, the state of the roads and trails – this is what interests me.

As an inveterate long distance walker I find it impossible not to admire Coleridge. He may have been a poor husband and a frequently absent father, but he was in his element on the trail – intensely observant, curious, daring and blessed with tremendous physical stamina. Sixteen miles was his longest daily distance in the 1802 Lakes tour but he could do around twice that distance. In Scotland later that year he achieved an average of 30 miles a day (268 miles in nine days, at one point walking barefoot after accidentally burning his shoes at a fire). Earlier in the West Country he walked 90 miles in two days. Walking long distances over rough terrain in the dark held no terror for him. Nor did rock climbing, as we know from his celebrated descent of Broadstand on Scafell and frequent ascents of waterfalls. And that he was confident in his own speed and route-finding is shown by the fact that he often didn’t set out until after lunch. On at least two occasions on the nine-day tour of the Lakes, at Keswick and Eskdale, he wasn’t out of the door until after midday. Faced with a long day’s walk that might end in the dark, most of us try to set off after an early breakfast.

 

But Coleridge, while exceptional in so many ways (the most exceptional man of his generation, according to his publisher Joseph Cottle), was also typical of his circle and generation in the sense that these were people for whom walking was a daily necessity – and, increasingly, a sensual pleasure. William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s weekly trips to the post office in Ambleside were typical of their utilitarian journeys from Grasmere. Where many people in the western world today balk at the idea of walking a mile to anywhere, they regularly made six-mile round trips to collect their mail. On one occasion Dorothy mistakenly got to Ambleside in the morning, forgetting that the mail arrived in the evening, so walked back to Grasmere and returned to Ambleside at night. That was 12 miles just to get their mail. Of course, they walked because they had to; at that stage, living at Dove Cottage, they rarely hired a carriage. But what sets the Romantic generation off from previous ones was their delight in walking for its own sake, and their written articulation of that delight. Dorothy, no slacker herself when it came to distance walking, walked at every opportunity. That is abundantly evident in her Grasmere Journal and also the lesser-known journals of trips in Scotland and Europe. “I, being never at home, but where I can ramble on foot…” she wrote in her account of a tour of Switzerland in 1821.

 

But chief of the walkers among the ‘Wordsworth circle’ was Coleridge. How did he do it? Well, he travelled light – very light. Setting off from Greta Hall in 1802 he carried the shank of a besom broom for a walking stick, and a knapsack containing a spare shirt, cravat, two pairs of stockings, a book, paper and pens, tea and sugar, a night cap and an oilskin of some kind. So, with the shirt he was wearing, he had only two shirts for a journey of around 100 miles. He ate in inns but took no extra food or any cooking equipment.

His map, such as it could be called, and sketched on a single page in his journal, was really an illustrated aide memoire to the places he’d already visited or planned to visit on the coming tour. It wasn’t the kind of map that would help him get unlost with the aid of a compass. But then, he took no compass anyway. Yet Coleridge lost his way only once, on the way from Ulpha to Broughton Mills, and a local man soon put him on the right path.

 

There is a suggestion that he asked Wasdale shepherds for advice about the route up to Scafell but at no stage did he hire a mountain guide, which was a normal practice for gentlemen venturing into high places in those days. It wasn’t as if Coleridge didn’t have experience of using guides as he and Joseph Hucks hired two during their walking tour of Wales in 1794. It was the first guide, a lad of 17, who persuaded them not to indulge their mad idea of climbing Snowdon at 11pm. Eight years later, in the Lakes, Coleridge was still counting his pennies and not hiring guides may have been down to the need to economise.

 

All told, with just a coat and two shirts, lacking shelter, portable food or drink or the means to make fire, Coleridge appears to have been dangerously under-equipped for a nine day walk around the Lake District – judged by today’s safety-first standards, that is.

 

In his favour, he knew people and had connections in the area to secure beds and meals. On three occasions, in Ennerdale, Eskdale and Wasdale, he stayed overnight with friends-of-friends or people he had stayed with before. On a fourth occasion, while heading home to Keswick via Clappersgate, near Ambleside, he stayed over night at Brathay Hall, home of his friend and former pupil Charles Lloyd. At other times Coleridge relied on inns along the route for his bed and meals. And we know from his journal and letters a little about what he ate and drank. Buttermere: tea. St Bees: a glass of gin and water. Bonewood, near Gosforth: a pint of beer. Nether Wasdale: a “good dish” of tea (from his own stock). Eskdale: tea and “some excellent Salmonlings” brought from Ravenglass by his host. Broughton Mills: oatcake and cheese, with a pint of ale and two glasses of rum and water sweetened with preserved gooseberries. Dove Cottage, Grasmere; freshly shelled peas with a rasher of boiled bacon.

Entrance to Charles Lloyd’s former home, Brathay Hall, now a residential centre

Clearly, he didn’t worry about alcohol affecting his navigation skills. Nor did he feel the need to take any supplies of food to sustain his high-energy daily walking regime. In the 1860s, English adventurers such as Edward Whymper, conqueror of the Matterhorn, were sustained by specialist products such as bars of Fortnum & Mason ‘portable soup’, but such things were unknown in Coleridge’s time. In his day walking food meant stuffing everyday food such as bread, cheese or pieces of pork into knapsacks and pockets, as William and John Wordsworth did on their 118-mile walk from Grasmere to Yorkshire in 1800. Yet despite Coleridge’s untiring mileage over rough terrain in the Lakes he made only one brief comment about feeling hungry. This came at the top of Skafell where he wrote a letter to Sara Hutchinson in which he said he was “hunger’d & provisionless”. That was the only confession of want on his nine-day tour.

 

Hostels and civilian campsites were also unthought of in 1802, although there were inns, of varying standards. In Wales, Coleridge and Hucks encountered bad food, damp sheets and one place that was so stuffy they broke the windows to let air in. In the Lakes the worst place Coleridge admitted to was a “miserable Pot-house” in St Bees, where he slept in his clothes. Yet Coleridge’s willingness to ‘rough it’ (he happily slept in barns on his German walking tour) was an asset at a time when he was not well off. By contrast, it is arguably more difficult to rough it in the countryside today because security concerns and a general fear of strangers means that travellers are corralled into campsites, hostels and hotels. Who today dares ask a farmer for permission to sleep in his or her barn? Interestingly, Coleridge usually didn’t know where he was going to stay each night, trusting, just like many young backpackers do, that he would always find a bed somewhere. Alan Hankinson tried the same approach and got away with it, but only once managed to sleep under the same roof as Coleridge, at the Black Bull in Coniston. Hankinson, while not carrying a tent, food or cooking gear, still carried more weight than Coleridge. I, loaded down with tent, food, stove and gas in preparation for hostels and camping, carried more than Hankinson, which is why it was difficult to match Coleridge’s distances.

The Black Bull, Coniston

 

In a letter Coleridge once described his gait and walking style as “awkward” and as “indolence capable of energies” but, in contrast to my plodding with a heavy pack, Coleridge must have virtually flown across the fells. Of course, it is not possible now to talk of Coleridge without some acknowledgement of how his thoughts and actions may have been affected by opium addiction. The poet was a ‘user’ by 1802 and would be for many years afterwards. Did opium use suppress his hunger while he was walking? Yet if he was a user on this long walk he made no mention of it in his notes or letters – and he was no stranger to confessing his addiction to those close to him. Walking, it is true, does not magically rid one of drug or alcohol addiction. But it may be that the exuberance of sustained physical effort allowed Coleridge to keep his addiction at bay, even if for just for nine days.

 

Here then was Coleridge the ideal long-distance walker, a man capable of long daily distances with easy accommodation needs. On top of this, Lakeland residents and visitors must surely be amazed by Coleridge’s apparent immunity to bad weather. Yet only once did he actually experience rain and that was on the descent from Skafell to Eskdale when a thunderstorm caused him to seek shelter in the lee of a large rock near the river Esk. One brief rainstorm in nine days? He was fortunate. In August 1989 a heatwave broke on the very day that Alan Hankinson began his walk. He was soaked from head to foot by the time he reached Buttermere. The 2018 heatwave broke two days into my walk and good weather didn’t resume until the end. The intervening days were all drizzle and mist, and at Wasdale there was heavy rain driven by gale force winds.

 

Yet even had Coleridge suffered the same ‘Lakes weather’ as the rest of us there is good reason to believe he wouldn’t have packed up and gone home, and that’s because he loved the thrill and challenge of wild, bad weather. Hazlitt described how Coleridge had run bareheaded into a Quantocks thunderstorm to “enjoy the commotion of the elements”, and Coleridge later told how he walked stolidly on into a Lakeland storm for the sheer wild pleasure of it. Even drizzle had an aesthetic benefit as it “exhibits the mountains better than any”, as he told Southey in 1802.

Bad weather coming in across Wastwater in August 2018

 

One other aspect of the Lakeland landscape meant he could walk quickly and safely, and that was the quiet nature of the roads and tracks. The roads may have been narrow in his day (the single lane which runs past Dove Cottage, a remnant of the original road from Ambleside to Keswick, is a good example) but they were fit for the traffic of the day, when the fastest regular object was the mail coach. Itinerant beggars, tradespeople, horses and carts – this was the usual traffic on the Lakeland roads, as we know from Wordsworth’s poetry. Other routes trodden by Coleridge were basically as yet unpaved tracks. Contemporary prints show that the route along the side of Wastwater, for example, was still a rough track; neither was there yet a road fit for coaches along the Newlands valley to Buttermere; nor over the moors between Eskdale and Ulpha, a route which Coleridge found gloomy.

 

Across the moors to Ulpha

 

Contrast that with today’s situation, where most of Coleridge’s route is followed by busy roads and where walkers risk their lives. Even the narrow lane running along Eskdale, a route which Coleridge followed after descending from Skafell, is dangerous because of the volume of local and holiday traffic. But there is much worse for walkers than this; a large section of the road between Coniston and Hawkshead, for example, is horrible because of its blind corners and absence of pavements. And who today would willingly walk the fast road from Ambleside to Keswick? All this forces the modern walker to use caution or simply find alternative routes. If you want to follow Coleridge’s way in its purest, and safest, form you must skip the roads altogether and follow in his footsteps up from Buttermere to Floutern Tarn and over the top to Ennerdale; walk the old ‘coffin route’ from Wastwater to Burnmoor Tarn to Eskdale, not forgetting to ascend Skafell on the way; find his path from Eskdale up to Devoke Water; and tread the old narrow lane north from Ambleside which terminates outside Dove Cottage.

 

The stone boat house at Devoke Water, mentioned by Coleridge in his notes

 

The old ‘coffin road’ from Wasdale to Eskdale via Burnmoor Tarn

 

It is on these well-worn routes that Coleridge the walker can best be imagined. Poor, but with some money in his pockets, travelling light, unweighted by maps, spare food, spare this and spare that, and brought up in a tough physical culture where people walked long distances because they had to, Coleridge the exceptional writer and thinker became Coleridge the exceptional, pioneering, risk-taking, rock-climbing, ultra-lightweight, long-distance backpacker – the polar opposite of today’s cosseted, safety-conscious, expensively clad, leisure walker.

 

 

Mark Patterson is a freelance writer and journalist who has worked in newspapers, PR and marketing. He has written two books on Roman archaeology and is currently working on a series of essays and articles exploring various aspects of walking and walking culture including the influence of the Romantics.

 

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Re-imagining the Wordsworths IV: A walk with sound

Page 1

by Kate Sweeney

 

 

It is an autumn morning in Gateshead and I am walking through Saltwell Park. The sun is bright but the shadows are long. I push the buds of my headphones into my ears and contemplate the distance from the small lake to the war memorial, wondering if it is about a 3.18 minute walk – the length of the final sound file in the ‘Re-Imagining The Wordsworths’ project.

Asphalt. A dog runs in front of me then stops and looking back, smiles and wags its tail. I am not in The Lake District and I am not surrounded by peaks, but the sounds of other birds from far away gradually get louder.

Leaves. My red boots step through the first drifts that gather at the edge of the path. Sycamore, Elm.

 

Grass. The dew underfoot changes the colour of the leather. The soft sounds of violins mixed with rain recorded in other places drown out the shrieks of little children and the brooding low sounds of their parents.

Earth. Scuffed soil under a swing. I remember the blue light on the snow that evening well over a year ago. Voices recall the space and the beauty.

Look up! The clouds are thin, like paths across a distant field. The horizon fades to a bleached yellow just above the rooftops of the newly built houses peeking through the trees. I open my coat and increase my stride.

Stone. I circle around the base of the memorial. There will be paper flowers here soon. Turning back to the lake, I look down at my long shadow and wave at myself.

Silence. The 3 minutes are over. I sit down, disturbing a pigeon at the end of my bench.

 

The other sound pieces recorded as part of ‘Re-Imagining The Wordsworths’ can be found in the previous blog posts here, here and here. They were produced as part a collaboration between the Wordsworth Trust and the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership. Hannah Peircy, Jemima Short, Lucy Stone and Kate Sweeney would like to thank Michael Rossington, Sarah Rylance and Evie Hill (Newcastle University), Jeff Cowton, Lynn Shepherd, 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.

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

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

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

Page 1

by Gareth Evans
Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly an acute sense of loss on their departure.  That day, 14 May 1800, she resolved to start writing what was to become The Grasmere Journal.  The following morning she went out into the garden and hoed that season’s first row of peas, an activity that was both a distraction and a necessity.
DC garden
Away from the steeply-rising pleasure garden at Dove Cottage, Dorothy chiefly organised and tended the productive kitchen garden as part of her housekeeping tasks.  This she undertook with the help of the out-living day servants Molly, Aggy and John, who with William, helped perform heavy tasks: ‘Sauntered a good deal in the garden, bound carpets, mended old clothes.  Read Timon of Athens.  Dried linen – Molly weeded the turnips, John stuck the peas’ (19 May 1800).  Garden peas were a nutritious staple of the cottage economy they appear to be a long-time constituent of the Wordsworths’ plain diet, as was a wide range of other garden produce.
 
That first row of peas that Dorothy tended on 15 May 1800 had probably been sown from the end of March to the beginning of April, which suggests they were growing an ‘early’ variety bred to give especially quick results.  To plant each row the seeds were placed at regular intervals in a drill drawn across the ground.  Not fully above the ground in May, they were still vulnerable to competition from ramping weeds.  As Abercombie’s plain-speaking Every Man His Own Gardener (1767 onwards) advises in his entry for May, ‘There is no work in the kitchen garden that requires more attention than this; for weeds are at no time more dangerous to crops than the present.’  A week later the reward of Dorothy’s vigilance was recorded in the journal with the satisfied comment ‘all peas up’; a feat, along with the success of the whole plot, we should take too much for granted.   Peas are known for their rapid development, so soon shoots of that first row of peas at Dove Cottage would have vined, the point when the first tendrils appear.  Straggling on the ground, they would have required somebody to provide them with support, or to ‘stick’ them as Dorothy refers to it using a now obsolete term:

Stick: ‘to furnish (a plant) with a stick as a support’, (OED 3rd ed. 1972).

Stickings: ‘sticks used to support garden pea plants.’, (OED 3rd ed. 2017).

Pea sticks can be cut from such trees as hazel, beech or hornbeam, the previous winter.  The broom-like, prepared twiggy branches are placed in the ground like small leafless trees for the pea tendrils to bind to as the plant grows up into the supporting matrix.  In an alternative practice, tent-like frames were created from straight pollarded poles of hazel or birch.  As William was still making more pea sticks in June it appears he was, in fact, utilising the trees in the woods around Grasmere.  Most suitable for full-sized variety of peas, as opposed to the dwarf type, these unwieldy pea sticks could be over two metres long.  Whichever system was actually used, the pea and the support together created an intimately entwined and productive structure.
 

A man trims cuttings from a hedge on his farm in the Pennines, to re-use them as pea sticks in the garden. 1945

A man trims cuttings from a hedge on his farm in the Pennines, to re-use them as pea sticks in the garden. 1945


 
However, this is not the story of the simple cultivation of a single crop of peas.  The pea is most frequently mentioned vegetable in the Journal in 1800.  This was a consequence of the demanding horticultural procedure the Wordsworths had planned which prolonged the season of this quick growing crop.  Dorothy’s pea plot was not completely sown at once, in line with the established practice, the successive rows would have been sown at intervals to give a ‘constant supply of young peas for the table’.  The poorest cottager might be able to sow a single row of peas, or perhaps two rows in succession for an extended harvest.  The Wordsworths confidently planned at least six rows in succession, probably more.  If they had bought a pint of an established garden variety such as ‘Prussian Blue’, contemporary horticultural sources state confidently that it would have contained 1860 seeds, enough for 8 rows each 4 yards long.
John Constable, 'Golding Constable's Kitchen Garden', c. 1815, detail

John Constable, ‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’, c. 1815, detail


 
Although Dorothy’s journal starts too late in the year to record that first sowing of peas, nevertheless we can detect the rhythm of the Dove Cottage pea plot from the records of ‘sticking’.  If each reference to this essential task from 19 May to 13 June represents a complete row of peas, it would suggest that, at its height, the rows had been originally sown at the horticulturally approved interval of a fortnight.

19th May.  ‘Molly weeded the turnips, John stuck the peas’

2nd June.   ‘John Fisher stuck the peas.  Molly weeded and washed’

9th, 11th  & 13th June.  ‘In the evening I stuck peas, watered the garden & planted Brocoli [sic]’; ‘William stuck peas, after dinner he lay down – John not at home – I stuck peas alone – Molly washing.’; ‘Molly stuck peas.  I weeded a little.’

William had to make more pea sticks on 20 June so the cultivation cycle must still have been rolling on into the summer.  The first mention of a pea crop appears in an entry for Tuesday, 29 July; ‘still very hot, We gathered peas for dinner’.  After an evening walk Dorothy ‘was sick & weary’.
 
A new tempo now began as it was necessary to keep harvesting pods that were ready to pick.  By doing so the plants were stimulated into further flowering and pod production.  Each promising pod would have been carefully judged as picking too early was wasteful, but leaving the peas bulk up too much meant they were losing their tender sweetness.  From now on the consecutive rows of plants would be developing in steady sequence from seedlings to, finally, podding plants.

Pea cultivation. Dorothy Hartley's, 'Food in England'. 1954

Pea cultivation. Dorothy Hartley’s, ‘Food in England’. 1954


 
The many analogies between the organic growth and the creative process have the danger of being too glib.  Caught up in a laborious sequence of imperative tasks, the Wordsworths were probably too weary to care.  In spite of this it must be said that the figurative possibilities of the entire pea plot are too tempting to completely ignore, constructed as it is in the form of a metrical store of peas with its own tuneless prosody.  A creative idea or poem may be said to develop ‘organically’, that is as a single organism.  As we shall see there is a greater potential for structure, if not form, when they are considered collectively. When you next have an opportunity, consider a vegetable garden or allotment. As verse manipulates words and the ideas of language, the individual plots can be seen as imposing an order on the otherwise feral plants such as the unruly pea.  Both variously create something sustained, productive and, in some way, potentially nourishing.
 
Dorothy could now afford to be generous.  The day after the first peas were picked more pods were ready, this time they were to be a gift for neighbours.  Dorothy spent the following Sunday morning in the kitchen, that evening there were ‘peas for dinner’.  Considering the customary frugality of the household we might take this last statement literally.  The following Monday she ‘pulled a large basket of peas & sent to Keswick by a return chaise’.  The sugar content decreases sharply after picking, hence the need for urgency.  No doubt the Coleridges at Greta Hall relished the sweet, fresh peas which were presumably sent at some expense.
Peas
 
Bags and baskets of peas continued to be pulled over the coming weeks until, a month later, the season was turning and the longer rhythm of year was making itself felt.  It was time to let the peas that remained on the plants completely mature into viable seed.  When dried these would be stored to be the source of the follow year’s crop.  Stripped of all that was useful, the remaining unproductive plants could then be unearthed.  ‘Very cold – baking in the morning – gathered pea seeds & took up’ (22 August).
 
If the pea plot can be seen fancifully as a sort of horticultural verse form, then, as the final pods are left on the plants to mature into viable seed, we can see it as a some sort of sonnet.  In the course of the last few rows there is an abrupt change of focus and tempo from the immediacy of harvest to an anticipation of the coming year.  Certainly, insights of maturity and expectation are suitable subjects for a sonnet’s closing stanza.  William, of course, admired the sonnet form, in Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room (1807) he does refer to ‘the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground’.
 
Do gardeners feel the experience of cultivating in some way the same as being inside a tight verse form, either a creator or consumer?  I do not know.  If it is then to some degree it is in the maintenance of integrity and the creation of form and structure.
 
As far-fetched as the poetical analogy of the pea plot might be, there is one aspect that is authentic to the Wordsworths’ life and creative work, that is its embodiment and representation of order.   As with many vegetables in the kitchen garden, the cultivation of peas was an exercise in painstaking care, but in maintaining this horticultural order one was rewarded with abundance.  These gardening virtues feature by their absence in ‘The Ruined Cottage’ (The Excursion, 1814).  The humbleness of the cottager is indicated by the modest length of the rows of peas.  Her ‘peculiar pains’ have been applied to the cultivation of the carnation, a ‘fancy’ flower of the labouring classes, but also the sowing the two rows of peas, no doubt in succession.  The consequences of poverty brought on by political and economic forces are reflected in the ‘silent overgrowings’ of the neglected garden, which climaxes in the pea plot.  Here William invokes bindweed, one of the most nightmarish of garden weeds.  Described with funereal imagery, the overwhelming weight of its unimpeded growth pulls down anthropomorphically the whole structure, both the crop and its support.

              carnations, once
Prized for surpassing beauty, and no less
For the peculiar pains they had required,
Declined their languid heads, wanting support.
The cumbrous bind-weed, with its wreaths and bells,
Had twined about her two small rows of peas,
And dragged them to the earth.

 
Away from its use in imagery, the physical act of creating and maintaining the vegetable plot no doubt had its therapeutic effects on both brother and sister. The concentrated cycles of the kitchen garden are one of the most intimate everyday relationships between humanity and the plant world.  William formulated a joke on the sort of mental diversion that work in the kitchen garden can bring about, no doubt at times both necessary and welcome.

We plant cabbages … and if retirement in its full perfection be as powerful in working transformations as one of Ovid’s gods, you may perhaps suspect that into cabbages we shall be transformed. 

Wordsworth to William Matthews, Racedown Lodge, 21st March 1796.

 
Summer in the kitchen garden imposed an exacting external order on the Wordsworths, a mind-emptying physical exertion that helped support both their corporeal existence and creative lives.
 
 
Gareth Evans writes articles on the history and culture of plants and their use (garethhevans.com).   He worked in, and with, botanic gardens for 16 years, specialising in the history of plants and medicine.  Recent Highlights include: ‘Seeds of Inspiration’, Linder Memorial Lecture, Beatrix Potter Society, March 2018, and  ‘Keats’s Flight from the Vegetable Monster’, a paper at the 4th Bicentennial John Keats Conference 1817.

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

Page 1

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner and runner-up.
Sampson
 
The winning poem is by Gerald Schwartz. Fiona said: “This poem comes up fresh each time, no matter how often you reread it. It’s direct and yet mysterious, a moment in time and yet a whole lifetime of such moments. I love its intimate feel: like seeing in the dark.”
Early Photo

I’ve hung a photo of myself
At age seven in a metal frame
In the kitchen so I
Can see me in the dark
When and where I make
My pre-dawn coffee.
Then as now the same
But different, as my life
Trickles down the same
Dark and silver nerve
Of a station I don’t understand
But will always remind me
With its mystery, its living map
Long after I have lost
My mobile phone, reminding me
With that pulsar of identity
Where I am still free to go.

 
The runner-up is by Alison Carter, who was last year’s winner. Fiona said of this poem, “This very human, narrative poem leaves lots unsaid – which is just what we want from a story that lest us step into it. What’s special about this day? Is the man in the poem digging a grave for his father? Or just missing him? We don’t need to know: we can fill the poem with our own meanings.”
Digging to Australia

He learned lots of things
working the garden with Dad:
that a spadeful of soil
contains more living organisms
than there are people on the planet.

He knew the biscuit snap
of an ancient pot from a bit
of brick, that their soil
had ‘Good tilth’, the lovely word
light between tongue and teeth.

A Job shared was a job halved,
but that day he worked alone,
watched his knuckles whiten
on the warm wood of the grip,
swung onto the blade’s shoulder,

tucked his head deep into his chest
like a sleeping bird and dug.
Last night’s row worried his ears,
as he drove through surface litter,
the pale gulp of the clays below.

Once, he believed he could dig
down to Australia, but today
rasping metal strikes unbroken
rock, describing the weight
of all that is now ungovernable.

Congratulations to Gerald and Alison and thank you again to everyone who entered. We’ll be back next year!

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More

Reimagining the Wordsworths II: Poetry and Diaries

Page 1

by Hannah Piercy
 
The 5th June 2017 was not so much ‘a fine showery morning’, as Dorothy Wordsworth says of the 5th June 1802 in her diaries, but one of those days when being outside for a few minutes can get you soaked to the bone – so a typical rainy day in the Lake District, some might say! I grew up in the Lakes, not so many miles away from Dove Cottage in Grasmere, where the Wordsworths lived for almost nine years. And as a secondary school pupil, I attended Keswick School, so there was a special pleasure for me in meeting some of the current year ten students of Keswick School to workshop some creative and critical ideas about the poetry, diaries, and lives of William and Dorothy Wordsworth.
DC 4
To create a manageable plan for workshopping William and Dorothy’s work in less than five hours, we had decided on a shortlist of poems and diary entries to discuss and record with the students during the day. We ran four sessions, discussing and trying out creative exercises based upon one of William’s poems and one of Dorothy’s diary entries in each session. Some of the texts we chose, like I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, were obvious choices, but some, like The Tables Turned, perhaps seem less obvious. We chose to pair The Tables Turned with Dorothy’s diary entry for 15th April 1798 (written before the Wordsworths moved to Grasmere, when they were living in Alfoxden house, Somerset). The Tables Turned implores its addressee to ‘quit your books’ and ‘Come forth into the light of things, / Let Nature be your teacher’, while Dorothy’s diary discusses how ‘Nature was very successfully striving to make beautiful what art had deformed – ruins, hermitages etc’, and notes that ‘Happily we cannot shape the huge hills, or carve out the valleys according to our fancy.’ We wanted, then, to ask the students to think about how we perceive nature today, and to invite them to compose their own poems in response to the themes and issues raised by Dorothy and William’s writing.
 

 
 
As we read over the poems composed by the students, it was fascinating to see how many of them – the majority of the group, in fact – had fixated on the idea of more modern distractions from nature, and in particular, the role of smartphones in quite literally ‘filtering’ nature for us. While William’s poem admonishes its addressee to abandon books and ‘hear the woodland linnet’, the year ten pupils from Keswick School used their poems as a chance to reflect on the need to abandon their phones and enjoy nature in its own right. Natalie Williams’s poem, for example, expressed a poignant call for us to
 

Zoom in on a picture but know
in the real world nature has
a higher resolution than any screen.

Look up to the trees, to the branches and leaves.
Notice the veins that weave
across the surface like a thread,
unravelling like a map to the road ahead.

 
 
Some of the poems were forthright celebrations of nature and its constancy in our changing world, aligning closely with the sentiments of the Wordsworths – as Chloe Mackay wrote,

Year by year the fieldmice breed,
 
and green shoots sprout from every seed,
After all this trouble the birds still sing
Oh nature! what a marvellous thing.

field-mouse

It was fantastic to see this group of pupils enjoying and thinking carefully about their engagement with nature through the poetry and diaries of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Our hope is that that is what these soundpieces of young people reading and discussing the work of the Wordsworths, and the enjoyment of nature, will encourage, along with the Wordsworth Trust’s work on Reimagining Wordsworth more broadly. In the accompanying soundpiece to this post, you can hear the students’ voices overlaid into a chorus, with the sound of a river bubbling in the background, an apt accompaniment to a poem that celebrates the importance of nature. Young people today can still get a lot out of both poetry and nature, as illustrated by the poems these year ten students produced at the Wordsworth Trust. It is with one of these poems that I will end, written by Elspeth Leslie, and again dealing with the intersection of nature and technology:
 

Eyes fixated on a glaring screen
human turning into robots,     
surviving on wifi and phone signal,
they come alive as their
battery dies.

If you only looked up just
long enough to see the
mesmerising beauty of shimmering
lakes and the staggering
beauty of the mountains
rising, breathtakingly from
the ground.

The moment ends as the
addictive phone looms
up from the pocket and
snaps the ‘insta worthy’
shot. #beautifulview.

 You can read more about the project and hear the first instalment of the sound pieces here . Keep an eye out for part three, coming soon!
 
Thanks go to the following people, without whom this project would not have been possible: 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 Macfarlane, sound artists Conor Caldwell (Queen’s University Belfast) and Danny Diamond, and project leaders Jemima Short and Kate Sweeney.

09.07.2019

‘Echo and allusion’: Tennyson and Wordsworth

by Jayne Thomas   In his 1879 essay on Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold maintains that by the publication of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems ‘the ear and applause of the great body of poetry-readers’ turn decisively toward Tennyson and away from Wordsworth, a transition of which Wordsworth himself was perhaps aware. Aubrey de Vere records a meeting between […]

Read More
16.06.2019

Childhood, Nature, Light and Sound:
Wordsworth and Mahler

by Fred Blick There is a rewarding connection between William Wordsworth’s literary work and Gustav Mahler’s musical compositions. They were both important exponents of Romanticism. Romantic artists throughout the nineteenth century were identifiable as being concerned with the pleasures, fears and pains of individuals and their relationship with Nature. I intend to show that the […]

Read More
21.05.2019

The ‘Rock of Names’

by Ian O. Brodie Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home, Dove Cottage, we find the celebrated, perhaps even infamous, Rock of Names, also known as ‘Sara’s Rock’. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere […]

Read More
24.04.2019

John Keats and his Publishers

by Colin Silver   There is a degree of scholarly consensus around the notion that John Keats had his first book of poems – Poems 1817 – published ‘on commission’. In today’s terms we would say the book was self-published, that Keats personally paid for all of the work involved in its production and marketing. […]

Read More
30.03.2019

A wander through Wordsworth’s ‘Christabel’ notebook

by Rachael Tarrant   A jade-coloured rectangular box is laid delicately and ceremoniously on the table; hidden inside lies another treasure of the Wordsworth Trust. Our little group – enthused students of Romanticism – have already been shown a first-edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads – ‘shown’ because the book is considered so valuable as […]

Read More
05.03.2019

Chasing Coleridge

by Mark Patterson It was after 12 noon on 1st August 1802 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge closed the front door of his home, Greta Hall in Keswick, and set off to walk to Buttermere and then Ennerdale, 16 miles to the west. This was the first stage of his planned nine-day walking tour of the […]

Read More
23.02.2019

When did John Keats die?

by Ian Reynolds   The poet John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five. Most scholars and biographers record that he died at around 11 pm on Friday, February 23rd, 1821, but his gravestone records the date as February 24th. (1)  So which is true? This post will seek to find the answer, and explore how […]

Read More
09.02.2019

Setting William Blake to music

by Joseph Andrew Thompson My introduction to William Blake came through a copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, lent to me by a high-school friend. Over the course of a few weeks, I read it through and through, enchanted by its elegant simplicity. Visually, it had the magic of a book of fairy tales, […]

Read More
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