Re-imagining the Wordsworths IV: A walk with sound

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.

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

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.
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 (   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.

Wordsworth and old age

by Fred Blick
Aging is intrinsic to Wordsworth’s poetry. He declared in 1800, in his Preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, ‘I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity’. Recollection inevitably involves aging. It follows that recollection in general, and of ‘spots of time’ in particular, were significant features of his inspiration. Recollection helped him mentally and physically to adapt to aging:

There are in existence spots of time,
Which with distinct prominence retain
A renovating virtue, (The Prelude, 1805, Book Twelfth, ll. 257-9).

During Wordsworth’s lifetime, life expectancy in England hovered around forty years, but it increased the older one survived. In 1798, when Lyrical Ballads was first published, William Wordsworth was aged twenty-eight, Samuel Coleridge twenty-six and William’s sister, Dorothy, twenty-seven, and folk in their sixties would have been considered old. Dorothy and William lost their mother Ann when she was thirty-one and when they were six and seven respectively. Their father John died aged forty-two when Dorothy was twelve and William thirteen. Coleridge’s father, a vicar with a comfortable living, died at the good old age of sixty-three, when Coleridge was eight.
In the first two editions of Lyrical Ballads some of Wordsworth’s references to the old appear to be quite objective and distant – almost cruel. This attitude is first demonstrated by his poems ‘Animal Tranquillity and Decay‘ (1798) and ‘The Old Cumberland Beggar’ (written 1798, published 1800). The former refers to an old man who in ‘Animal Tranquillity’

  … is by nature led
To peace so perfect that the young behold
With envy, what the Old Man hardly feels. (ll. 12-14).

 Likewise the ‘Beggar’ declares that the Old Beggar was ‘not … useless’ to society simply because he made his donors feel good by

 … thought
Of self congratulation, to the heart
Of each recalling his own boon, (ll.124-6).

The 1798 edition of Lyrical Ballads included the poem ‘Goody Blake and Harry Gill’, which Wordsworth wrote in the spring of 1798, shortly after borrowing Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia (1794-6). From this book he took the story of farmer Harry Gill’s mental and physical illness following his cruel ensnaring of  ‘old Goody Blake’ for pilfering sticks from his hedge to keep herself warm in the winter. Although the old lady is pitiable, the poem’s style is of skilful but dispassionate reportage, leaving the reader to decide whether or not to be sympathetic. It is as if at the age of twenty-eight to thirty, Wordsworth was observing and learning the lessons of old age, rather than associating himself closely with its travails.
The second edition of Lyrical Ballads of 1800, includes Wordsworth’s ‘Michael’ (written late 1800). This displays a more empathetic approach. Speaking in the first person, the poet associates his own love of Nature with the main character of the story, Michael, ‘An old man, stout of heart, and strong of limb:

 … having felt the power of Nature
[He] led me on to feel
For passions that were not my own, and think
(At random and imperfectly indeed)
On man, the heart of man, and human life
. (ll. 28-33).

By March 1802 Wordsworth had developed a profound awareness of his own aging. In ‘The Rainbow’, composed that month, he considers the possibility of losing the child-like sense of wonder at the sight of a rainbow ‘when I shall grow old’. Such a loss would be tantamount to dying. The prospect of the loss of the Child’s glorious vision is made all the more real in ‘Ode: Intimations of  Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’, the first four stanzas of which he wrote next day: ‘The Rainbow comes and goes … There hath past away a glory from the earth.’ From then on Wordsworth ‘eye … kept watch o’er man’s mortality’ (ll. 198-9) and he certainly became more aware of his own (and mankind’s) aging. But the poetic recollection of his ‘spots  of time ’ was a continual, renovating comfort to him, reminding him of infinity and eternity.
After writing ‘The Rainbow’ and the ‘Ode’, premature mortality was soon to impact upon William’s own life when his brother John drowned in a shipwreck in 1805. The deaths of two of his children were to follow in 1812. In 1814 Wordsworth quotes an ‘old Man’ dolefully thus,

             I see around me here
Things which you cannot see: we die, my Friend,
Nor we alone, but that which each man loved
And prized in his peculiar nook of earth
Dies with him, or is changed; and very soon
Even of the good is no memorial left. (The Excursion, Book First, The Wanderer, ll. 469-740).

There is much philosophical consideration of age and mortality in this long poem, the publication of which followed his more immediate experiences of loss mentioned above. But, as if by way of compensation, Wordsworth never forgot his belief in ‘infinity’. In The Prelude of 1805 he declares,

Our destiny, our nature, and our home
Is with infinitude, and only there (Book Sixth, ll. 538- 9).

which is echoed in what he writes in Book Thirteen.

The feeling of life endless, the one thought
By which we live, infinity and God. (ll. 183-4 ).

By the power of ‘Imagination’ (l. 525) he can see mankind’s place in eternity, as he does in ‘Tintern Abbey’:

a sense sublime
Of something far more interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round earth and the living air,
And the blue sky, and 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. 95- 102)

Wordsworth’s middle and late years were marked by further losses. Charles Lamb died in1834, Coleridge in 1834, Robert Jones, his companion in the Alps, in 1835, his sister-in -law Sara Hutchinson  the same year, Robert Southey in 1843, and his brother Christopher in 1846, and his daughter Dora in 1847, at the age of forty-three. And while Wordsworth remained in fairly good health and mentally active, there were times when Dorothy was very severely ill, both physically and mentally, though she continued to write letters and some verse until 1853. She survived William and died in 1855 at the age of eighty three. Brother and sister each had life spans of almost twice the national average that had prevailed when they were born.
Dorothy 2
Only four years before his death, Wordsworth wrote ‘I know an aged Man constrained to dwell’. The poem probably owes much to his memory of Dorothy’s love for a robin when she was very ill. She fed this intimate pet and shed tears for it when the household was given a cat (William then saw to it that cats were banned from the house). The poem tells of an old Man who lived ‘as in a Prisoner’s cell’ in an alms house, where he fed a robin. The last lines are imbued with a profound truth about the power of love and friendship in old age:

O that the good old Man had power to prove,
By message sent through air or visible token,
That still he loves the Bird, and still must love;
That friendship lasts though fellowship is broken.


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, but also innovative essays in peer-reviewed academic journals worldwide on the subjects of the Sonnets of William Shakespeare and of Edmund Spenser.

Finding Mary Wordsworth's voice

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

Silver box

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

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

A handkerchief owned by Mary Wordsworth

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

The cameo brooch Mary is wearing in the portait above

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

A letter from Mary to William

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

Wordsworth’'s poem 'The Primrose of the Rock': From Pythagoras and Pantheism to Christianity

by Fred Blick
Wordsworth’s contemplation of the primrose, as seen in ‘The Primrose of the Rock’ of 1831/5, illustrates the development of his spiritual beliefs concerning death and renewal. The poem reveals a change from a playing with the idea of continuity by Pythagorean transmigration of the soul to a conventional belief in orthodox, Christian Resurrection; from Pantheism to Christianity. The result was, as can be seen from the link below, one of the most touching of his ‘spots of time’ poems. This ‘spot’ was recorded in Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal for 24 April 1802 only a few days after she had memorialised the daffodils of Ullswater.
In a subsequent, unfinished poem, the doom-laden ‘The Tuft of Primroses’ of May-autumn 1808, Wordsworth clearly associates the primrose with illness and death, but also with relief in the thought of survival and renewal (see ll. 1- 20). Mary Wordsworth sister, Sara Hutchinson had become terribly ill in May 1808. Her illness is referred to in lines 37- 48 as ‘a Friend’ to whom ‘ … came danger with disease’. Worse, Wordsworth’s brother John had died in a shipwreck in 1805. His death is also referred to in the poem – ‘how much is gone’ (ll. 72-4), ‘Of best Friends dead or other deep heart’s loss’ (l. 74), ‘ How many mute memorials pass’d away’ (l. 77). Of the primrose itself the speaker takes some consolation in its survival,  ‘That little flower remains, and has survived’ (l. 79). Up to this period in his life Wordsworth seems to have seen continuity in the natural process of renewal and in the continuity of perceived phenomena, such as in a child’s uplifting sense of immortality as associated with the Rainbow; not primarily in a belief in Christian Resurrection. Like St. Basil in the later part of ‘The Tuft … ’ who chooses a hermit’s life, he seeks relief in solitude and then in recollection (as in ‘I wander’d lonely as a cloud’). ‘The Tuft …’ poem is an elegy for the inspired days of the ‘happy Band’ of Dove Cottage (Coleridge’s ‘Gang’ of ‘A Soliloquy of The Full The Moon’, 1802).
By the end of 1812, the anguish arising from the deaths of two of his children had produced a profound, compensatory, religious effect upon him which coincided with the family’s move from the smoky Allan Bank at Grasmere to the elevated Rydal Mount in the following year.

Rydal Mount

Rydal Mount

Wordsworth’s early vagueness about Christianity had been a source of uneasiness on the part of his friend and collaborator, Coleridge, who was an outspoken and convinced Unitarian. Coleridge wrote of Wordsworth to John Thelwall on 13 May 1796, ‘ … this man is a Republican and at least a semi-atheist’. Then he wrote to the Revd. J.P. Estlin on 18 May 1798, ‘He loves and venerates Christ & Christianity – I wish he did more’. The truth was that up to about 1808 Wordsworth was a tepid Anglican Christian who did not agree with all Christian dogma. He certainly displayed Pythagoreanism and Pantheism and found Deity in Nature as part of an interpretation of ‘the one life’. In contrast, Coleridge saw ‘the one life’ as part of Unitarian Christianity.
In his ‘Immortality Ode’, fifth stanza, Wordsworth contemplates Pythagorean transmigration:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,

However, like Coleridge’s, Wordsworth’s ‘one life’ is associated with Harmony. Both of them owed much to the Pythagorean concept of a harmonious universe based on the ‘music of the spheres’ – a harmony (in the Greek meaning of ‘a fitting together’) running through all things and constituting a finely tuned ‘One’ and, consequently, initiating ‘the one life’.
Inspired by the sound of the wind-harp wedged in a window, Coleridge wrote in his ‘The Eolian Harp’ (the 1817 version),

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
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance every where – …

Wordsworth was undoubtedly interested in the music of the spheres and in universal Pythagorean harmony. He was clearly aware of Shakespeare’s references to it in his plays and he knew, therefore, that Lorenzo was alluding to it when he addressed Jessica in the famous star-lit scene towards the end of The Merchant of Venice (Act V. scene i. 58-63). This evidenced when in The Prelude, Book First (1805, 351-55) Wordsworth writes:

The mind of Man is fram’d even like the breath
And harmony of music.
There is a dark Invisible workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, and makes them move
In one society.’

Wordsworth is speaking here of ‘the one life’ and of the macrocosm/microcosm equation which prevailed in Renaissance aesthetics and also of concordia discors, the harmony of discord, a concept derived from Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BC) and emphasised as ‘unity of opposites’, by Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535 – c. 475 BC). This is also evident in Wordsworth’s 1828 preliminary ‘Argument’ for ‘On The Power of Sound’ which commences ‘Thy functions are ethereal’. There he summarizes the theme of its Stanza 12 as ‘The Pythagorean theory of numbers and music, with their supposed power over the motions of the universe.’ The stanza reads,

By one pervading spirit
Of tones and numbers all things are controlled,
As sages taught, where faith was found to merit
Initiation in that mystery old.

The heavens, whose aspect makes our minds as still
As they themselves appear to be,
Innumerable voices fill
With everlasting harmony.  (lines 177-184).

This display of Pythagoreanism appeared long after he had committed himself more fully to Christianity; but it looks as if it was planned much earlier. He was very proud of it. In a letter to Alexander Dyce dated 23 December 1837 he held it ‘… equal to anything I have produced’.
In a much simpler but sensitive vein, Dorothy wrote in her Journal for 24 April 1802,

Saturday 24th. A very wet day. William called me out to see a waterfall behind the Barberry tree. ― We walked in the evening to Rydale ― Coleridge and I lingered behind ― C stopped up the little runner by the Road to make a lake. We all stood to look at Glowworm Rock ― a primrose that grew there & just looked out on the Road from its own sheltered bower. The clouds moved as William observed in one regular body like a multitude in motion a sky all clouds over, not one cloud. On our return it broke a little out & we saw here & there a star. One appeared but for a moment in a lake pale blue sky’.  (Journals, Woof ed., p. 91).

Glowworm Rock 1890s

Glowworm Rock 1890s

The particular occasion; a wet day; possible apprehension at the waterfall; Coleridge’s deliberate stopping of the stream’s flow on the walk as if to stop the flow of time (so that the occasion would become one of Wordsworth’s inspirational ‘spots of time’); the ‘primrose’ clinging to the solid ‘Glowworm Rock’; the ‘multitude’ of ‘clouds’ and the ‘star’ seen ‘but for a moment’ – must have been an especially memorable combination. The record of how ‘We all stood to look at Glowworm Rock ― a primrose that grew there & just looked out …’ has the flavour of a solemn ceremony, the participants intent on memorializing a special occasion. Dorothy’s words fit the scene most beautifully and poetically, but they are loaded with an appreciation of the Pantheistic, animal vitality of natural phenomena as found in Greek Myths and Ovid.
Almost thirty years after that record, in 1831, Wordsworth finished ‘The Primrose of the Rock’. Its composition had begun in 1829 when Dorothy first became seriously ill and it was published in 1835, the year after Coleridge’s death after long illness. Like ‘The Barberry-Tree’ of Spring 1802, which commences ‘Late on breezy vernal eve’ (l. 1), the poem recalls that occasion of 1802, fanned by ‘the vernal breeze’ (l. 6). In 1831. Wordsworth was aged sixty-one and he knew too well that Dorothy’s health had failed. Coleridge was also extremely ill. In the poem Wordsworth recalled the rock where the ‘glow-worms hang their lamps’ (l. 3). And, as in ‘The Tuft of Primroses’, his theme was the persistence of the primrose flower and of the ‘Rock itself to which it ‘adheres’ as ‘A lasting link in Nature’s chain’ (ll.11 and 17). The love (including its sexual elements) symbolized by the light of the glow-worm (see Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Glow-worm’) had by 1829 been transmuted by age (‘That love which changed’, l. 37), into ‘God’s redeeming love’ (l. 36) with the certain prospect of a ‘rise’ to an ‘eternal summer’ (i.e. to Christian Resurrection, ll. 46-7). He could have composed no more moving souvenir of that happy, distant and contemplative occasion. Since that time he had merged his Darwinian Pantheism with Faith in the God of Christianity. Natural renewal had been replaced by Resurrection. Or perhaps he had simply clarified his ideas and had never really seen any conflict between different aspects of Deity.
The full poem can be read here. You can see it as a song in two parts, the first meditating on life’s changes through time and celebrating the first seeing of the persistent primrose of the ‘living rock’; and the second a Christian song in Recollection of that occasion, but embracing all ‘Deity’ (l. 54).
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, but also innovative essays in peer-reviewed academic journals worldwide on the subjects of the Sonnets of William Shakespeare and of Edmund Spenser.

Women behind the words

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

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

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

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

A fair copy in Mary's handwriting

A fair copy in Mary’s handwriting

A fair copy in Dorothy's hand

A fair copy in Dorothy’s hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join us in the Big Wordsworth Bonanza

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

What the Victorians made of Romanticism

by Tom Mole
My new book What the Victorians Made of Romanticism offers a new way of understanding the reception history of Romantic writers and their works in Victorian Britain. Other scholars have told this story before, of course. But they have mostly focussed on the ways in which Romantic writers influenced their Victorian successors. They tell us about how Alfred Tennyson responded to Byron, or how Matthew Arnold responded to Wordsworth. I’m interested in a different kind of story. The story I tell is about the material artefacts and cultural practices that remediated Romantic writers and their works amid shifting understandings of history, memory, and media. I pay attention to the things Victorians made – including illustrated books, anthologies, statues, postcards and memorial plaques – as well as to what they did with Romantic writers – citing and reciting them, including them in sermons, placing busts of them on their mantelpieces, and a host of other practices. These artefacts and practices made sure that the Romantics were renovated for new generations of readers – and non-readers – while recruiting them to address new cultural concerns in the process.
Mole 6
For a while, it seemed that the Romantics would not be remembered at all. Many early-Victorian commentators worried that the writing of the recent past no longer compelled readers’ interest, and that it would soon be forgotten. The predictions began polemically. Blackwood’s Magazine claimed in 1820 that John Keats had ruined his talent by imitating Leigh Hunt, and that ‘he must be content to share his fate, and be like him forgotten’, and Coleridge wrote in 1825 that he ‘dare[d] predict, that in less than a century’ Byron’s and Scott’s poems would ‘lie on the same Shelf of Oblivion’. But predictions soon became warnings. The Quarterly Review asserted that Scott was ‘in danger of passing – we cannot conceive why – out of the knowledge of the rising generation’, and Thomas Carlyle cautioned in 1829 that ‘Byron … with all his wild siren charming, already begins to be disregarded and forgotten’.
Byron Grasmere
Before long, the warnings became simple statements of fact. Orestes Brownson asserted in 1841 that Shelley was ‘seldom spoken of and much more seldom read’. The Graphic cattily remarked in 1873 that Hemans was ‘almost as much neglected now, as she was overrated formerly’. Stopford Brooke declared simply in 1893 that Byron was ‘not much read now’. If anyone read the Romantics, some claimed, it was only those people who scarcely counted, like adolescents or the uneducated. Selections of Wordsworth’s poetry ‘chiefly for the use of schools and young persons’ appeared from as early as 1831, while in 1848 Readings for the Young from the Works of Sir Walter Scott inaugurated a tradition of excerpting or retelling Scott’s works for children. Walter Bagehot wrote that ‘a stray schoolboy may still be detected in a wild admiration for The Giaour or The Corsair …, but the real posterity – the quiet students of past literature – never read them or think of them’. The fact that the Romantics were remembered – at least some of them – is not down to the enduring excellence of their poetry, or to its ability to transcend the historical moment in which it was written. Rather, I argue, Romantic writers and their works continued to attract attention because they were mediated to Victorian audiences in new ways. This was necessary because the Romantics were increasingly in danger of seeming outdated. Victorian commentators worried that the literature of even the recent past was no longer suited to address the present’s most pressing concerns.
When Matthew Arnold hailed his generation as ‘we, brought forth and reared in hours / Of change, alarm, surprise’, he signalled a self-conscious modernity. In this accelerated and uncertain time, the literature of even the recent past began to seem alien or obsolescent. ‘Too fast we live, too much are tried, / Too harrass’d, to attain / Wordsworth’s sweet calm’, Arnold wrote. Poetry of the recent past no longer seemed like it could speak to the anxieties of the present. Echoing Byron’s Manfred, who found that ‘the wisdom of the world… avail’d not’, Arnold turned Manfred’s conclusion into a question and made it a matter of generational difference: ‘what availed it, all the noise / And outcry of the former men?’
Introducing an edition of Byron’s poems in 1866, Algernon Charles Swinburne reiterated Arnold’s sense of a generational shift, and framed it ironically in the religious language that Arnold would use earnestly in ‘Dover Beach’ the following year. ‘Men born when this century was getting into its forties were baptised into another church than [Byron’s] with the rites of another creed. … No man under twenty’, he asserted, ‘can now be expected to appreciate’ Byron or Wordsworth. This fear that the Romantics were being forgotten, and that they could not find new readers unaided, produced a whole set of efforts to bring them to new audiences, and make them newly relevant. In the book, I look at how these efforts took shape in four different media: illustrations, sermons, statues and anthologies.
Retro-fitted illustrations – that is, newly-produced illustrations for works that didn’t appear with illustrations when they were first published – were produced for many Romantic works in Victorian Britain. They helped to make new editions of Romantic poetry look modern and up-to-date, because an increasing number of new books in the Victorian period appeared with illustrations from their first edition. Think of the close association between Dickens and Phiz or Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel. New illustrations helped to renovate Romantic poetry, allowing it to circulate once again in the market for new books. Illustrations therefore offered a way to come to terms with the sense that a generation gap was opening up between the Victorians and their Romantic precursors. I look at several examples of illustrated books that thematise this sense of the passage of time. In some cases, they update Romantic poetry by including recognisably Victorian people and scenes in illustrations. In others, they combine canonizing images that proclaimed the lasting value of Romantic poetry with images that invited Victorian readers to put aside their preconceptions and experience it afresh.
Victorian Keats
When Victorian people went to church, they heard Romantic poetry quoted in sermons surprisingly often. Some authors – such as Wordsworth – could be recruited in support of a generalised and often rather vague sense of spiritual uplift. Others – such as Byron – were more likely to serve as an awful warning, an example of misspent time and misapplied talent. But the way Victorian preachers and religious writers handled Romantic writers and their works could sometimes be surprising. Shelley, for example, was turned into an honorary Christian by a number of progressive figures in several Christian denominations. And Byron was quoted not only as an example of a sinner, but also approvingly, for example for his paraphrases of certain psalms and his descriptions of nature. I look at one preacher in particular – Charles Haddon Spurgeon – who quoted Byron regularly. Spurgeon’s library has survived almost intact, and so we can trace the ways in which he encountered Byron through anthologies, primers and books of quotations.
Several Romantic writers were commemorated in statues and other kinds of memorials. These monuments were part of a wider effort to create a new British pantheon. The new pantheon was secular, and liberal enough to include people with drastically different political views. It helped to create a new kind of cultural consensus during a period of radical introspection about who constituted the nation and what they shared. And crucially, it was not housed in a particular structure or institution, but spread out across the cities of London and Edinburgh, and eventually across the country as a whole. I examine the statue of Byron in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, the Scott Monument in Edinburgh, and the statue of Byron in Hyde Park, London, as key monuments in the development of this new pantheon. I also show how these monuments were remediated in figurines, postcards, and cigarette cards.
Finally, I examine the ways in which anthologies mediated Romantic poetry to Victorian audiences. I’ve looked at over 200 Victorian anthologies, and for the first time I can explain in detail which poems by Byron, Hemans and Shelley they included, which sections of long poems appeared, and how they framed these poems with editorial material such as headnotes, footnotes and glosses. The results are fascinating. The anthologies produced their own version of Byron, Hemans and Shelley, which is different in several key ways from the version you get in a collected or selected edition, as well as the versions of those poets that English students today discover in modern classroom anthologies.
Overall, the book aims to show how literature of the past can be appropriated and made newly relevant in ways that could not have been imagined by its authors. I think recent critics have often tended to connect literature so closely to the context in which it’s written that we tend to overlook its ability to function in other contexts. I hope What the Victorians Made of Romanticism will help people to see some of the ways in which literary works get redeployed in unexpected ways.
Dr Tom Mole received his PhD from the University of Bristol in 2003 and has worked at the University of Glasgow, the University of Bristol and McGill University. He is currently Reader in English Literature and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Tom Mole 2Edinburgh. With Michelle Levy, he wrote The Broadview Introduction to Book History (2017) and edited The Broadview Reader in Book History (2014). His other books include Byron’s Romantic Celebrity (Palgrave, 2007), Romanticism and Celebrity Culture (ed, Cambridge, 2009) and What the Victorians Made of Romanticism (Princeton, 2017). From 2008-2013 he was Principal Investigator of the Interacting with Print research group, whose collaboratively written ‘multigraph’ will be published by Chicago UP in 2017. He is a member of the PMLA Advisory Committee.

The healing power of images in Wordsworth

by Rodger Kamenetz

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, William Wordsworth, who was keenly interested in psychology, began looking into the power of images to heal psychological damage. His quest was quite personal, in fact it was a matter of life and death to him. Like many young English people in his generation he was suffering from profound despair in the aftermath of the French Revolution. He had lost his idealism and hope, and much more; his lover and their daughter. He’d been forced to return to leave them behind and return to an England that was quite depressing, for it was having a conservative reaction to the events that had inspired so many young people.

He was in despair but he found a great source of healing in natural images.  A great poet, he was also highly attuned to the beauty of natural settings: mountains, woods, lakes, in his rural Cumberland had stirred him from his childhood on.  In learning to write a whole new kind of poetry – that stood in stark contrast to the more rationalistic conservative verse he was raised on, he began writing experimentally with close companions, his sister Dorothy and the poet Coleridge. In these poems he discovered a special value in certain images. These were memories that stayed with him, and that he “recollected in tranquility”. Often the recollection took place in a crowded city, far from the natural setting of his native lake district. By contemplating these “restorative images” – as he called them, he found he could heal the “impaired imagination.”

Wordsworth was primarily interested in images that came to him from remembering certain dramatic scenes. The actual events that he recalled were not necessarily full of positive feeling. In many cases in fact they were strange, foreboding, disturbing. Yet oddly by contemplating these difficult memories later, he found great healing. He called these special moments “spots of time” and in his long autobiographical poem, The Prelude gave several examples of these events that had for him a healing property. Wordsworth’s emphasis on “restorative images” offers a second testimony to the healing power of images I find in dreams. Dreams also offer “spots of time”, poetic moments I call “events”. By contemplating the “events” in dreams, we can also heal the “impaired imagination”.

Not everyone is a gifted poet, but everyone can dream.  We are all capable of making images; we all have imaginative capacity. One way we know this is through the imaginative experiences we’ve had in our dreams.  Dreams can be vastly entertaining, hilarious or amusing, and sometimes a powerful dream breaks through that just overwhelms us with feeling.  Dreams have been described by Robert Duncan in The H.D. Book as a form of “involuntary poetry”, and in fact the passive way we often experience our dreams- as if they are happening to us, makes us miss that in a sense we are also co-creating them. The imaginative process in us that produces poetry and dreams seems to be similar, and that is why there’s a rich history of poetry that contemplates the dream from the earliest poem in the English language, Caedmon’s Hymn.

At the end of his career, William Shakespeare, contemplating his powers as a dramatic poet and in some ways saying farewell to them, created a character who stood in for himself, the magician Prospero. Isolated on his island, controlling events with the help of the magical fairy Ariel – he reflects on his own nature – and ours, declaring  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”. It seems Shakespeare wants to tell us something about the soul. Our inner core – the stuff or stuffing we are made of – is actually all dream.

Rodger Kamenetz is the author of The History of Last Night’s Dream. This post is an excerpt from a longer piece, Dreams and the Poetic Imagination , Kamenetz

Open to everyone: The Wordsworth Winter School

Every year since 1983 , around 50 students, academics and poetry lovers have come together to immerse themselves in the poetry of Wordsworth in the landscape which inspired him.  This blog is by Stephen Gill, who has been involved in the event for a long time, and is passionate about opening up this special experience to as many people as possible.

At the end of each session of the Wordsworth Winter School the participants choose a theme for the following year. It’s a small ritual but one of great significance. That everyone is involved in setting up of an experience that will be both new and familiar at the same time indicates that the Winter School is a communal, participatory affair. The group is serious but non-competitive, and so friendly and welcoming that attending the School is for many an annual highlight. ‘See you next year’ is a familiar farewell.
It isn’t surprising that participants return. The Winter School —Monday to Friday towards the end of February–combines fun with enthusiastic learning, scholarship with searching questioning, and above all it fosters appreciation of the poetry and other work of Wordsworth, his circle, and his contemporaries. In the quite grand but very comfortable setting of Rydal Hall, the daily pattern is for a lecture after breakfast, followed by small-group seminar discussions which mull over what everyone has just heard. The afternoon is given over to an excursion or a guided walk, followed by a further lecture before dinner. A special feature of the School is that the formal proceedings of the day end with a poetry reading, after which those with energy left decamp to the bar.


Rydal Hall

The 2017 theme was Wordsworth and Friendship. It was explored in lectures on Wordsworth’s personal and poetic relations with Coleridge, Lamb, William Rowan Hamilton and the Clarksons. One speaker dealt subtly with ‘Wordsworth, Writing, and the Friendship of Women’, while another introduced us to the poetry of Hartley Coleridge. The last lecture of the week was a splendidly illustrated survey of ‘Wordsworth’s Artistic Friendships’.

The excursions this year were very enjoyable. Despite ‘the wind and sleety rain,/And all the business of the elements’, Richard Gravil led us on a highly informative pedestrian tour of Penrith, which ended at just about the most beautifully restored market-place hostelry I have ever raised a glass in. Later in the week Richard obtained entrance for us to Newbiggin Hall, home of Wordsworth’s ancestors, a rare treat. A visit to Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts masterpiece on Windermere was a perfect foil to a viewing of the new Wordsworth Trust exhibition, Wordsworth Country: Lakes, Mountains & Waterfalls, prefaced by a very able introduction from Curator Jeff Cowton.

Blackwell,  Windermere

Towards the end of the week noted scholar and Winter School stalwart, David Chandler, revealed once again his talent for comic drama when he led a fine cast of Winter School members in The Siege of Rydal Mount; or, The Poetry Reading Interrupted. It is much shorter than Wordsworth’s play, The Borderers, and, it has to be said, more fun.

Images from the 2017 Wordsworth Winter School

The theme chosen for 2019 is Wordsworth’s Poetical Heirs. This will include sessions on Thomas Hardy, Wallace Stevens, Edward Thomas, Seamus Heaney and Tony Harrison. The dates are 18th to 23rd February and further information is available at Wordsworth Conference Foundation or by emailing Booking will open on October 15th 2018.

Stephen Gill is an Emeritus Professor of Oxford University and a Fellow of Lincoln College.  For many years a Trustee, he is now a Fellow of the Wordsworth Trust.  His edition of The Salisbury Plain Poems of William Wordsworth in 1975 inaugurated the Cornell Wordsworth Series and he has since twice edited selections of Wordsworth’s poetry and prose for Oxford University Press.  In addition to editing collections of essays, he was written three books on the poet:  William Wordsworth: A Life (1989), Wordsworth and the Victorians (1998) and Wordsworth’s Revisitings (2012).

  • Dove Cottage, Grasmere,
    Cumbria, LA22 9SH


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