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     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

These pages are dedicated to my beloved son, Seamus, because, like Wordsworth, we have enjoyed wandering together in wild and beautiful places.  I am sure Tate will share the same joy with his Mum and Dad.

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William Wordworth
portrait by R Carruthers

Based on the 1914 biography by F. W. H. MYERS



I may without impropriety quote a few passages from a letter to a friend, which illustrate the character and the affection of brother and sister alike. And first, in a letter comparing her brothers Christopher and William, she says:

Dorothy Wordsworth

"Christopher is steady and sincere in his attachments. William has both these virtues in an eminent degree, and a sort of violence of affection, which demonstrates itself every moment of the day, when the objects of his affection are present with him, in a thousand almost imperceptible attentions to their wishes, in a sort of restless watchfulness which I know not how to describe, a tenderness that never sleeps, and at the same time such a delicacy of manner as I have observed in few men."

And again in a letter to the same friend, she writes:

"I have strolled into a neighbouring meadow, where I am enjoying the melody of birds, and the busy sounds of a fine summer's evening. But oh! How imperfect is my pleasure whilst I am alone! Why are you not seated with me? And my dear William, why is he not here also?
I could almost fancy that I see you both near me.

I hear you point out a spot, where if we could erect a little cottage and call it our own we should be the happiest of human beings. I see my brother fired with the idea of leading his sister to such a retreat.

The Parlour at Dove Cottage

Our parlour is in a moment furnished, our garden is adorned by magic; the roses and honeysuckles spring at our command; the wood behind the house lifts its head, and furnishes us with a winter's shelter and a summer's noonday shade. My dear friend, I trust that ere long you will be without the aid of imagination, the companion of my walks, and my dear William may be of our party....

I am willing to allow that half the virtues with which I fancy him endowed are the creation of my love."

The brother's language is equally affectionate. "Oh, my dear, dear sister! With what transport shall I again meet you! With what rapture shall I again wear out the day in your sight!... I see you in a moment running, or rather flying, to my arms."


Wordsworth was fortunate that so unique a companion should have been ready to devote herself to him with an affection wholly free from egotism or jealousy, an affection that yearned only to satisfy his subtlest needs, and to transfuse all that was best in herself into his larger being. And indeed that fortunate admixture or influence, whencesoever derived, which raised the race of Wordsworth to poetic fame, was almost more dominant and conspicuous in Dorothy Wordsworth than in the poet himself.

"The shooting lights of her wild eyes" reflected to the full the strain of imaginative emotion which was mingled in the poet's nature with that spirit of steadfast and conservative virtue which has already given to the family a Master of Trinity and two Bishops. In his sister the ardent element showed itself in a most innocent direction, but it brought with it a heavy punishment. Her passion for nature and her affection for her brother led her into mountain rambles which were beyond her strength, and her last years were spent in a condition of physical and mental decay.

But at the time of which we are now speaking there was, perhaps, no one in the world who could have been to the poet such a companion as his sister became. She had not, of course, his grasp of mind or his poetic power; but her sensitiveness to nature was quite as keen as his, and her disposition resembled his "with sunshine added to daylight."

  Birds in the bower, and lambs in the green field,
  Could they have known her, would have loved; methought
  Her very presence such a sweetness breathed,
  That flowers, and trees, and even the silent hills,
  And everything she looked on, should have had
  An intimation how she bore herself
  Towards them, and to all creatures.

Her journal of a tour in Scotland, and her description of a week on Ullswater are surely indescribably attractive in their naive and tender feeling, combined with a delicacy of insight into natural beauty which was almost a new thing in the history of the world. Miss Wordsworth's tenderness for all living things gives character and pathos to her landscapes, and evokes from the wildest solitude some note that thrills the heart.

  She gave me eyes, she gave me ears,
  And humble cares, and delicate fears;
  A heart the fountain of sweet tears;
  And love, and thought, and joy.

The cottage life in her brother's company which we have seen Miss Wordsworth picturing to herself with girlish ardour, was destined to be realized no long time afterwards, thanks to a legacy from Kaisley Calvert, a friend who had died of consumption and whom Wordsworth had nursed.

"The act," says Wordsworth, "was done entirely from a confidence on his part that I had powers and attainments--which might be of use to mankind."

Wordsworth settled with his sister at Racedown, near Crewkerne, in Dorsetshire. Here, in the first home which he had possessed, Wordsworth's steady devotion to poetry began. His first work of merit was The Ruined Cottage

         Upon that open moorland stood a grove,
          The wished-for port to which my course was bound.
          Thither I came, and there, amid the gloom
          Spread by a brotherhood of lofty elms,
          Appeared a roofless Hut; four naked walls                   
          That stared upon each other!--I looked round,
          And to my wish and to my hope espied
          The Friend I sought; a Man of reverend age,
          But stout and hale, for travel unimpaired.
          There was he seen upon the cottage-bench,
          Recumbent in the shade, as if asleep;
          An iron-pointed staff lay at his side.
The Quantocks
The Quantocks
between Alfoxden and Linton

In July 1797 the Wordsworths removed to Alfoxden, a large house in Somersetshire, near Netherstowey, where Coleridge was at that time living.

"In the autumn, Mr. Coleridge, my sister, and myself started from Alfoxden pretty late in the afternoon, with a view to visit Linton, and the Valley of Stones near to it; and as our united funds were very small, we agreed to defray the expense of the tour by writing a poem, to be sent to the New Monthly Magazine. In the course of this walk was planned the poem of the Ancient Mariner, founded on a dream, as Mr. Coleridge said, of his friend Mr. Cruikshank. Much the greatest part of the story was Mr. Coleridge's invention; but certain parts I suggested; for example, some crime was to be committed which was to bring upon the Old Navigator, as Coleridge afterwards delighted to call him, the spectral persecution, as a consequence of that crime and his own wanderings."

The Albatross
The Ancient Mariner
and the Albatross
by Mervyn Peake

" I had been reading in Shelvocke's Voyages, a day or two before, that, while doubling Cape Horn they frequently saw albatrosses in that latitude, the largest sort of sea-fowl, some extending their wings twelve or thirteen feet, 'Suppose,' said I, 'you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime. The incident was thought fit for the purpose, and adopted accordingly. I also suggested the navigation of the ship by the dead man, but do not recollect that I had anything more to do with the scheme of the poem. We began the composition together, on that to me memorable evening, I furnished two or three lines at the beginning of the poem, in particular"

        And listened like a three years' child;
        The Mariner had his will.

"As we endeavoured to proceed conjointly our respective manners proved so widely different, that it would have been quite presumptuous in me to do anything but separate from an undertaking upon which I could only have been a clog. The Ancient Mariner grew and grew, till it became too important for our first object, which was limited to our expectation of five pounds; and we began to think of a volume, which was to consist, as Mr. Coleridge has told the world, of poems chiefly on supernatural subjects, taken from common life, but looked at, as much as might be, through an imaginative medium."

The volume of Lyrical Ballads was published in the autumn of 1798, by Mr. Cottle, at Bristol. he volume ended with a poem, which Wordsworth composed in one day, during a tour with his sister to Tintern and Chepstow. The Lines written above Tintern Abbey have become, as it were, the locus classicus or consecrated formulary of the Wordsworthian faith. They say in brief what it is the work of the poet's biographer to say in detail.

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey
by Turner 1794
Five years have past; five summers, with the length	
Of five long winters! and again I hear	
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs	
With a sweet inland murmur.  Once again	
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,	
Which on a wild secluded scene impress	
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect	
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.	
The day is come when I again repose	
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view	
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,	
Which, at this season, with their unripe fruits,	
Among the woods and copses lose themselves,	
Nor, with their green and simple hue, disturb	
The wild green landscape. Once again I see	
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines	
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,	
Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke	
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees,	
With some uncertain notice, as might seem,	
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,	
Or of some hermit's cave, where by his fire	
The hermit sits alone. 
Tintern Abbey
Landscape And Quiet Sky:
Tintern Abbey by Don Lavelle
                                    	Though absent long,	
These forms of beauty have not been to me,	
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:	
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din	
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,	
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,	
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,	
And passing even into my purer mind	
With tranquil restoration: - feelings too	
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,	
As may have had no trivial influence	
On that best portion of a good man's life;	
His little, nameless, unremembered acts	
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,	
To them I may have owed another gift,	
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,	
In which the burthen of the mystery,	
In which the heavy and the weary weight	
Of all this unintelligible world	
Is lighten'd: - that serene and blessed mood,	
In which the affections gently lead us on,	
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,	
And even the motion of our human blood	
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep	
In body, and become a living soul:	
While with an eye made quiet by the power	
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,	
We see into the life of things. 
The Wye at Brockweir
by Don Lavelle
                                                           If this	
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft,	
In darkness, and amid the many shapes	
Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir	
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,	
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart,	
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee	
O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the wood	
How often has my spirit turned to thee! 

And now, with gleams of half-extinguish'd thought,	
With many recognitions dim and faint,	
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,	
The picture of the mind revives again:	
While here I stand, not only with the sense	
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts	
That in this moment there is life and food	
For future years. And so I dare to hope	
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first	
I came among these hills; when like a roe	
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides	
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,	
Wherever nature led; more like a man	
Flying from something that he dreads, than one	
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then	
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,	
And their glad animal movements all gone by,)	
To me was all in all. I cannot paint	
What then I was. The sounding cataract	
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,	
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,	
Their colours and their forms, were then to me	
An appetite: a feeling and a love,	
That had no need of a remoter charm,	
By thought supplied, or any interest	
Unborrowed from the eye. That time is past,	
And all its aching joys are now no more,	
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this	
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts	
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,	
Abundant recompence. For I have learned	
To look on nature, not as in the hour	
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes	
The still, sad music of humanity,	
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power	
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt	
A presence that disturbs me with the joy	
Of elevated thoughts; 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. Therefore am I still	
A lover of the meadows and the woods,	
And mountains; and of all that we behold	
From this green earth; of all the mighty world	
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,	
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize	
In nature and the language of the sense,	
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,	
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul	
Of all my moral being.
The Wyndcliffe above the Wye
by David Cox - circa 1842
                                    Nor, perchance,	
If I were not thus taught, should I the more	
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:	
For thou art with me, here, upon the banks	
Of this fair river; thou, my dearest Friend,	
My dear, dear Friend, and in thy voice I catch	
The language of my former heart, and read	
My former pleasures in the shooting lights	
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while	
May I behold in thee what I was once,	
My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,	
Knowing that Nature never did betray	
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,	
Through all the years of this our life, to lead	
From joy to joy: for she can so inform	
The mind that is within us, so impress	
With quietness and beauty, and so feed	
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,	
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,	
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all	
The dreary intercourse of daily life,	
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb	
Our chearful faith that all which we behold	
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon	
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;	
And let the misty mountain winds be free	
To blow against thee: and in after years,	
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured	
Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind	
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,	
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place	
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; Oh! then,	
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,	
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts	
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,	
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance,	
If I should be, where I no more can hear	
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams	
Of past existence, wilt thou then forget	
That on the banks of this delightful stream	
We stood together; and that I, so long	
A worshipper of Nature, hither came,	
Unwearied in that service: rather say	
With warmer love, oh! with far deeper zeal	
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,	
That after many wanderings, many years	
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,	
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me	
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake.
Goslar, Lower Saxony

As soon as this volume was published Wordsworth and his sister sailed for Hamburg, in the hope that their imperfect acquaintance with the German language might be improved by the heroic remedy of a winter at Goslar. But at Goslar they do not seem to have made any acquaintances, and their self-improvement consisted mainly in reading German books to themselves. The four months spent at Goslar, however, were the very bloom of Wordsworth's poetic career. Through none of his poems has the peculiar loveliness of English scenery and English girlhood shone more delicately than through those which came to him as he paced the frozen gardens of that desolate city.

Here it was that he wrote Lucy Gray known now to most men as possessing in its full fragrance his especial charm. And here it was that the memory of some emotion prompted the lines on Lucy. Of the history of that emotion he has told us nothing; I forbear, therefore, to inquire concerning it, or even to speculate. That it was to the poet's honour I do not doubt; but who ever learned such secrets rightly? Or who should wish to learn? It is best to leave the sanctuary of all hearts inviolate, and to respect the reserve not only of the living but of the dead.

Could it be that Myers had an inkling about Annette Vallon and about her and Wordsworth's daughter, Caroline?

Footsteps in the Snow
Footsteps in the Snow
OFT I had heard of Lucy Gray: 
And, when I crossed the wild, 
I chanced to see at break of day 
The solitary child. 

No mate, no comrade Lucy knew; 
She dwelt on a wide moor, 
--The sweetest thing that ever grew 
Beside a human door! 

You yet may spy the fawn at play, 
The hare upon the green; 
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray 
Will never more be seen. 

"To-night will be a stormy night-- 
You to the town must go; 
And take a lantern, Child, to light 
Your mother through the snow." 

"That, Father! will I gladly do: 
'Tis scarcely afternoon-- 
The minster-clock has just struck two, 
And yonder is the moon!" 

At this the Father raised his hook, 
And snapped a faggot-band; 
He plied his work;--and Lucy took 
The lantern in her hand. 

Not blither is the mountain roe: 
With many a wanton stroke 
Her feet disperse the powdery snow, 
That rises up like smoke. 

The storm came on before its time: 
She wandered up and down; 
And many a hill did Lucy climb: 
But never reached the town. 

The wretched parents all that night 
Went shouting far and wide; 
But there was neither sound nor sight 
To serve them for a guide. 

At day-break on a hill they stood 
That overlooked the moor; 
And thence they saw the bridge of wood, 
A furlong from their door. 

They wept--and, turning homeward, cried, 
"In heaven we all shall meet;" 
--When in the snow the mother spied 
The print of Lucy's feet. 

Then downwards from the steep hill's edge 
They tracked the footmarks small; 
And through the broken hawthorn hedge, 
And by the long stone-wall; 

And then an open field they crossed: 
The marks were still the same; 
They tracked them on, nor ever lost; 
And to the bridge they came. 

They followed from the snowy bank 
Those footmarks, one by one, 
Into the middle of the plank; 
And further there were none! 

--Yet some maintain that to this day 
She is a living child; 
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray 
Upon the lonesome wild. 

O'er rough and smooth she trips along, 
And never looks behind; 
And sings a solitary song 
That whistles in the wind. 

Wordsworth recounted "A bitter winter it was when these verses were composed by the side of my sister, in our lodgings, at a draper's house, in the romantic imperial town of Goslar, on the edge of the Hartz forest. So severe was the cold of this winter, that when we passed out of the parlour warmed by the stove our cheeks were struck by the air as by cold iron. I slept in a room over a passage that was not ceiled. The people of the house used to say, rather unfeelingly, that they expected I should be frozen to death some night; but with the protection of a pelisse lined with fur, and a dog's skin bonnet, such as was worn by the peasants, I walked daily on the ramparts or on a sort of public ground or garden, in which was a pond. Here I had no companion but a kingfisher, a beautiful creature that used to glance by me. I consequently became much attached to it. During these walks I composed The Poet's Epitaph."

ART thou a Statist in the van 
Of public conflicts trained and bred? 
First learn to love one living man; 
'Then' may'st thou think upon the dead. 

A Lawyer art thou?--draw not nigh! 
Go, carry to some fitter place 
The keenness of that practised eye, 
The hardness of that sallow face. 

Art thou a Man of purple cheer? 
A rosy Man, right plump to see? 
Approach; yet, Doctor, not too near, 
This grave no cushion is for thee. 

Or art thou one of gallant pride, 
A Soldier and no man of chaff? 
Welcome!--but lay thy sword aside, 
And lean upon a peasant's staff. 

Physician art thou? one, all eyes, 
Philosopher! a fingering slave, 
One that would peep and botanise 
Upon his mother's grave? 
Wrapt closely in thy sensual fleece, 
O turn aside,--and take, I pray, 
That he below may rest in peace, 
Thy ever-dwindling soul, away! 

A Moralist perchance appears; 
Led, Heaven knows how! to this poor sod: 
And he has neither eyes nor ears; 
Himself his world, and his own God; 

One to whose smooth-rubbed soul can cling 
Nor form, nor feeling, great or small; 
A reasoning, self-sufficing thing, 
An intellectual All-in-all! 

Shut close the door; press down the latch; 
Sleep in thy intellectual crust; 
Nor lose ten tickings of thy watch 
Near this unprofitable dust. 

But who is He, with modest looks, 
And clad in homely russet brown? 
He murmurs near the running brooks 
A music sweeter than their own. 

He is retired as noontide dew, 
Or fountain in a noon-day grove; 
And you must love him, ere to you 
He will seem worthy of your love. 

The outward shows of sky and earth, 
Of hill and valley, he has viewed; 
And impulses of deeper birth 
Have come to him in solitude. 

In common things that round us lie 
Some random truths he can impart,-- 
The harvest of a quiet eye 
That broods and sleeps on his own heart. 

But he is weak; both Man and Boy, 
Hath been an idler in the land; 
Contented if he might enjoy 
The things which others understand. 

Come hither in thy hour of strength; 
Come, weak as is a breaking wave! 
Here stretch thy body at full length; 
Or build thy house upon this grave. 

Seldom has there been a more impressive instance of the contrast, familiar to biographers, between the apparent insignificance and the real importance of their hero in undistinguished youth. To any one considering Wordsworth as he then was,-- a rough and somewhat stubborn young man, who, in nearly thirty years of life, had seemed alternately to idle without grace and to study without advantage,-- it might well have seemed incredible that he could have anything new or valuable to communicate to mankind. Where had been his experience? Or where was the indication of that wealth of sensuous emotion which in such a nature as Keats' seems almost to dispense with experience and to give novelty by giving vividness to such passions as are known to all? If Wordsworth were to impress mankind it must be, one might have thought, by travelling out of himself altogether--by revealing some such energy of imagination as can create a world of romance and adventure in the shyest heart. But this was not so to be. Already Wordsworth's minor poems had dealt almost entirely with his own feelings, and with the objects actually before his eyes; and it was at Goslar that he planned, and on the day of his quitting Goslar that he began, a much longer poem, whose subject was to be still more intimately personal, being the development of his own mind.

This poem, dedicated to Coleridge, and written in the form of a confidence bestowed on an intimate friend, was finished in 1805, but was not published till after the poet's death. Mrs. Wordsworth then named it The Prelude.

O there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.
Whate'er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free,
Free as a bird to settle where I will.
What dwelling shall receive me? in what vale
Shall be my harbour? underneath what grove
Shall I take up my home? and what clear stream
Shall with its murmur lull me into rest?
The earth is all before me. With a heart
Joyous, nor scared at its own liberty,
I look about; and should the chosen guide
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way. I breathe again!
Trances of thought and mountings of the mind
Come fast upon me: it is shaken off,
That burthen of my own unnatural self,
The heavy weight of many a weary day
Not mine, and such as were not made for me.
Long months of peace (if such bold word accord
With any promises of human life),
Long months of ease and undisturbed delight
Are mine in prospect; whither shall I turn,
By road or pathway, or through trackless field,
Up hill or down, or shall some floating thing
Upon the river point me out my course?

There is scarcely any autobiography which we can read with such implicit confidence as the Prelude. There are not many men who, in recounting the story of their own lives, could combine a candour so absolute with so much of dignity - who could treat their personal history so impartially as a means of conveying lessons of general truth - or who, while chronicling such small things, could remain so great. The Prelude is a book of good augury for human nature. We feel in reading it as if the stock of mankind were sound. The soul seems going on from strength to strength by the mere development of her inborn power. And the scene with which the poem at once opens and concludes - the return to the Lake country as to a permanent and satisfying home - places the poet at last amid his true surroundings, and leaves us to contemplate him as completed by a harmony without him, which he of all men most needed to evoke the harmony within.

Grasmere by David Esslemont
Grasmere by David Esslemont


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