This week we have been looking at a poem called Michael and the sense of place within it. The poem is about a shepherd who has a strong connection to the land he lives and works in. It contains a strong sense of place, using specific and detailed images to help anchor it in the land.
Wordsworth seems to admire Michael’s combination of strength of body and strength of mind. More specifically, it is Michael’s awareness and attention to the nature and landscape around him which Wordsworth values. I feel that Wordsworth holds Michael’s relationship with the landscape in high regard, and perhaps enviously as it is possible that a shepherd has a different relationship with the land to the poet.
Whilst Wordsworth holds Michael’s attention to nature above that of ordinary men, I think the extract (the second section of the full poem) suggests that it is possible to have this experience. That is, the depth of relationship to place could be there for anyone, but at the same time, the way of life for Michael means he has put in more days, more literal legwork than most of us ever would. Because of this, the land holds memories and this deepens his relationship to it. That said, the land has special meaning to Michael because it belonged to his family before him and this is something that most of us can’t weave into our relationship with place.
Questions: How do we, as individuals, connect to the place we live in and the place where we were brought up? How does this shape our identity?
We were given some instructions to help us write about place. I wanted to go outside to do this but it’s been a horrific week for my health and I’ve mostly been stuck in bed… This writing is entirely unedited:
The longed for noisy peace of nature
Broken by the hum of traffic,
The shouts and screams of strangers.
An unseen plane whirrs
And a northwesterly wind
Carries a distant train horn.
A familiar woodpigeon, one of a pair
Calls out, cooing through the urban music;
A heart warming sound.
The sun bleeds through white mesh
Slowly brightening and darkening,
Nuances missed by most.
And if I lean slightly right
– not too far
A triangle of sky reveals herself
Clear and blue, for now.
The longed for joyful wonder of nature
Is found in unlikely places.
This is my bed, my nest, my nursemaid.
This is my bed, my prison, my shackles.
We also looked at the importance of the sheepfold in this poem. We know from Dorothy Wordsworth’s diaries that William often wrote outside which may well have shaped his writing. The course asks us then to think about setting and writing context within our own practices. I think the importance of setting and context depend on the nature of the writing involved. If you’re writing about a specific place then the language and images used need to reflect that accurately and it is often best to jot notes when you are there and are tuned into the setting. This touches on some of the arguments around language in my post about nature writing.
For writing which is less place specific I think the setting for writing is less important from the perspective of what you actually write. However we all work well in different places. I can’t write in libraries, I want to but just can’t, because they are too quiet and I get distracted by the quietness. Equally, I can’t write in busy places because I find the noise overwhelming and end up people watching… At different times in my life I’ve had different set ups for my writing. When I was a teenager I carried a notebook everywhere and could be found jotting things down on my maths homework if that was what was at hand… For a while I stopped writing and to get back into it I found I needed more structure and ritual around it. Now I have to write at a computer (due to a disability) which changes things again.