William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place (week 4)

Week one, week two, week three

Week four

This is the final week and I’ve been looking forward to it in particular, as Dorothy gets a bit more of a look in here.  We have seen snippets of her work and her writings have been used to support the learning about William but she was a writer in her own right and I think this often gets overlooked.

Letter writing

Both of the Wordsworth’s placed importance on letter writing.  At the time it was a way of maintaining relationships with people who didn’t leave nearby and it also allowed them to share works and news with friends such as Coleridge.

Are there particular letters that you remember vividly? What role did letter writing have in your life and has this role been taken over now by email and social media? Is there something different about the experience of writing and receiving a letter to these forms of communication?

– Questions posed in the course

Anyone who has the pleasure or misfortune of having given me their postal address will know that I love sending post.  I love seeing a card, a magazine article or a little something as I’m out and about and thinking of friends and then sending this token on.  My health means that I cannot see my friends as much as I’d like and I can’t always be there for them when things are hard.  So post is one way I show them that I love them and I’m thinking of them.  Sometimes it’ll be a little care package of chocolates and magazines.  Sometimes I send my sister some DVDs I think she’ll like.  Sometimes I’ll just send a postcard to say I’m by the sea and wish you were here.  An overused phrase for postcards but I mean it when I say it.  I don’t toss away words.

I will often communicate with these friends through social media whilst the post is on it’s way.  It’s not an alternative form of communication, it’s one that I use alongside, to say different things.  I love twitter, it is my social media platform of choice, and it limits you to 140 characters so interactions on there are inevitably different to those in letters or emails.  And for many users, their tweets are public which again shape what gets said.  I wonder if the Wordsworth’s would have changed their letters had they known they’d be read and analysed many years later?

Dorothy’s diaries

Next we looked at the writing within Dorothy’s diaries.  Her journals covered the day to day aspects of their lives, the natural world around them, the people they knew and William’s poetry.

Dorothy, as a person and as a writer, often falls into her brother’s shadow but she is an important woman in her own right. She was younger than William, born at the end of 1771, and she outlived him by five years.  Following the death of their parents, the two were separated, with Dortohy being bought up by a series of relatives across the country.  Despite being part of 5 siblings, Dorothy and William were closest to each other and on the occasion they were together, they would plan their futures.  Futures filled with dreams of writing and walking and reading and each other’s company.

William left Dorothy to visit Yorkshire in 1800 and this is when her journal began.  She writes: ‘I resolved to write a journal of the time till W. and J. return, and set about keeping my resolve, because I will not quarrel with myself, and because I shall give Wm. pleasure by it when he comes home again’.

William would marry Mary Hutchinson two years later and Dorothy would continue to live with her brother and his new wife, helping out with the household.  Towards the end of her life, illness confined her to her home and the local area for two decades.  For someone who had spent so much of her life independently exploring and walking and observing, this can’t have been an easy time.

Daffodils

One of the really interesting journal entries talks about an encounter with some daffodils.  Dorothy and William were returning home one day when they came across “a long belt of them along the shore”.  She writes:

I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them,
Some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed &
reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over
the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the
Lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up
but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy
highway—

This was written on 15th April 1802, two years before William wrote his famous poem, “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”.  There are two published versions of this poem, one from 1807 and one from 1815.

Graffiti in the Lake District

Reading Dorothy’s version of the event, we can see how much poetic license William used in his poem.  In the journal entry, there is a furious wind which seized their breath.  The lake along which the daffodils danced was rough.  This is not the gentle breeze from William’s poem.  He omits the bad weather and suggests a gentle day, mostly free of cloud.  He also depicts the scene as if he had stumbled onto it alone, finding himself with only the company of the flowers, a choice which changes the tone of the experience.

His poem contains one of his “spots of time”.  He says that when he sees the daffodils he enjoyed the experience but didn’t think much about “what wealth the show to me had brought”.  But later, when “in vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye, Which is the bliss of solitude, And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the Daffodils.”  Poetry seemed to live within the home as we know that Mary, William’s wife, contributed two of those lines.

Naturally their differing purposes plays an important part in how their writings were shaped. Dorothy’s is more truthful, as it is a diary, and it’s more concretely descriptive instead of William’s looser, more poetic description. I think it also makes a difference that Dorothy writes within context of the rest of the day whereas for William it is a entire moment itself. He zooms in on the daffodils where she conveys a more panoramic picture.  Writing several years after the event also allows William to include reflections and to show the impact that moment had on him.

I wanted to respin the famous “I wandered lonely as a cloud…” to make it more reflective of the entry in Dorothy’s diary.  I’m sure this has been done before but I enjoyed the exercise.  And this is a version which does need editing!  I did try another attempt first using Dorothy’s words and phrases but it feels jilted and forced at the moment.

Daffodils, a retelling

We strolled together side by side
Bound for home past windswept fields.
We rested in the lane, to hide
A moment from the storm. Then peeled
Church bells and drew our eyes shoreward
And Oh! What sight was our reward!

There lay, beside the violent loch*
A host of golden daffodils
Some rested heads on mossy rocks
Whilst others danced and never stilled
Yet more trumpeted our delight
Smiling, laughing, t’was such a sight!

*I know we’re not in scotland but I’m taking poetic license until a better line comes to me!

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