Protean Poets

It is probably true that in the life and work of every poet there comes a time when they get into their stride and begin the journey towards greatness, an aspiration that they will not all achieve, or that some will achieve more than others.

But it is also true, that none have been so examined, analysed, commented upon and written about than the pivotal years 1797 and 1798 in the lives and works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This was the dawn of The Romantic poets. The year in which the two poets, with Dorothy Wordsworth and the Coleridge family (Sara and a growing brood of children) lived, worked, walked and wrote while staying in the Quantocks.

Adam Nicolson, sometimes with his friend Tom Hammick, takes it upon himself to recreate as far as possible that fertile and busy year. In The Making of Poetry, Nicolson examines in detail the notebooks and memoirs that were written by William Wordsworth and Dorothy, together with letters of contemporary friends and critics.

Nicolson spent the time retracing the walks and haunts of these friends during the time that they were there. The house where the Wordsworths lived is now a near ruin, but he was given permission to stroll in the grounds, following as far as possible the night walks and daytime excursions by reading the copious notebooks. The notebooks themselves are in the Lake District, but there is an exhaustive study version produced by Cornell University which became Adam’s guide.

The Making of Poetry is a stupendous study, written with a bravura of a poet. Mr Nicolson’s language and his deep and sympathetic understanding of the poet mind brings to the reader the same simple and elusive effect that a sensitive reading of the poems themselves give, when read aloud or silently to oneself.

Not only that, the whole book is filled with gorgeous coloured woodcuts made by Tom Hammick, these echo or elaborate on the text and are exquisite. Reading at the back the account of how the wood blocks themselves were cut from fallen branches on the Alfoxdon estate brings the whole enterprise in a full circle. These are the very trees under which the Wordsworths would have sat for their poetry readings to among others Coleridge himself, William Hazlitt, Tom Poole and other friends.

Any book of this magnitude is worth reading, and even more, worth owning. It is quite magical. As is its wonderful evocation of the English countryside.

Further Reading

The Mighty Dead – Adam Nicolson on Homer [Re-homing in on Homer 29th August]
A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Mariner – Malcolm Guite – the writing of The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner [Wiser on the Morrow Morn 18th March]
Housman Country – Peter Parker on A E Housman’s The Shropshire Lad [England’s Green and Pleasant Land 28th September]

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