Poet's Pick April 13
Dorothy Wordsworth: "Grasmere Journal" (excerpt)
Selected by Lesley Jenike
National Poetry Month 2015

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Lesley Jenike's Poetry Month Pick, April 13, 2015

"Grasmere Journal" (excerpt)
by Dorothy Wordsworth (1771 - 1855)

Thursday 15th. It was a threatening misty morning—but mild. We set off after dinner from Eusemere. Mrs Clarkson went a short way with us but turned back. The wind was furious and we thought we must have returned. We first rested in the large Boat-house, then under a furze Bush opposite Mr Clarkson's. Saw the plough going in the field. The wind seized our breath the Lake was rough. There was a Boat by itself floating in the middle of the Bay below Water Millock. We rested again in the Water Millock Lane. The hawthorns are black and green, the birches here and there greenish but there is yet more of purple to be seen on the Twigs. We got over into a field to avoid some cows—people working, a few primroses by the roadside, woodsorrel flower, the anemone, scentless violets, strawberries, and that starry yellow flower which Mrs C. calls pile wort. When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and 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 and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway. We rested again and again. The Bays were stormy, and we heard the waves at different distances and in the middle of the water like the sea. Rain came on—we were wet when we reached Luffs but we called in. Luckily all was chearless and gloomy so we faced the storm—we must have been wet if we had waited—put on dry clothes at Dobson's. I was very kindly treated by a young woman, the Landlady looked sour but it is her way. She gave us a goodish supper. Excellent ham and potatoes. We paid 7/ when we came away. William was sitting by a bright fire when I came downstairs. He soon made his way to the Library piled up in a corner of the window. He brought out a volume of Enfield's Speaker, another miscellany, and an odd volume of Congreve's plays. We had a glass of warm rum and water. We enjoyed ourselves and wished for Mary. It rained and blew when we went to bed. N.B. Deer in Gowbarrow park like skeletons.

* Lesley Jenike Comments:

To our twenty-first century sensibilities, this excerpt (dated April 15, 1802) from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal is “poetic” in its collection of images and occurrences. It’s also a naturalist’s catalogue of local flora, a character study, notes on the weather, and a reading list among many other things. Most notably at its center are the daffodils we remember from her brother’s poem, only all the more dazzling for their appearance among the flotsam of her very ordinary/extraordinary day.

Of course I don’t believe D. Wordsworth thought of her journals as poetry, but rather as the natural result of a particular way of life, one in which great attention is paid to even the smallest pile wort or change in wind. Her brother was welcome to cull ideas from her journals, and he did, quite famously from this very entry. It’s a fact that might make us sort of angry. Why didn’t Dorothy take her own writing career more seriously? She was sister to a famous poet as well as friend and helpmate to another famous poet. As an unmarried woman, she was destined to live the life of a domestic in her brother’s home, prone to migraines and melancholy. She was also an expert rambler, observer and friend. It’s true that D. Wordsworth only published a few poems-proper, but there are her journals and the immeasurable impact she had on her brother’s work and Coleridge’s too—no small feat, especially for someone of her time and sex. She spent her life busily midwifing others’ poems into the world and recording her own sensations because she knew them to be beautiful and important, and we’re so fortunate she did.

And so she remains, much more than—as her brother refers to her in “Tintern Abbey,”—a “wild eye.” The phrase itself suggests Dorothy’s insatiable desire to see and the acute observations William then transformed into art, but Dorothy was a skillful maker in her own right. So much of her Journal—if you should choose to read it, and I suggest you do—has the transformative quality of good prose poetry, transformative for its inclusion rather than exclusion. It paints a picture of an intelligent, sensitive woman who believed fully in the difficult but often lovely life she and William chose to lead at Dove Cottage.

And Wordsworth’s legacy may be even more pervasive than we first supposed. I like to imagine Frank O’Hara—to name a favorite post-Romantic—reading her Journal and appreciating the frenetic assortment of people and things, weather and walking, the quiet little assertion, “We enjoyed ourselves and wished for Mary (William’s soon-to-be-wife),” coupled with that last haunting image of “…Deer in Gowbarrow park like skeletons.”



About Lesley Jenike:
Lesley Jenike is the author of Ghost of Fashion (CW Books, 2009) as well as chapbooks The Folly Garden (Gold Wake Press) and How We Came Ashore (forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, Sou’wester, Blackbird, POOL, Verse, Rattle, The Birmingham Poetry Review, and other journals. She has been awarded fellowships and scholarships from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, The Ohio Arts Council, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.


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