1 November 2019 Susannah

Living Where The Poets Lived

Dove Cottage

In April next year it will be poet William Wordsworth’s 250th birthday. Dove Cottage (pictured above), his Lakeland home, has been closed for major renovations but has just reopened, looking fabulous. And no doubt there will be several new books about Wordsworth’s life and works to mark this anniversary.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone can write a better book about him than Adam Nicolson’s The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, the Wordsworths and their Year of Marvels. I love Adam Nicolson’s writing (he is the grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, and son of writer Nigel Nicolson, so writing is well and truly in his genes) and this book was sheer delight from beginning to end.

Out of that extraordinary year of friendship in Somerset’s Quantocks area came some of the greatest of poems – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight, Tintern Abbey and the publication of a ground breaking book called Lyrical Ballads.

Nicolson spent a year living where the poets lived, walking where they walked, and seeing the landscapes which inspired them. There’s analysis of the close friendship, of the role played by women in bringing them to greatness, and perceptive discussion of what brought the great friendship to an end. He shows brilliantly how the place changed both poets and brought about the birth of the Romantic Movement.

As I read this thought-provoking book I longed for a friend with whom to discuss it. While I have many friends who read (in fact, I have almost no friends who are not readers) most of them are not especially keen on poetry, so I feel a lack. If you have also read The Making of Poetry please let me know what you thought of it. I’d like to feel I’m not alone in reading and loving this book.

I’ll celebrate the big anniversary next year by including a Wordsworth poem in my newsletter. The Wordsworth Trust has had a £6 million grant to fund an international campaign to bring Wordsworth to the sort of prominence he should always enjoy. There’s also restoration going on at his birthplace in Cockermouth (a fantastic museum to visit) and his poems are to be ‘reimagined’ in many different ways.

I think probably Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality is my favourite poem ever – it chokes me up every time I read it and the lines are just so incredibly beautiful and moving. So how about you too gear up for the Wordsworth birthday and start reading or listening to some of his wonderful poems so you’ll feel part of the international celebrations?

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Featured image credit- Dove Cottage, home of William Wordsworth, https://wordsworth.org.uk/
Body image credit- The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, the Wordsworths and Their Year of Marvels, by Adam Nicolson, https://amzn.to/2N5Q72q
William Wordsworth, 1818, by Benjamin Robert Haydon, chalk. https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw06931/William-Wordsworth?

Comments (9)

  1. JenniferEggleton

    Well how coincidental you should write about poetry as I’ve just been on the Bravo cruise and had albatrosses next to my balcony for a whole day so I reread the poem about the ancient mariner. Terrific

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That was good timing. Do try and listen to Richard Burton reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – simply superb!

  2. Kym

    I haven’t read it but will certainly do so. I have watched, several times, Owen Sheer’s A Poet’s Guide to Britain and very much enjoyed the storylines and connection to place that inspired the poetry. I look forward to reading Adam Nicholson’s The Making of Poetry – thank you for the recommendation!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I loved A Poet’s Guide to Britain! So many fascinating stories. I hope you enjoy Adam Nicolson’s wonderful book.

  3. Margaret Debenham

    Susannah, I read “The Making of Poetry” a few weeks ago, and also found it fascinating, for the insight it provides into the characters of the poets and the women in their lives (oh, Samuel!), the making of their poetry, and the landscapes in which they made it (and how that influenced the making). It is wonderful to see the poets, just disembodied names from memories of Poetry Lessons at school, become real and very distinctive people (and not always particularly likeable – rather appallingly self-centred, but is that a useful trait for the production of great poetry?). The writing is lovely, from both points of view – biography and landscape. Like you I love Adam Nicolson’s writing, and always buy anything of his I see – his writings on the natural world are gorgeous (“Sissinghurst” and “The Smell of Summer Grass”) and on – how would you classify topics as diverse as “The Gentry” and “The Mighty Dead”? – which are eminently readable.

    “The Making of Poetry” also put me in mind of another book I really enjoyed – The Immortal Dinner” by Penelope Hughes-Hallett, in which Wordsworth and Lamb make (largely fictionalised, but still illuminating) appearances.

    As for poetry – I confess I prefer prose, and only dip into poetry occasionally, generally the shorter poems (too impatient, obviously). I do enjoy Wordsworth, Coleridge, et al. (the school curriculum poets – at least when I was at school), but I am also particularly fond of some less familiar poets, such as C P Cavafy, Dorothy Porter, John Clare – and Sappho (although her known poetry is so fragmentary, it is very beautiful).

    But I have used far too many parentheses in this response, so I shall leave it there.


    PS I am really enjoying the “Men, Glorious Men” series. It was unfortunate about Adrian Lukis, and I hope he is recovering nicely. Coincidentally I did see him last Friday after all, a brief role in the film “Judy”.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thank you SO much for your comments, Margaret. I am glad to know I’m not alone in reading and loving Adam Nicolson’s book. As you said, he really makes both poets come alive. I felt so terribly sorry for the women in their lives. I also loved The Immortal Dinner – a fabulous book! Have you read Adam Nicolson’s The Power and the Glory about the creation of the King James Bible – it’s one of the ebt history books ever! I also loved his recent one about Homer, and Se Room was also excellent. The Sissinghurst one is fantastic. I saw Adam once at Sissinghurst, but didn’t like to stop him and tell him how much I love his books – he was a man in a hurry!
      I am delighted you are enjoying my lecture series.
      I am planning to go and see ‘Judy’. I believe Adrian is on screen for about 5 minutes.
      Thanks again for your comments – so appreciated.

      • Margaret Debenham

        Oh dear, I’ve somehow missed “The Power and the Glory” – I have a number of books on the making of the King James Bible, which is a fascinating topic, but that’s not among them. However I am going to a charity book-buying evening at Abbey’s later this month, so I hope I will be able to make amends then. Thanks for the tip.

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