Edward Thomas and Dorothy Wordsworth
|Dove Cottage, Grasmere|
I have been rereading Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals, for certain reasons, and decided to see what Edward Thomas had to say about her.
I looked into a prose book of Thomas's that up till now I haven't read: 'Feminine Influence on the Poets'. It's good to remember that Thomas was a major, respected and prolific writer of literary criticism as well as travel literature.
The title has never appealed - it seems to imply that all poets are men, for one thing, and that women will only be muses to Great Men at best. But I knew that Thomas had likened Frost's approach to the 'people' in his poems to Dorothy's - more directly sympathetic rather than lengthy and reflective like Wordsworth..
I was pleasantly surprised by the book - everything he says about Dorothy Wordsworth seems to be really insightful, and on other 'feminine influences ' he's surprisingly modern. The message that men have written history and determine the literary canon is there. An interesting comment is that there can be no love poetry unless women have freedom of choice and can reject.
But my interest is in Dorothy. He has of course read the journal carefully and made links with Wordsworth's poems which were clearly borrowed from Dorothy - as Coleridge did too, more than once.
Dorothy was appreciated by them above all for her extraordinary receptivity. She saw clearly and vividly. But I'll just let Edward Thomas say it all much better in one of his so-called 'hack' works.
From the chapter, the Poets and Friendly Women
|Dorothy Wordsworth in middle age|
a wish that each of her pleasant and painful
emotions '' should excite a similar pleasure or
a similar pain " in himself. She said that he
had no pleasure apart from her, and she dis-
covered in him a ' violence of affection," a
'^tenderness that never sleeps," and 'a delicacy
of manner such as I have observed in few men."
Coleridge said of her that she was 'a
woman indeed — in mind, I mean, and heart ";
of various information, watchful in observa-
tion, and her taste a perfect electrometer" ;
and as early as 1792 she had shown herself a
candid and original critic of her brother's
poetry. His " Evening Walk " of that year
was addressed to her.
The brother and sister lived together first
at Racedown in 1795. They moved together
to Alfoxden. They toured together to Tin-
tern and Chepstow in 1798, when Wordsworth
composed the *' Lines written above Tintern
Abbey," and then in Germany.
seldom divided until her last years of decay in mind and body; when he was away a little
while she lingered out of doors late in the moonlight in the hope of hearing his tread.
She wrote little herself except her journals.....
Wordsworth refers to her again and again,
as, for example, in —
She who dwells with me, whom I have loved
With such communion that no place on earth
Can ever be a solitude for me.
They shared their books ; she read ' Para-
dise Lost " aloud to him and both were '' much
impressed, and also melted into tears." They
sat together talking till dawn. She was
always ready to put on her ' woodland dress "
to go with him. When they were not out
together he could always share her observa-
tion and experience through her journal.
The poem beginning '' She had a tall man's
height or more ' is apparently founded upon
an entry in Dorothy s journal beginning
'' A very tall woman, tall much beyond the
measure of tall women, called at the door,"
and dated nearly a year earlier than the poem.
Her words by themselves, though brief and
unarranged notes, are here, as in so many
other places, quietly graphic and effective, and
it is quite possible to prefer them to the poem.
Even her notes of the scene which inspired
Wordsworth's '' I wandered lonely as a
cloud " may still be read for the delicacy and
simplicity and a touch of rough earthliness,
not inharmonious but not in the poem.
She had a particular curious liking for the
beggars, men out of work, gipsies, and home-
going sailors who passed her in the wild roads
or knocked at her door for help, and she re-
garded them with perhaps more charity than
the poet by himself could have commanded.
She has a most charming page on the wild
' road lass " accompanying a passing carter —
''her business seemed to be all pleasure —
pleasure in her own motions." She wrote out
some of his poems for him. She made his
fires, laid his untidy clothes by, filed his news-
papers, and then — '' got my dinner, two boiled
eggs and two apple tarts." They read over
his poems together, or he repeated them after
composition, and sometimes, no doubt, as in
"The Robin and the Butterfly" she says they
did, ' We left out some lines."
The observations in her journals were often beautiful and often
very close, and they reappear in his poems.
Professor Knight, e.g., compares her entry:
Then we sate by the fire, and were happy, only
our tender thoughts became painful —
with Wordsworth's lines :
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
Their minds probably worked much to-
gether and from a mutual stimulus, and even
if a thought had originally been his the record
of it in her journal was valuable. It is im- (my emphasis)
possible to assign priority to any of their
common ideas and phrases.
For example, on October ii, 1802, Dorothy says:
' We walked to the Easedale hills to hunt water-falls."
Wordsworth's poem ''Louisa," where
the phrase, ''To hunt the waterfalls" occurs,
is attributed to either 1803 or 1805.
* * *
On ACE - Frank is taking a well-earned break so I have no idea of whether he has received any feed-back from those he has sent copies of the pre-publication book. I was very pleased to have a message from the marvellous Lynne Hatwell of the Dove Grey Reader blog asking for a copy. If you don't know Dove Grey Reader do look it up.
I will be more 'on-message' in future blogs, back to poetry and probably re-issuing a few early blogs.