My eyes filled with tears the moment I stepped onto the grounds of Dove Cottage. I don’t think I had ever really imagined that I would be in this place, the home of a poet who has meant so much to me. He’s not a poet I grew up with. I wasn’t introduced to his writing until my first year of graduate school, when I took a course on the Romantic Poets with Marilyn Gaull, Editor of The Wordsworth Circle, at Temple University. In that class, I wrote a long bibliographical essay on The Lyrical Ballads, immersing myself in the poems, the preface, and their critical history. I must have caught Marilyn’s enthusiasm for Wordsworth, for I have been a Wordsworthian ever since.
The cottage itself is absolutely beautiful — perfect, small, warm, intimate — the home that William and his sister Dorothy created for themselves. It’s obviously been lovingly restored by the Wordsworth Trust, and our enthusiastic young guide, Susanna, gave us an excellent–if obviously memorized–tour. She was willing, however, to stop to answer detailed questions. I wanted to know about the paint colors: the main sitting-room (and also Wordsworth’s writing-room), was painted a pale pink; William’s bedroom was blueish green. Were these the original colors I asked? Susanna explained that the Wordsworths had used crushed berries to stain the lime wash, and that, indeed, the paint used now was a reproduction of that older paint and in comparable colors.
We learned that Dorothy walked almost every day (and perhaps several times a day) to the nearby market-town of Ambleside (four miles away), where I went (by bus) to do some laundry and where Jimmy found the library. We heard the chiming of William’s prized cuckoo clock (11 a.m.), and saw the room where Dorothy slept. Later, in the museum, we looked at manuscripts–some pages from the 1805 Prelude, including the passage about the Derwent near Cockermouth, for example, and a letter to a critic who had disliked “The Idiot Boy”–, along with other artifacts and paintings.
I could have spent many many more hours there, and I am hoping to return again one day, perhaps with a research project, so that I might get even closer. I bought one book in the gift shop: Wordsworth’s “Guide to the Lakes,” what Stephen Gill calls in his introduction “a gem of Romantic writing . . . . a prose-poem about light, shapes, and textures, about movement and stillness.” I’m looking forward to reading from it as we continue our way across the fells. Perhaps focusing on Romantic landscape theory will help me to forget the pain in my knees and hips, though I have to admit that ibuprofen (which I hadn’t taken in twenty years, but which I became convinced might be necessary now) is working its magic.
Tomorrow to Patterdale!