Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal

The Grasmere Journal, with an introduction by Lucy Newlyn

Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal

The Grasmere Journal by Dorothy Wordsworth, Introduction by Lucy Newlyn, illustrations by Georgie Bennett (Folio Society, 2016)

Dorothy Wordsworth began her journal at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, in the Lake District, in May 1800, and she wrote in it almost daily for the next three years. During this time, her brother William was at the height of his poetic powers and Dorothy was at her happiest, sharing life with her beloved brother. She records their daily life – the walks, the weather, boating on the lake, taking down William’s poems and their famous visitors, especially Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But her journal is much more than a daily record: Dorothy was gifted nature writer, an original and sensitive observer of life at Dove Cottage, and in her hands the everyday becomes miraculous.

‘I went and sat with W and walked backwards and forwards in the Orchard till dinner time – he read me his poem. I broiled Beefsteaks.’

For all the domestic detail and insight into the Romantic poets, this journal is truly a chronicle of Dorothy’s unique voice. She notices many things others would miss – the glitter of light on a sheep’s fleece or the dancing of daffodils by the lakeside – and her depth of feeling for the wild nature of their surroundings crystallised into moments that William would mine for his own work. As he wrote of her, ‘she gave me eyes, she gave me ears’.

Artist Georgie Bennett travelled to the Lake District to visit Dove Cottage and observe the landscape as Dorothy once did. She has created a series of beautiful ink and watercolour sketches that capture the tiny details of the landscape that pepper this edition: birds, plants, teacups, the interior of the cottage itself – details that bring a vanished world to life. The endpapers feature a panoramic view across Lake Grasmere to the fells beyond, and Bennett has also contributed a beautiful hand-drawn map of the village.

The swallows

*“The swallows come to the sitting room window as if wishing to
build but I am afraid they will not have courage for it, but I believe they will build at my room window. They twitter & make a bustle a little cheerful song hanging against the panes of glass, with their soft white bellies close to the glass & their forked fish-like tails. They swim round and round and again they come.” *

(Dorothy Wordsworth, Grasmere Journal June 16, 1802)

What if they nested here, so close
we could almost touch,
and sense each other listening?

She settles, but they circle again
and again, the rushing
bubble of song
submerged by flap and wash of wings.

Magnified, they hang, bellies
pressed against the pane,
fins waving, bills silently opening.

Their eyes are aeons deep and away,
but looking in.
She’s absorbed,
suspended in air, glass, water.

Something is stirring inside,
and they keep bumping, bumping
their soft white bellies up against my skin.

Lucy Newlyn, from Earth's Almanac (Enitharmon, 2015)