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William Wordsworth, the accidental kitchen wordsmith

May 21, 2010

William Wordworth’s poetry set the 19th century alight and changed how we view our relationship with nature. He believed that sensitivity to nature transforms our emotional and spiritual lives – a philosophy he lived by. He saw the imagination as a tool for heightening our senses and adding to our happiness. He, his wife Mary and sister Dorothy valued simplicity, hard work and the activities of family life.

 

It was at Dove Cottage, overlooking Grasmere in Cumbria in Northwest England, he wrote his most celebrated poetry. The family called the room they occupied for everyday living the Houseplace, a local Lake District term for an all-encompassing parlor. Modest in size at about 15 ft by 20 ft, it was cosy, easy to heat and was used in conjunction with the kitchen.

 

A simple, prosaic word, ‘Houseplace’ is an example of the innovative ways Wordsworth used common language to express his most heart-felt ideas. One of the core beliefs of the Romantic movement was that nature represented something close to heaven on earth, and a simple, rustic way of life gave people access to this.

 

I recently took my family to stay in a house just above Dove Cottage rented from Landmark Trust. We saw it from our window each day and walked through the garden to reach it. Although a popular pilgrimage for tourists and Brits alike, the tours, room-by-tiny-room, transport you back in time. You can see where Wordsworth wrote his best poems, some of them undoubtedly on the table in the Houseplace. You can still feel its atmosphere and appreciate the worn, aging fabric, panelling and floors, with low light – yes, I feel at home here.

I want to exit with the last few lines of “The Prelude”, which make you realize why the contrast between indoors and being in nature are so complementary:


Those recollected hours that have the charm

Of visionary things, and lovely forms

And sweet sensations, that throw back our life

And almost make our infancy itself

A visible scene, on which the sun is shining
 

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