The Moss Grove Hotel, Grasmere.
|Our room was on the top floor, just left above the hotel name|
To quote Sari, “What a wonderful place!” We had a pretty little garret room with our window opening onto the front grounds and two chairs placed conveniently beside that window. Our beds tucked under the sloping ceiling, and there was a lovely large wardrobe beside the sink. It was all clean and very comfortable. The bathroom had a deep tub, the WC had toilets that all worked, and there was none of the horrible waxy paper but the soft kind instead. There was a large lounge on the ground floor with huge comfy chairs and a big dining room below that. There was a very pretty umbrella rack in the front hallway, and the proprietor, Ken, looked like Santa Claus.
Roseanne and Gina had an even prettier room across from us, and down the hall across the landing Sven and Sean had their room. Underneath us were the Riches and Dansies. The rest of our gang were in Ash Cottage, a smaller hotel around the corner from us.
First thing was a sherry reception, at which the organizers had provided orange juice for us teetotalers. We all went around finding out everybody’s names and where they were from and what their specialties were.
Sven and Roseanne brought me to meet Bob Barth, SJ, who spoke at a forum assembly at our university last year, which I had unfortunately missed, having had a class that hour. Then when it was time for his evening lecture that same day, I inadvertently slept right through, having lain down for a “short” nap before attending. I was very sorry to have missed it and regretted it that much more that I didn’t usually ever take a nap at all. He gave me a bad time at the sherry reception, saying, “This is a terrible start to a friendship” to everyone’s amusement. His eyes twinkled—you see that word in print and it sounds funny, but his really did! Anyway, he made me feel that we would be friends.
Roseanne was trying to think of a tactful way of asking whether he were a Roman Catholic or an Anglican priest when I simply said, “Roseanne’s a Roman Catholic,” and he grasped her hand in a handshake saying “Oh good! You’re one of Us.” He told us all about the Jesuit order, including general history and current purposes. He taught English at University of Missouri at Columbia.
I then met Pamela Woof, from University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who asked me all about what Anglo-Saxon works I’d studied when she found out that that is my specialty. She knows about everything. She was delightful!
I also met Geoffrey Baker who told me he was giving a paper, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was about, only that it was against the position of somebody in charge here and would probably cause quite a stir.
“Good,” said I. “I love controversy.”
“You like to disagree?”
“No, I like to watch when people have good arguments for opposing positions.”
“Well, you should see a show when I present my paper.”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
The reception lasted an hour and then we all went in to dinner. We had leek soup for starters, then Chicken Chausson with potatoes, carrots, green beans, and bread and butter. The sweet was apple pie with real cream. Following we had cheese and crackers. The food never seemed to stop coming! Sari and I sat at the end of one table, with Neville Newton on my right and Ila Little on Sari’s left. Neville was a student at Oxford. Ila taught at a university in Washington D.C. and specialized in Wordsworthian landscape architecture. Ila was extremely interesting, but Sari and I knew little about landscape or the early 19th century travel literature Ila was using for sources. We wished we could talk a little to Neville, who seemed interested in talking to me, but perhaps another opportunity would present itself.
I told Roseanne later that I could, if she wished, develop an instant crush on this Neville. She was all in favor. She had been avid for somebody to have a romance on this trip. So far everyone she encouraged stubbornly refused to cooperate.
The opening meeting at the Prince of Wales hotel was a round of introductions to all the Big Names: Richard Wordsworth, the conference director; his wife Sylvia, the conference administrator; Reverend Beven of the local Anglican congregation; Father Barth, the unofficial pastor of the conference who was also to be guest preacher at the Anglican church the next week; Jonathan Wordsworth, Oxford don and head of the Dove Cottage Trust; Peter Laver, the head of the Wordsworth Library; and Molly Lefebure, scholar and member of the local community who was to lead our walks and excursions, and who issued a tirade against improper preparation: anything except hiking boots, anything short of a hooded, long, rain-proof mackintosh or parka, and forgetting the all-important chocolate bar in case of emergency. We anxiously whispered to one another how we were going to circumvent her restrictions. American tennis shoes, we all agreed in whispers, were just fine for hiking, no matter what she said. Why, we had climbed an 11,000-foot mountain in tennis shoes.
When we got back to the Moss Grove, I remembered I had left my umbrella underneath my chair at the Prince of Wales. I didn’t want to go all the way back to get it, so I left it for another time—and I did recover it later.
Sunday, August 1st
|In our attic room|
At first the day was beautiful. I went with Sari, Roseanne, and Sven to Father Barth’s celebration of mass on the shore of Grasmere Lake at 7 a.m. The air was very still, the lake calm, and the sun warm despite plenty of clouds. Mass was interesting—it was the first Catholic mass I’d attended. A solemn, peaceful feeling lay over everything in our open-air cathedral. I liked it very much, ignoring any theological differences. Father Barth was a true Christian, sincere and loving and accepting of everyone. He succeeded in making everyone around him feel good about themselves. He sought the best out of everyone, I felt. Our friendship’s rocky start became instantly smooth.
After mass we went down to breakfast at the Moss Grove Hotel. Wow. We started with cereal, fruit, yogurt, and juice. Then we ordered our hot food: eggs done any way we liked, bacon, sausage, cooked tomatoes, fried bread, toast, hot rolls, marmalade (real marmalade—better than anything I’d ever tasted). We could have as much or little as we liked. I ate granola (mueseli, it’s called), a dish of grapefruit, toast and marmalade, and I had a glass of orange juice. I had an egg one morning but soon found that I was too full adding that, so I stuck to my cereal and fruit and toast.
At 10:30 we went to St. Oswald’s Church in the village to hear Morning Prayer out of the Book of Common Prayer. Roseanne and I participated in all of it, but most of our friends soon decided the kneeling and getting up was too much. You certainly did get your exercise in this sort of service, and they didn’t give you a minute to fall asleep either. It was all get up, sing, sit, kneel, sit, stand again to sing, sit to hear something short read or preached. Today was Rev. Bevens’s final Sunday here. He’d been ordered by his doctor to retire, but the Church was giving him a “cushion” job, as he termed it, somewhere else. His sermon was so full of Wordsworth that it made me smile, as if Wordsworthian poetry were the same as scripture. Well, maybe it was: he quoted passages that could be interpreted to the glory of God, so it was applicable. I certainly enjoyed it.
After church the conference issued each of us a sack lunch. Sack lunches got to be something of a joke towards the end of the conference. We figured out that if we didn’t finish up the pâté appetizers at dinner—and it all depended on who decided to order the pâté for their appetizer—then we got it in sandwiches in our sack lunches the next day. This wasn’t strictly true, but it happened enough that we made a point of telling people to order pâté whenever it was on the menu at dinner. With the sandwich was usually a meat pie or sausage, then a piece of fruit, a small tomato, sweet bread (ginger, raisin, shortbread, or jelly roll), and a candy bar. Molly always tried to get everyone to save the candy bar in case they broke a leg on one of the hikes and needed to have something to eat while waiting to be rescued before they starved to death. She always seemed to be warning us against dying of exposure with nothing to eat. I didn’t think it would matter a lot to me if my stomach were full or empty if I were dying of exposure and a broken leg. How anyone could die of exposure in this heat and humidity was another question altogether.
We walked along Loughrigg Terrace to Rydal Mount, the place where Wordsworth died. Richard Wordsworth entertained all of us who stuck close to him. It was no easy feat to stick close to him—his legs are very long and he is used to hiking very fast, belying his sixty-eight years. Sari and I sang a couple of hiking songs along the way. When we walked back along the Coffin Path to Grasmere and came to the Giant’s Cave, Richard wanted us to give them all a song inside the cave where the echoes would resound beautifully. We obliged with the old ballad “Lord Randall” and then “Near in Mountains.” Everybody clapped for us and we think our debut was a success.
Most of the way back I hiked with Professors Dansie and Rich discussing the literary merits of the J.R.R. Tolkein trilogy and the fantasy works of C.S. Lewis. Prof. Dansie (the German professor, not the Humanities professor) and I were trying to convince Prof. Rich that he should give The Lord of the Rings another try. He grudgingly admitted he might reread it when he’s forgotten most of the details. That way he wouldn’t be reading to find out what happens, as he’d know at least that much, and he could look for characterizations, structures, imagery, and metaphors without it being too familiar.
We left him beginning to talk with some others and continued on, discussing German literature from the class I had taken from him. I got the equivalent of a private tutorial on Immensee, Tristan und Isolde, Goethe’s Faust, Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, Lessing’s Nathan der Weise, Mann’s Tristan, Kafka’s Die Verwandlung and Der Prozess. He also rehearsed legends of the Holy Grail in Parzival. It was beneficial to me as I’d forgotten many of the details. I’ve read Immensee again since the class, and Kleist’s Marquise von O last winter, but that’s about all the German literature I’ve read in ages. I wanted to develop a system to keep it up so I didn’t lose more vocabulary. I thought I’d reread Tod in Venedig—I really liked that story, chilling as it was. I also thought I would read Goethe’s Die Leiden des Jungen Werther, especially since it had quite an impact on the English Romantics. Supposedly a great number of young men in Europe went out and killed themselves after reading it, as the hero, Werther, does in the novel.
By the time we got back from the walk we were hot and sticky. It was nearly 5 pm and the rain had long since stopped. In fact, it was drying up while we were at Rydal Mount inspecting the grounds and the house.
Some of us decided to go swimming. Roseanne and Sari waded out from the shore into Grasmere Lake, getting used to the water the hard way. Sven did too, but I ran and dove in as fast as I could. I felt that that was the only way to enter a lake, especially one with as mucky a bottom as this one had. Sven, Prof. Rich, and I swam out to the island, only about 200 yards from where we started. Sven and I stayed in the water and watched Prof. Rich scramble up onto the shore and disappear over the slope. We decided we had better follow, just in case he broke his leg and would need a candy bar and proper rain gear brought from the hotel so that we wouldn’t get into trouble. But if Molly had seen us scrambling about the island barefoot in swimsuits, she would have had a fit. We should have been towing our hiking boots with candy bars in the toes.
We found Prof. Rich at the cabin written about by Wordsworth in some poem or other. It was deserted, as it was in his day, and dirty, dingy, smelly, and very dark inside. It was really just a stone shell, one wall made of a great boulder in the side of the hill, and the rest of the walls of stacked stones. We inspected the hut, and then Sven and I climbed one of the huge old trees growing beside the hut. We couldn’t go very high, as in a swimsuit you can’t wrap your legs around rough-barked tree limbs to shinny up and down. The ground on the island was spongy and the long grasses soft underfoot. Luckily we didn’t encounter any stinging nettles.
We got back to the hotel in time to bathe before dinner. (When we heard much later about the lake’s reputation for being very dirty, we were lucky we didn’t catch anything.) Dinner, being the cook’s night off, was a buffet. It was sumptuous, as every meal here was. For dessert Sari and I had the trifle. We were a “trifle” surprised when it turned out to be sherry trifle, not cherry trifle. But being Sinners, we ate it anyway. To our untutored tastes, the liquor was bitter and we left as much of it as possible in the bottoms of our bowls.
A note about dressing for dinner—my generation and society in California in the late 1960s and early 1970s rejected what we thought were false standards established by society for determining manners and breeding. We would have called this a pretentious, vain show, if we’d ever even thought about it. It was simply not done, except sometimes for a special holiday dinner, and not even then most of the time. I looked around at this conference and thought that we had simply substituted the rule “come as you are” for the rule “dress up for dinner.” Here we were on the other side of the fence: we got dressed up every evening for dinner, and I found it was rather a nice tradition. Somehow it was pleasanter to see the people you had hiked with in jeans and sweatshirts and mackintoshes earlier in the day now well-groomed in coats and ties or nice dresses and jewelry. Besides, Ken set such a fancy table that you would have felt out of place coming in the dining room in jeans. We did it at breakfast, but that was different.
Monday, August 2
As this was the first full, typical day of the conference, I described it in my diary in full. It was a pretty day, muggy and sunny, so we didn’t need umbrellas. Sari and I slept until breakfast time and ran down as soon as we were dressed for the day.
Jonathan Wordsworth gave the first morning lecture at 9.45 at the Prince of Wales Hotel, concerning DeQuincy and Wordsworth and “Spots of Time” in each. We (Sari and I) found much of it too esoteric to be intelligible and began to despair about our preparation, previous education, and ability to get anything out of anything. Jonathan’s style was so hard for us to understand in the first place, and then we were unfamiliar with Thomas DeQuincy’s poetry, and finally there were obviously some “inside” arguments included that only those already in the know would understand, that we gave up trying to make sense of it all and just sat bewildered, letting the rhetoric flow over us, well over our heads.
The seminar afterward was not much better. I was put in Bill Ruddick’s group with some people I knew and others I hadn’t met yet. I wished for Sari, or Roseanne, or Sven, or Sean. I didn’t have anybody I knew well enough to whom to admit all my ignorance. Bill, a professor from University of Manchester, dominated the seminar, his words flowing from his mouth in silver streams, but I was not much enlightened as to what was the point of Jonathan’s lecture. A few others commented, but people probably felt a bit shy, it being the first day. Mostly they argued over which version of The Prelude is better—1799, 1805, or 1850. Jonathan opts for the earliest being best, and the poet himself of course was not satisfied, revising it heavily up until his death in 1850.
During the seminar every day we were served “elevenses,” coffee or tea or chocolate and biscuits. After such a full breakfast I never needed anything more, but it seemed to be the custom, so we usually partook of something.
|Allen Bank picnic|
When we were done eating, quite a lot of us went with Molly on a hike up past Easedale to Easedale Tarn, having Molly lecture us all the way about sheep farming, the fences, the houses, the water drains, the marks on the sheep, different kinds of Lakeland sheep, the little spaces in the wall for very young sheep to get through, and it went on and on. Molly seems to know everything about everything in the Lake District. We walked as close to her as we could most of the way up so as not to miss anything she might be saying. I loved listening to her talk—her accent is very pleasant—and she simply knows so much that is truly interesting.
Sari and I, during the walk, played a variation of our quotes game, singing or saying a line from a song that had to be part of a musical show and guessing what it was and where it was from. Meanwhile we also watched Bones. That’s the nickname we gave Neville, who was very thin. He would not come walk by us or talk to us. He stayed back with Peter Laver. Sari said she could develop a crush on Peter Laver, which would be good for Roseanne to find out about. Bones smiled at us and watched one or the other of us as much as we watched him. Sari decided I’d better keep my crush on him in spite of his failure to make any effort to become further acquainted.
|Bones at Easedale Tarn|
On the way down we stopped at a waterfall for a drink. Molly laughed at me almost falling in when I leaned over to soak my kerchief in the water. I am sure my contortions were funny, but I didn’t fall in after all so they were also successful. (But I fully deserved being laughed at if only for my making fun of Molly’s efforts to keep everybody safe on hikes.) I didn’t get my feet wet, and my head stayed cooler on the walk back. I walked most of the way with Bill Howard of the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, and, surprise! with Bones. I listened to them discuss aspects of The Prelude, the conference, and life in England. Bill had just moved to England from his native Canada. They asked me a few things and I contributed a mite to their discussion, thinking I was at least able to express myself without embarrassment.
When we got to our hotels, I spent the hour before dinner copying my poems into a format that I could hand in at the end of the term instead of going to the paper reading. It was a shame that I had made that choice, as everyone said that paper was one of the best of the whole conference, given by Professor Rachel Trickett.
Dinner was another of the overabundance-of-rich-food affairs. I wished I hadn’t eaten so much. I needed more exercise to support that much rich food.
The evening lecture at the Prince of Wales Hotel at 8:45 was Dr. Horst Mellor’s very interesting discussion of Prometheus as the most prominent saint in the Romantics’ calendar. It was interesting to me to hear how much the Promethean myth was used: Goethe used it in two different works, Shelley wrote the play Prometheus Unbound; his wife Mary used a variation in her novel Frankenstein, Or: The Modern Prometheus, and there were many more of the same theme. I understood it all and felt such pleasure in that simple fact that I probably thought the paper was greater as a result. Still, I was absorbed and fascinated by the lecture and excited to be able to share with Sari and Roseanne, who hadn’t read the works he cited.
We weren’t going to stay up late until we found out that Molly was giving a slide show in the lounge of the Moss Grove Hotel, of scenes of the Lake District accompanied by a musical soundtrack that included piano works of Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann. It was a wonderful slide show, a fitting end to a wonderful day.
Tuesday, August 3rd
|Looking over to Rydal Water on our walk|
Some fun things we encountered that I had never seen before were the stiles over the fences, and where there are gates, many are “kissing gates,” constructed so that animals cannot get through. The gate swings between the arms of a V or U shaped fence, so that the person steps into the V with the gate against the far side, then the person moves to the inside of the V and swings the gate to the other side and steps out the other side. The name “kissing gate” came about from it being a convenient way for a lover to get to kiss his girl: she steps into the V in front of him, and he doesn’t move the gate back. She is trapped and kissed.
Ken Johnston’s morning lecture discussed the politics of “Tintern Abbey.” If Wordsworth did borrow from Gilpin’s Guide Book to the River Wye, the additions and changes he made in writing his poem are significant to revealing some of the philosophical implications of the poem. Dr. Johnston made a case for defining “the still, sad music of humanity” according to his failed publishing enterprises with The Philanthropist in 1795, and that busy, anxious, revolutionary atmosphere he lived in when between Paris and London in 1792 – 1794. Then the sublimation of the gypsies and beggars in the Wye Valley—a religious, not political problem at the time—into the vagrant dwellers and the Hermit of the poem becomes an additional emphasis upon the idea that in Nature lies the “soul of all my moral being” for Wordsworth.
I was tired during our seminar discussion in Ash Cottage. I was especially tired of the same two people dominating the whole thing and being boring in addition. Otherwise I might not have daydreamed so much, nor written the following lines:
Arise when larks sing hymns to morning’s break
And run to watch the early mists move down
Evaporate, and sunrise softer make
Instead of sudden spotlight on the town.
Unfortunately, it is not even clear in these lines that the mist is softening the sunlight itself. The rhymes force senseless lines. I tried again:
In dawning skies how gently does the light
Come stealing over mountain slopes and roofs—
But there was no where to go after that, so I gave up. About all that could be said for these lines was that they were an exercise in producing iambic pentameter, however clumsily.
“I’m not impressed with you!” and we all laughed.
Pamela took us all down to the King’s Head pub to buy us drinks. I didn’t expect her to pay for my orange squash, but she insisted. We sat out on the terrace of the pub with Professor and Mrs. David Erdman discussing journalistic integrity and the problem of sensationalism. It was fun for me to get to put in my “tuppence” from my experiences working at the Daily Herald.
Pamela wanted to know, upon discovering that I was working my way through school, how a typical day would go for me. She knew that I was one of the graduate student instructors and wondered how on earth I juggled two jobs, classes, and the work involved. It brought back the memory of what a struggle it all was, and my opinion that I fully deserve this four-month “vacation” I’m taking. I didn’t say that though. I outlined a typical day: 8 a.m. Beowulf class, 9 a.m. History of the English Language class, 10 a.m. teaching freshman composition class (2 days a week), 11 a.m. office hour for my students, noon teaching freshman English (4 days a week), 1 p.m. run home for lunch, to change, and to leave for work at 2:30 p.m. Work at the Daily Herald from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., get home about 7:30 p.m. to eat dinner, study, and grade papers until bed.
Roseanne said Bones was impressed. She said Pamela couldn’t have asked better questions if she, Roseanne, were priming her. As for Bones, he asked me what ballad it was that Sari and I had sung in the cave. We discussed ballads for a while and decided we’d have to have some more singing sometime.
Hawkshead School was where Wordsworth attended grammar school. The part of the school that had me imagining the boys at school was the stairs, worn and uneven all the way up. The library was impressive too with its volumes of ancient books. But the school was very crowded with visitors and I needed space to think.
Our little group wandered off to see the house where young William Wordsworth lived with his aunt after the deaths of his parents. We saw the Quaker church with its tiny cemetery. Claudia lay down on one of the graves with a tombstone at her head, having no respect for the dead. I’m sure they wouldn’t actually care about her quirky way of treating them.
The conference paper this afternoon at the Wordsworth Library was Lucy Newlyn’s discussion of young Hartley Coleridge as a symbol for Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge of imagination and of the perpetual embodiment of joy that cannot withstand the future. Childhood and innocent artlessness give way to little actors in mock apparel. It was an interesting thesis, but she handled it badly, trivially. The critics jumped on her when she was through reading, with no mercy. Jonathan Wordsworth, her professor, patron, lover, what-have-you with whom she is living, jumped to her defense, but he could do little against their legitimate attacks on her method. Her idea, they stressed, was good. I thought both the presentation by the rather unprepared young woman and the attacks were politically motivated, and she seemed a pawn to me in a scholars’ war. I could have written a better paper myself, given the sources she has had access to. How in the world did she come to be invited to present such a paper? Didn’t she realize what she would be in for? Surely Jonathan knew. Had he really not see the paper? He must not have, or he would surely have made her revise it.
At dinner conversation continued the arguments about Lucy’s poor showing and Jonathan’s behavior. He seemed to me to be the perfect candidate to put into a novel as the leading man, or the villain. I couldn’t think of a more fitting category for him. The book would have the “brilliant mind warped” theme as a subplot.
I skipped the evening lecture in favor of washing clothes, which needed doing badly. When I was finished with that, I wrote and wrote.
My poem for the day was inspired by Hawkshead School.
Noisy boys scurrying, shouting,
Clambering upstairs in tumultuous
Thunderings of boots and laughter—I can hear you!
I can hear you through two centuries;
Can see you, penknives poised above
Your desks, ready to give your names permanence
In a wooden letter to me and others like me
Who come to read the records of your youth
In school at desks; or your Youth
In the library somewhat bored, eager to add
Youth’s contributions to the canonized
Printed pages—I can see you!
I can know you though two centuries
Divide our births, for I have known
The urge to proclaim me in permanence,
—Such scratches in wood which my parents
Thought wrong!—and I have drawn
When a teacher said I should be reading;
I have skipped and laughed down a hall
And been made by my teacher to traverse
The hall twice, quietly: I know you.
I have seen with eternal eyes,
Imagining away the objects history tells me
Were added after you were gone;
I have heard with eternal ears
The echoes of your laughter and of your footsteps,
Wednesday, August 4
We were up and walking around the lake at 7:30. Although we went around the lake, we didn’t go on the water’s edge. We went along the ridges of the hills above Grasmere and Rydal Water, a very beautiful walk. The bracken is feathery and not bad to walk in, and it is especially quiet in the woods.
Stephen Parrish’s morning lecture was intriguingly titled “The Ministry of Fear.” In it he detailed the supernatural effects in Wordsworth’s poetry as well as the anxious or emotional effects of fear of madness, or of incapacity, or of suicide. He concluded that melancholy was the defense for fear, and that Wordsworth didn’t have to cope with more than that since he never lost his capacity for expression in poetry as Coleridge did.
After our seminar discussion I found mail waiting for me at Moss Grove Hotel: a card from my parents and a note from my sister with some cute jewelry in it for my birthday this week. There is nothing like a letter from home: Proverbs 25:25, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”
I went down to the church yard and copied and revised the rest of my poems and rewrote the one about Hawkshead School.
Geoffrey Baker read his controversial paper, titled “Different Attitudes to The Prelude”—arguing for the 1850 text through an attack on Jonathan’s edition of the 1805 Prelude published by Norton. Whew! What a war! What a show! They only gave Jonathan three minutes to refute Geoffrey’s assertions, which were that Jonathan gives blind heed to a doctrine called “Presentism” which argues that anything with religion in it cannot be sincere, must be pietistic (a slur), and somehow shows weakness of intellect. Jonathan says he does not do this, but of course he does. Too bad Geoffrey is a Christian—all Christian critics are labeled and dismissed, which is exactly what Jonathan did. Geoffrey argued that since Wordsworth became more and more Christian as the years went on, that critics must accept and understand his point of view in order to understand his poetry. But the non-Christian critics say that Wordsworth became more and more senile and thus dismiss his piety.
I don’t understand how they can miss an obvious point: if critics are going to accept the validity of author-intent criticism, then they have to be able to set aside cynicism and bias and modern sensibilities and try to climb inside the mind of the author who lived when devotion to God did not denote senility.
Nora and I continued the discussion on the way back to Moss Grove from Town End as we shared my umbrella. Then over dinner at Ash Grove, where Roseanne and I were eating in a trade with the Whites who wanted to sample a Moss Grove feast (they got roast duck!), I explained everything to Roseanne, who hadn’t followed all of the argument.
After dinner we went back to Moss Grove and then to the Prince of Wales for the evening lecture. It was so obscure and obtuse a point, the rhetoric so muddied, that I gave up trying to understand and wrote two sonnets instead.
The Hick at the Summer Conference
I am not used to steaming summer heat;
I come from deserts where the burning sun
Sucks every drop of moisture off the street—
Here I think the dew and I are one!
I am not used to so much bookish talk,
Nor intellect at dinner every night;
Those folks at home are superstitious stock:
Intelligence spoils meals and books spoil sight!
I am not used to refutatious wars
When scholars read their papers after tea;
But I’m content to watch and keep the score,
So long as wits at war don’t count on me!
This conference, giving me amusing thought,
Is teaching rather more than it is not.
That one obviously grew out of the discussions of the last two days. This next one was more general, and everybody liked it better. I wrote it very fast with hardly any effort, which was nice. I really needed to write more for the portfolio I had to turn in at the end of the term.
1805 vs. 1850 Prelude Controversy
Since when can you tell him his poem is done?
Who gave you insight into this, his “child”?
Why rip from him his thoughts when they are one
And tell him that he ruined what he has styled?
I tell you something: you’re no expert here–
Unless you somehow climb inside his mind–
And maybe you should harbor smallish fear
Before you wade to depths your feet can’t find.
Those words aren’t yours, expressing what he’s seen
No matter whether written when he saw,
Or written over, after thought has weaned
The thing essential, ripened from the raw.
You therefore must give leave for poets to think
They have the right to start or stop their ink!
Not to be taken literally.
Wednesday, August 5
|Pretty morning walk|
In the morning lecture at the Prince of Wales, Professor John Beer discussed the question of fidelity and consistency in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge. He traced several themes and showed whether the poets kept or discarded ideals as they went along.
Our seminar discussion group at Ash Cottage so far had consisted of two or sometimes three people doing all the talking, and often I didn’t grasp the point of what they were talking about, so it wasn’t doing me much good to sit there when all I did was try to sort out a meaning from it all and not be able to do so. I skipped it and wrote.
We had a picnic at some ruins at Tilberthwaite. Since Roseanne had been absolutely pining for someone to start a romance, Sven and I sat discussing who we might be able to pull a Beatrice/Benedick trick on: Nancy and Sean? That rascal Sven—by bribing me with a promise that he would tell me what he had heard about me in the graduate office last winter, he got me to tell him that Nancy might still like Sean. It turned out that he had heard nothing—he just wanted to know whatever it was that I was keeping from him. I felt pretty foolish falling for his tricks. It served me right for wanting to gossip. He was very sympathetic to Nancy though and wondered if there was any possibility that we might be able to get them together.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “And anyway I don’t think he is good for her.” Sven retired to another rock to think this over and soon came back and asked for an explanation.
I considered. “Good is probably not the right word. You know how he is—he’s practically a saint. Never loses his temper, never does anything wrong that we can see. But he seems to have no heart. They were together for a year and a half and he never said they were anything more than just friends, never even kissed her. I wonder if he’s ever been in love. Even if he did care for her, I think she needs a different type of man. I guess it’s more accurate to say that he’s not the right type for her.”
Sven agreed with my assessment. He thought Nancy was the fun-loving and sometimes crazy type, but Sean was not. He was very quiet, and although he laughed a lot, it was as an observer, not as an instigator or even a participant.
We turned to the problem of giving Roseanne her romance. Sven said he had heard that I liked Neville. I did not want to discuss that, so I said, “That is a fiction concocted by Roseanne in desperation.”
“So you don’t?” he asked.
“Well,” I admitted, “it was fun to kick around the idea of a mad crush.”
“Why don’t we put on a show for Roseanne ourselves?”
I about fell off my rock in surprise and laughter. But then I agreed. It would be tough to convince her we were serious, but that would be the funniest thing if we succeeded.
Nancy called over, “What are you two talking about?” We certainly couldn’t tell her exactly. We told her we were discussing her, and were her ears burning yet? She didn’t believe us, of course. Whenever you tell the truth in a certain tone of voice, nobody believes you’re serious. It can be very convenient.
When everybody was through with lunch, those who were going hiking with Molly left, and those of us going on the steam yacht gondola on Coniston Water walked back to the bus to be taken there. Too bad Roseanne hadn’t come with us. Sven and I felt we were losing a great opportunity to begin our scheme immediately.
Professor Rich came over to us to ask us how we felt about holding a seminar discussion with our own group alone. Apparently all of us American students were feeling the same way I had been—more lost than informed. If I had only known where the discussion was starting, I might have been able to follow it. As it was, I felt stupid, obtuse, and dense by turns. It was intimidating enough to be a student only superficially acquainted with Wordsworth and the Romantics, thrown in with scholars and educators from all over the world, but though they didn’t expect us to be on their level, we were embarrassed by our seemingly abysmal ignorance. We couldn’t do much about preparation, so it seemed like a good idea for us to get together to recap the lecture at least to be sure we knew what it was all about. [We ended up not doing this after all.]
|Steam gondola on Coniston Water|
We thought we might hurry back to change and have a quick swim before the paper reading, but we had no chance. We got back just in time to change and hurry to Town End for the paper reading.
Jeanie Watson’s paper was “Speaking the Language of Sight: Coleridge’s Androgynous Ideal,” which seemed at first to be a trivial topical hunt through the literary figures’ works. But when she got to the critical application, however, it became extremely interesting to see what light an understanding of Coleridge’s view of the androgynous nature of God and of the eternal soul threw on his poems such as “Christabel” and “Kubla Khan.” Considering both Geraldine and Christabel as symbols for androgynous divinity and spirit of man, respectively, one concludes that the theme of the poem deals with the idea that it’s a fallen world in which what is called “evil” may really be good, and in which it is impossible (in this world), to say what one’s encounter with the holy world is. The whole idea of androgyny may be contrary to my personal ideas of divinity, but it must be considered objectively in Coleridge criticism, as Jeanie so thoroughly pointed out.
Sven and I sat together, writing notes back and forth in commentary on the paper, agreeing that her ideas were a good possibility, given the major premise of the argument. Sean wrote me a note too, but his revealed that he rejected the entire argument, based on its major premise.
If there is nothing else I would want to get across to my freshman students, it would be that they must try to understand a work of literature by setting aside their own beliefs and values to consider the author’s beliefs and values. Many do not, or will not, try to look at anything except through the eyes of their own faith, values, philosophies, or beliefs. Thus some never come to an understanding of literature, of human nature, of another culture, life, or thought. They remain narrow minded in their thinking through some sort of insecurity concerning their own position.
Roseanne had trouble following the argument, so while we walked back to Moss Grove for dinner, I tried to explain it to her.
As Sari and I were dressing for dinner, Diane came in and asked if we would sit by her at dinner. I wondered what she was up to. We had not really hit it off.
Richard Wordsworth foiled whatever plans she had when he caught me going in to dinner and asked me to sit next to Michael Foot, MP and the Labour Party leader in the House of Commons. He had come to deliver an address to the conference. I supposed that Richard was impressed with my quoting half of The Importance of Being Earnest and singing all those Cole Porter songs on our morning walks. He had said he had been in the play (he was a professional actor) once, and he said Cole Porter was too much before my time for me to be supposed to know. I supposed from all that, that Richard thought I’d be a good dinner partner. Wrong.
I was so intimidated by Mr. Foot that I became tongue tied and simply listened in on his conversation with Pamela and Robert Woof, Richard Gravil, and Gillian and John Beer. All of them were British, all well informed, and all with plenty of talent at good conversation.
Tong-choon Shin, a scholar from Korea, was across the table from me, so we, on the end of the table and somewhat excluded, began discussing the nature of poetry and composition. She was quite a well-known poet in her country and later gave me a brochure with some of her poems in it. In return, I copied out the few poems of mine that she liked and asked me for. A couple of times Mr. Foot on my left and Richard Gravil on Ms. Shin’s right listened to us, but they did not join our conversation and their attention was always called back by the others.
Meanwhile, behind us I could hear a little of what was happening at Sari and Diane’s table. I could hear Diane asking Jonathan Wordsworth a lot of questions, and his answers went on at length, but I couldn’t listen to what he was saying. I was sure it was pretty entertaining though.
Later on, Sari told me it had been downright embarrassing. Diane had asked Jonathan the title of the book he was writing. It was The Borders of Vision. Diane asked if it were an autobiography, oblivious to what a silly assumption that was. Sari said Jonathan just sneered at her and at American students in general, as rude as he could be, and it went on and on. She said the Dansies had tried to introduce other topics, had tried to smooth out the conversational path with no luck. We agreed that they are better bred than many of the people around us, but what could they do when Diane was intent on conducting her “interview”?
I did hear Diane’s version later on. She had had no idea how she appeared; she thought he quite liked her. I didn’t try to enlighten her. What would have been the use? She said he was looking forward to seeing her in Denver sometime. I was thoroughly disgusted with him and amazed at her näivete.
Michael Foot’s lecture tonight was a lot of fun. Besides being enlightening on the nature of William Hazlitt, it was an entertaining retelling of the scandals he got himself into back in the days when Wordsworth and Coleridge lived here. And I, sitting next to Inge Schelstraete, kept her amused with stories about my fellow students. Inge told me she was 14, a child prodigy. I did not believe her, and she admitted she was 20. “But don’t I look 14?” she asked. She’s from Belgium and a first-rate jokester.
Age was the topic of the evening. While walking between hotels, Inge asked me the ages of my fellow students and flatly refused to believe me when I was telling the truth. She could not believe we were not all teenagers still. Sigh. I suppose we do appear immature and uninformed.
Inge was as avid for a romance as Roseanne could be. I told her about our scheme to match up Nancy and Sean, and she said that the only way to be effective was to seduce the man. I laughed. I did not try to begin a conversation on our religious convictions about virtue. Instead I observed that convincing Nancy to try that would be as hard as convincing Sean to do anything wrong in life. It was a hopeless task, I said, and we would have to be content with talking and scheming for our fun, and not rely on results for amusement.
Very late at night we started a party in Sari’s and my room. Sven was making me laugh until my face hurt by pretending to flirt with me for Roseanne’s benefit. She had appropriated Sari’s bed and was in it eyeing Sven suspiciously. Meanwhile we were teasing Nancy about wanting to be alone with Sean, and he was looking bemused but clueless. Sari got mad at us and threatened to smack us if we didn’t stop.
I don’t remember everything but the jokes went on and on. Sari said she was going with Sean to his room to pick up some papers she wanted to copy, and we monsters made the most of that. I went to Roseanne’s room and found Gina trying to sleep. I woke her up and told her she had to join our party. She was not happy, but I sailed out and back to our room. There I found Sven holding the door shut. He whispered to me to go find Roseanne, and I did—she was in Sven’s and Sean’s room with Nancy, but Sean wasn’t there. We went back and Sven popped open our door, revealed an enraged Sari charging out to smack him one. She chased him down the hall somewhere. Sean came out, red-faced and laughing, and I went in to find all the cake eaten but one piece and the room empty of other people.
Sari came back and we took the remaining piece of cake down to the cook as a thank you (the cook had supplied us with treats for our impromptu party). Since a lot of people from the conference were still partying in the bar and since another group was holding forth noisily under our window, we decided not to go to bed yet. The two of us went over to the church yard and sat on the wall talking until midnight. It was still hot. When we got back to the hotel, all the parties had diminished to the size that allowed us to sleep.
Friday, August 6
|Anne Groo, Richard Wordsworth, Jiro Nagasawa, Michael Foot,|
daughter of the Woofs, Jonathan Wordsworth
The morning lecture was by Dr. Beth Darlington of Vassar College, New York. Sari and I idolize her. She is everything we would like to be, academically, physically, and in terms of social grace. She is perfectly polished. Plus, she has a marvelous sense of humor. She gave an excellent treatment of biographical writing, “In Search of Dorothy Wordsworth” arguing for the need for a new biography to be written.
In our seminar we discussed biography and then discussed Wordsworth’s poem “Michael.” Finally! A discussion I thoroughly understood and could even contribute to. Wonders will never cease.
As soon as I’d gotten my lunch and decided to spend the afternoon diligently writing, Sari appeared with a bag full of books she’d bought at an antique shop she’d found around the corner. Claudia and I rushed to find it too and bought books ourselves. I got a copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth, a Dorothy Sayers collection of short stories (including two Lord Peters), and a Gene Stratton Porter book. There went my diligent afternoon. I read the Lord Peter Wimsey stories and a couple of the others in the Sayers book.
At 4 pm Sari and I were to jog around the lake, but I was asleep on the sofa in the lounge and she didn’t see me when she poked her head in, looking for me. Sean went with her instead.
Seraphia Leyda of the University of New Orleans read her paper this afternoon, titled “Wordsworth’s Sonnets upon the Punishment of Death” which sparked all kinds of discussion clear through dinner on the pros and cons of capital punishment. I had not yet come to a clear position on the subject myself. Just when I thought I had myself convinced to take one side, some of the arguments for the other side would come to mind that would unsettle my decision and I would be left wondering what solution to come to. The issue seemed so evenly balanced in my mind that I could not decide it.
Since I fell asleep on the bedroom floor right after dinner, I missed Professor Robert Woof’s evening lecture on travels through the Lake District. I think every time I missed a lecture, it turned out to be the lecture I wished I had heard. I also missed Richard Clancy’s later impromptu introduction to Furness Abbey and Piel Castle. From the reports I later got, I was comforted in thinking I would be able to glean most of the information from the next day’s tour.
I woke up and went to Roseanne’s room. Gina wasn’t in yet, so I “confided” in Roseanne, telling her I had a huge crush on Sven and what was I going to do about it? She was tough to convince—she told me that if this was a joke, she’d kill me. I assured her it was no joke, that I was truly upset, that there was no future in it, that everything was hopeless, and that all I wanted was to talk it out with someone so that I could get over it. At length she was convinced. I am such an accomplished liar!
She of course was delighted. She saw all sorts of possibilities, assuring me that what she knew of his plans for his future would work perfectly with mine, and that she was sure she’d seen him looking at me as if he really liked me, and on and on in the same manner.
This is a dirty trick, I thought. It was working according to Plan, except I felt a niggling hitch in the back of my mind that this was not a good thing. I made her promise not to tell anybody about it, nor even to hint by a look that this was going on. She promised, but she protested against my saying I’d be cured in a day or two just by having this talk. She didn’t want me to be cured. Our future children would be the cutest ever, she said.
“Good grief!” I exclaimed. “You jump too fast from crushes to children!” She was such a hopeless sentimentalist. Nothing like a dose of that to keep my own sanity!
To be continued . . .
Next Episode: Part IX: The Ups and Downs of the Wordsworth Conference
|Molly Lefebure, lecturing about safety|
|Heading up to Easedale Tarn|
|Little lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?|
|Dorothy Wordsworth's view out the window of Allen Bank House|
|Father Bob Barth, Richard Wordsworth, Morris & Sue Schopf|
|Morning walk scenes|
|Richard & Sylvia Wordsworth's house, High Scaur Crag|
|Getting over the stile: Marianne Walenda in red & blue; |
Molly Lefebure in red & white
|Climbing the hill|
|The Quaker meetinghouse in Hawkshead|
|Neighbors of the Quakers in Hawkshead|
|A Victorian cottage near Hawkshead|
|A humid morning walk|
|The steam yacht gondola on Coniston Water|
|Heading to Town End to a paper reading|
|Michael Foot, MP; Richard Wordsworth;|
Professor Masanori Yoshida
|Grasmere Lake at evening|
|Derwent Water, postcard by Colin Baxter|
|Grasmere Lake's island|
|Same island, silhouette|
|Looking across Grasmere Lake toward Allen Bank|