This pamphlet is subtitled “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals reimagined” and was published to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her birth. The journals are packed with description of the natural world and her thoughts and feelings, written over the period 1798 – 1803. Sarah Doyle calls these collage poems rather than found poems because, although the words are Wordsworth’s, the poet has reshaped the prose into poetry and added punctuation where necessary for sense. The original spellings have been kept rather than modernised. The language is far from prosaic. The first poem, “One only leaf,” is short enough to be quoted whole,
“upon the top of
a tree – the sole remaining
leaf – danced round and round
like a rag blown by
It’s a gentle observation. The repetition of “round” shows this is a continuous movement forced by the wind and out of the leaf’s control. “Under Silver How” observes a birch tree in a sunny breeze,
“It was a tree in shape, with stem and branches,
but it was like a spirit of water. The sun went
in, and it resumed its purplish appearance,
the twigs still yielding to the wind, but not
so visibly to us. The other birch trees
that were near it looked bright and cheerful,
but it was a creature by its own self among them.”
Unlike the others, this “purplish” tree stands out as an individual, its movements more fluid than solid. While it stands out, there’s no hint of menace, just difference. The detail in the prose draws on close observation and rich details.
In some poems, Doyle has not just shaped the prose into lines of poetry but also shaped the poem to reflect the subject, for example, “beautiful to see”
hot night little
boats row out of
harbour with wings of
fire, and the sail boats with
the fiery track which they cut as
they went along, and which closed
after them with a hundred thousand
sparkles, and streams of
The poem takes the shape of one of the boats being described. As previously, the visual description is vivid, bringing to life the images of the setting sun reflected in the water and the boats cutting through the surface and sparkling with glow-worms. The poem’s are just static observation. One is a list of walks and tasks completed. “A heart unequally divided”, is a record of emotion, a lake is described as “dull and melancholy”,
“I had many of my saddest thoughts, and I could
not keep the tears within me. My heart was almost
melted away. My heart smote me, prevented me
from sleeping. I was melancholy, and could not
talk, but at last I eased my heart by weeping.”
The landscape is a projection of Wordsworth’s inner emotional world. The poem offers no clues as to what triggered the depressed mood but the crying gives her relief. There’s a sense of restlessness in the title poem,
“……………………………………………………………………………….. A wild,
moonlight night, the valley all perfumed with the gale
and wild thyme, but curiously wild, this solemn quiet
…………This is a wild and melancholy walk, the transition
from the solitary wildness.
……………………………………………….The sky and the clouds,
and a few wild creatures, a wild intermixture of rocks,
…………….something so wild and new in this feeling
of wild singularity”
The repetition of “wild” underlines the effects of the gale, whipping against free-growing plants. The landscape isn’t entirely empty but the animals are minding their business, leaving the narrator to take her walk unbothered, free to note the gale and allow the landscape to become an emotional journey. There’s a sense of discovery, that the familiar can look new if you change your perspective.
Later, in “Lights and shadows”, Wordsworth is watching swallows’ shadows on the walls of the building, “the shadows glanced and twinkled, interchanged/ and crossed each other, expanded and shrunk up”, in contrast,
“The sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light,
that there was even something like the purity
of one of nature’s own grand spectacles. Rocks
glittered in the sunshine, distant hills were visible,
the evening sun was now sending a glorious light.
Islanded with sunshine, bathed in golden light,
my heart danced while the sun was yet shining.”
The delight drips off the page. These are the words of someone in love with her home and surrounds.
“Something so wild and new in this feeling” takes Wordsworth’s words shared in private in her journal and brings them to life. Curating them to show she was more than her brother’s companion, and also capable of writing about her love for the natural world and what she observed in captiving prose. Doyle has done a successful job in selecting the phrases that demonstrate Wordsworth’s poetic sensibilities and crafting them into poems that work like a seam of light silvering the birches.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.