On our last day in Grasmere, students quickly finished up their online exhibition, linking the writings of William and Dorothy Wordsworth and images of their manuscripts with photographs and drawings of the places they describe. Their intention was to assemble something that the Trust would find useful for its outreach program to seniors with memory loss. Then came the test: how would it be received? They had an exacting audience: Jeff Cowton, Curator of the Wordworth Trust, and Gillian Dow, head of research at Chawton House Library, the center of Jane Austen studies. I was impressed with the clarity of their presentation, and the sophistication of the project—and so were Cowton and Dow. It was a triumph.
Triumphs deserve rewards, so Jeff brought out some of the Trust’s greatest treasures for us to hold and admire. The earliest complete manuscripts of The Prelude, Wordsworth’s autobiographical epic, a beautiful Lake District watercolor by J.M.W. Turner, a first edition of Lyrical Ballads which we passed around while reading Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and, for Konner Jebb, a first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and a recitation of the moment of the monster’s creation.
After lunch and souvenirs at the sheep shop, we headed north to Keswick for our last excursion. First stop: Castlerigg Stone Circle, a Stonehenge in miniature, ringed by Skiddaw, Blencathra, and Helvellyn, three towering Lake District mountains. Next, Jeff drove us through the village of Keswick and, ever so gingerly, along a narrow road around Derwentwater. Try doing hairpins in a minibus! We stopped at Brandelhow Woods for dramatic views of the mountains and the lake. The poet Gray called Derwentwater “the Vale of Elysium,” and we could all see why.
The day ended with rest in the Dove Cottage gardens and another meal in Wordsworth’s home: salads and cold meat pies, and plenty of laughter and memories. It was a fitting end to a perfect week.
Sometimes, teaching is simply sharing a gift. 30 years ago, I was given the gift of Wordsworth’s lakes by the late Stephen Parrish of Cornell. Last week, I was able to pass that gift on to eight PC students—John Connolly, Branan Durbin, Kris Gianquitti, Konnor Jebb, Abby Johnston, Patricia Krupinski, Brendan Murphy, and Nick Tavares. I have never felt more privileged.
–Dr. Bruce Graver
Maymester in England On our last day in Grasmere, students quickly finished up their online exhibition, linking the writings of... MORE
A rainy Thursday in the Lake District saw us holed up in the “reading room” today. If it hasn’t been mentioned before, the reading room is the archive room at the Wordsworth Trust. It has a great, big table in the center and several million dollars of rare and important books lining all four walls (that estimate is a guess because Dr. Graver won’t be more precise). A day in the reading room is really notable for the silence that pervades it. There is no rule against speaking in it, but a hush falls on the group when we all begin to settle into the various aspects of the research we’re preparing. It’s not a library silence, and it is by no means an awkward silence. Rather, there is an air of focus and intensity.
I have had very few academic experiences in my life akin to the feeling of the silence this morning. For a solid hour and half before lunch (after tea, of course), scarcely a word was spoken nor a joke made (unusual for a group like us), and there was a mood of devotion to what we were doing. It may have been the first time on the entire trip that I felt as if we’d all found exactly what we came for: handling the primary texts (diligently) and working toward the common goal of understanding what it is about life, literature, and landscape that we find so intrinsically important to ourselves. Anyway, it may be hard to capture perfectly, but the commonality that I’ve found in studying the worth of Wordsworth’s words in their original form, and the intense emotion that accompanies has had a lasting effect today, if not for the entirety of this trip to the Lakes.
–John Connolly ’16
During lunch, some of us ventured into town to explore downtown Grasmere, exploring shops for local wool products and other souvenirs to bring home. The other half of the group set out on a walk around Grasmere Lake, but within 10 minutes of our journey we were soaked by a flash of down-pouring rain. We returned to continue work on our project, making progress on an online exhibit for the museum and a presentation geared toward an audience that is unable to travel to Grasmere. We connected our personal experiences with the beautiful landscapes of the Lakes District to William’s poems and Dorothy’s journal entries. Our hard work was rewarded by one of the most delicious meals of the trip — a steak and ale pie made by our lovely hosts at the Thorney How hostel, followed by apple and rhubarb crisp. The beautiful old words, the sights, the friendly people, and the delicious food have made this trip unforgettable so far, and with our Saturday departure approaching, we are all savoring every moment while we can.
–Nick Tavares ’16
Maymester in England A rainy Thursday in the Lake District saw us holed up in the “reading room” today. If... MORE
This morning was the first truly cloudy morning as we walked to Dove Cottage, but not even the clouds could cover Grasmere’s natural beauty.
The first half of the morning we listened to two women from the Trust discuss how the museum engages elementary school children. One of the kids’ favorite activities is matching stanzas of Wordsworth’s poems to a story board. To get the full experience, we tried this activity for ourselves. Luckily, we all got it right.
We spent the second half of the morning looking at facsimiles of one of Wordsworth’s handmade notebooks in which he works out parts of “The Ruined Cottage.” Deciphering Wordsworth’s handwriting made reading the manuscript an almost meditative experience, as it required extra concentration. We also compared the manuscript to a typed copy of the final poem, paying extra attention to what Wordsworth kept and what he left out of the poem. A large section of the manuscript was dedicated to several rewritings of only a few lines of the poem. As writers, it was reassuring to see Wordsworth’s editing process and realize how many verses do not make it into the final product and how much even authors as great as Wordsworth sometimes struggle with their writing.
Abby Johnston ’2017
This afternoon, after a quick lunch in town, we returned to the Trust to begin working on our project. We spent some time bouncing various ideas back and forth, deciding to use all we’ve researched this week to explore the emotions found in Dorothy and Wordsworth’s own writing. Specifically how the landscape and picturesque spaces among the Lake District relate to these emotional responses.
Our project consists of eight different excerpts from both Dorothy’s journals and William Wordsworth’s poetry. Each of us is writing a short review of a specific journal entry or poem, giving examples of the descriptions of Grasmere within the works themselves that illustrate the emotional impact they had on the two of them. We’re also including visuals of manuscripts, sketches of the areas within each entry, and quite possibly even a few recitations of the works we chose. Jeff seemed excited when we pitched our idea to him. Hopefully, this exhibit will become a valuable one for the Trust and both interests and excites their visitors!
It finally rained today, and Grasmere was still just as beautiful. After our work was done, Jeff drove us back to the hostel where we had another lovely dinner that involved chicken Caesar salad – the chicken was wrapped in bacon! It was a great night that was spent laughing and working on our project after dinner.
Konnor Jebb ’2016
Maymester in England This morning was the first truly cloudy morning as we walked to Dove Cottage, but not even... MORE
This morning we made our way back to the Jerwood Center bright and early. The walk to the center from our hostel is about half an hour long and quite beautiful, taking us through Grasmere past various shops and establishments.
At the Trust, we had the opportunity to use the tips and tricks we had learned the day before about handling and interpreting manuscripts. Jeff led us through the process of analyzing one document in particular, allowing us to make discoveries for ourselves through our various observations and gently using our insights to prompt us in the correct direction. We eventually ascertained that the particular document we had in front of us was about 200 lines of a final draft of “Home at Grasmere,” a poem we studied in class back at PC this past Friday. In the poem, Wordsworth explores the nearly divine beauty of his home. Since it holds a subject so personal and dear to his heart, this poem more than others feels as though it has more of him in it, which made having the original manuscript before us even more precious.
Branan Durbin ’16
Just before lunch we went to our afternoon destination of Hawkshead. This trip was being taken so that we could view more of the locations referenced by Wordsworth in his poetry, specifically in his Prelude. We visited his elementary school (called primary school here in the UK) and his childhood parish. After the first few sites, we went for lunch in the village and then continued out to the rural areas of Hawkshead. We finished it with some cream tea and scones, and then hopped on our minibus to drive back to Grasmere and The Wordsworth Trust. Once back, we listened to a presentation by a philosopher introducing a new interpretation of Wordsworth as a poet. When this finished, we headed back to Thorney How for a lovely dinner, some drinks, and conversation. After dinner, some of us went off to read, others to write, and a few went for a hike.
In May and June, the sun does not set in the Lake District until around 10:15 p.m. This is an incredible asset for visitors. I was a part of the group that went for an evening hike. We went towards the Easedale Tarn, traversing pastures, rocky roads, and steep hills. The experience was incredible in the evening air. Though we had hiked as an entire group and experienced the magic that these hills can share a day prior, the feeling was just as incredible this second time. We each sat at a peek or near a lake and reflected on our day and the landscape. It is a truly fantastic way to end a busy day. We joined up again as the sun began to set and returned to the hostel. Again a whole group, we relaxed until bed, thankful for another terrific day.
Brendan Murphy ’16
Maymester in England This morning we made our way back to the Jerwood Center bright and early. The walk to... MORE
Maymester in England
A group of English majors is currently abroad in England as part of the Maymester course, Wordsworth in the Lake District. After a week of study at PC, the students traveled to Grasmere, Wordsworth’s home in the picturesque English Lake District. They are working at the Jerwood Centre and the Wordsworth Museum, where most of the poet’s books and manuscripts are stored. This three-credit course offers a unique opportunity to study a writer’s works in the place where he lived, and to visit the exact places he described. Throughout the week, students in the course will be recounting their experiences as part of this blog. We invite you to “go on the journey” with them.
Today, our first full day in Grasmere, we walked to Dove Cottage to meet Jeff Cowton, curator of the Wordsworth Trust. We started with a tour of Dove Cottage to set the mood; it is lovely. We saw many objects that belonged to William, and were able to walk through the garden. It certainly is “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.” We also walked through the museum, where we saw not only more objects, but also the work that the trust does with those who suffer memory loss. After this, we went into the library and began our work with manuscripts!
We learned how to handle manuscripts and other museum objects in ways that protect and preserve them. Jeff showed us the oldest surviving letter from Dorothy, as well as many of William’s letters. The amount of manuscripts held at the Trust is incredible. What is even more amazing is that we will be working with these manuscripts and finishing a project that will impact the future visitors of Dove Cottage.
-Patricia Krupinski ’16
After lunch we hiked the hills behind Dove Cottage, often pausing our trek to view Grasmere, glimmering green with sheep spotted pastures and surrounded by steep hills and crags. The sights were breathtaking; and with each breath we took we filled our lungs with sweet fresh air and our minds with inspiration. We saw similar sights that the Wordsworths viewed over 200 years ago, and we felt the same clear-headedness and elevation of spirit that William captured in his poetry. It is no wonder he considered Grasmere a place “Of majesty, and beauty, and repose, a blended holiness of earth and sky.”
We ate dinner in Dove Cottage, in a room where Dorothy could have sat writing her journals and where William would have worked countless times. We even tried seed cake made from a recipe the Wordsworths used. We discussed Dove Cottage’s effects on visitors, learning the dynamics of a museum. All the while, however, we felt the same strong pulls of history and inspiration stirring within us with each bite of seed cake and with each crackle of the coals in the fireplace. It was truly an amazing day.
-Nick Tavares ’16
Maymester in England A group of English majors is currently abroad in England as part of the Maymester course, Wordsworth in... MORE