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In this penultimate poem in Poems on the Naming of Places, Wordsworth recounts an early-morning September stroll near Grasmere Lake taken by himself, Dorothy, and their good friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He recalls how this group of literary and nature-loving friends neared a rocky point in the eastern shore of the lake, forming imaginative attachments to the objects they saw. Then they caught sight of a peasant fishing in the distance, and immediately formed ungenerous assumptions about him. Wordsworth seems deliberately to position near the end of this series of poems about affections for places a reminder that not everyone shares such places equally. He and his friends can enjoy the fine September morning by the lake in a way that the man they encounter cannot—not only is he a peasant who must labor, but a severe illness has kept him from the fields and he is desperately fishing for his keep. The poem closes with the narrator recalling how they named the portion of the shore where they encountered the man “Point Rash-Judgment” (86). Among other things, this poem might warn of risks—such as complacency and cruel indifference—entailed in cultivating private attachments to locations that fail to account for others who differently inhabit the same settings.
Two further comments are relevant, one by Coleridge in an 1800 notebook entry that seems related to the major incident of the poem, the other by Wordsworth to Isabella Fenwick in 1843:
Poor fellow at a distance idle? in this haytime when wages are so high? Come near—thin, pale, can scarce speak—or throw out his fishing rod. (Coleridge, c. July 23, 1800)
The character of the eastern shore of Grasmere Lake is quite changed since these verses were written, by the public road being carried along its side. The friends spoken of were Coleridge and my Sister. The fact spoken of occurred strictly as recorded.(Wordsworth)1
The embedded navigable video below is of the eastern shore of Grasmere Lake as it appeared in July 2016. Turn the video to the right to see the shore.
1from Lyrical Ballads, and Other Poems, 1797-1800 in The Cornell Wordsworth, eds. James Butler and Karen Green (1992).
Poems on the Naming of Places
A narrow girdle of rough stones and crags,
A rude and natural causeway, interpos’d
Between the water and a winding slope
Of copse and thicket, leaves the eastern shore
The shore of Lake Grasmere
And there, myself and two beloved Friends,
One calm September morning, ere the mist
Had altogether yielded to the sun,
Saunter’d on this retir’d and difficult way.
—So fared we that sweet morning: from the fields
Meanwhile, a noise was heard, the busy mirth
Of Reapers, Men and Women, Boys and Girls.
Delighted much to listen to those sounds,
And in the fashion which I have describ’d,
Feeding unthinking fancies, we advanc’d
Along the indented shore; when suddenly,
Through a thin veil of glittering haze, we saw
Before us on a point of jutting land
The tall and upright figure of a Man 50
Attir’d in peasant’s garb, who stood alone
Angling beside the margin of the lake.
That way we turn’d our steps; nor was it long,
Ere making ready comments on the sight
Which then we saw, with one and the same voice
We all cried out, that he must be indeed
An idle man, who thus could lose a day
Of the mid harvest, when the labourer’s hire
Is ample, and some little might be stor’d
Wherewith to chear him in the winter time. 60
Thus talking of that Peasant we approach’d
Close to the spot where with his rod and line
He stood alone; whereat he turn’d his head
To greet us—and we saw a man worn down
By sickness, gaunt and lean, with sunken cheeks
And wasted limbs, his legs so long and lean
That for my single self I look’d at them,
Forgetful of the body they sustain’d.—
Too weak to labour in the harvest field,
The man was using his best skill to gain 70
A pittance from the dead unfeeling lake
That knew not of his wants. […]