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Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855), the poet’s sister and nearly a year his junior, was among his most valued friends, and through her detailed observations of rural life in her journals she influenced his approach to poetry and place perhaps more than any other figure in his life. Born in the Lake District, the siblings were early separated upon the death of their mother, Ann, in 1779, when William was nearly eight and Dorothy seven. Raised and educated in different parts of the country, they were at last fully reunited in their early twenties in 1794. Long before this reunion, while studying in Hawkshead in the southeast portion of the Lake District, Wordsworth had come to love the nearby valley and village of Grasmere, which he first glimpsed while hiking as a schoolboy. His attraction to the place drew him and Dorothy to settle there in 1799 when they returned to the Lake District. They chose a cottage, called “Dove Cottage” after Wordsworth’s time, at the south end of Grasmere village just above the valley’s beautiful Grasmere Lake. Delighted to be sharing these beloved surroundings with Dorothy, Wordsworth wrote a poem, later titled (not by him) Home at Grasmere, in which he meditated on what it meant to make this environment his home. In the poem, Wordsworth refers to Dorothy by a pseudonym, “Emma.”
Unpublished, except for a small portion, in Wordsworth’s lifetime, Home at Grasmere is related to The Recluse, a larger philosophical epic that Wordsworth meant to be his life’s work, but which he never composed—work toward this project became his magnum opus, The Prelude, a massive autobiographical poem published after his death in 1850 (click here to read a famous passage from The Prelude and see a navigable video related to it).
Home at Grasmere nonetheless remains Wordsworth’s most concentrated effort to imagine what it means to make a home, both physically and emotionally, in an environment shared with other living things. Below are the opening lines,1 in which Wordsworth recalls first glimpsing the valley of Grasmere on his hike as a Hawkshead schoolboy. An embedded navigable video and linked photo sphere will help you “share” his approach to the valley. Note that the trees in the foreground would not have been there in Wordsworth’s day.
1Text from William Wordsworth: The Major Works, ed. Stephen Gill (2008)
Play video to follow Wordsworth’s first approach to the valley of Grasmere
“Home at Grasmere”
Once on the brow of yonder Hill I stopped
While I was yet a School-boy (of what age
I cannot well remember, but the hour
I well remember though the year be gone),
And, with a sudden influx overcome
At sight of this seclusion, I forgot
My haste, for hasty had my footsteps been
As boyish my pursuits; and sighing said,
‘What happy fortune were it here to live!
And if I thought of dying, if a thought 10
Of mortal separation could come in
With paradise before me, here to die.’
I was no Prophet, nor had even a hope,
Scarcely a wish, but one bright pleasing thought,
A fancy in the heart of what might be
The lot of others, never could be mine.
The place from which I looked was soft and green,
Not giddy yet aerial, with a depth
Of Vale below, a height of Hills above.
Long did I halt; I could have made it even 20
My business and my errand so to halt.
For rest of body ’twas a perfect place,
All that luxurious nature could desire,
But tempting to the Spirit; who could look
And not feel motions there? I thought of clouds
That sail on winds; of breezes that delight
To play on water, or in endless chase
Pursue each other through the liquid depths
Of grass or corn, over and through and through,
In billow after billow, evermore; 30
Of Sunbeams, Shadows, Butterflies and Birds,
Angels and winged Creatures that are Lords
Without restraint of all which they behold.
I sate and stirred in Spirit as I looked,
I seemed to feel such liberty was mine,
Such power and joy; but only for this end,
To flit from field to rock, from rock to field,
From shore to island, and from isle to shore,
From open place to covert, from a bed
Of meadow-flowers into a tuft of wood, 40
From high to low, from low to high, yet still
Within the bounds of this huge Concave; here
Should be my home, this Valley be my World.