Wordsworth followed the first edition of his and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) with an expanded version in 1800 in which he included new poems that were rooted in his experiences of the Lake District and Grasmere valley (click here to read about Wordsworth’s life in Grasmere and interact with a related poetic passage, video, and photo sphere). Among the most important are five poems entitled Poems on the Naming of Places, which he grouped in their own section of the volume under the following advertisement:
By Persons resident in the country and attached to rural objects, many places will be found unnamed or of unknown names, where little Incidents will have occurred, or feelings been experienced, which have given to such places a private and peculiar Interest. From a wish to give some sort of record to such Incidents or renew the gratification of such Feelings, Names have been given to Places by the Author and some of his Friends—and the following Poems written in consequence.1
The “Friends” are Dorothy, who is called “Emma” in the poems; Mary Hutchinson, who would marry Wordsworth in 1802; Mary’s sister Joanna; and Coleridge. Wordsworth’s note partially erases local history, as one of the places he describes did (and does) have a name (Stone Arthur) and others are in unnamed portions of named locations. Despite this act of displacement, the poems are still remarkable for their careful exploration of the ways in which locations can become layered with memories, emotions, stories, and imaginative responses to the point that they seem inextricably bound to one’s own identity and sense of community with those who share the same places. They ask us to consider poetry about places as phenomena that might emerge from one pen, but are nevertheless the shared creation of the persons, living things, and environments that have made the poet’s words possible.
We have selected passages from three Poems on the Naming of Places and provided embedded videos, photospheres, and photographs that will help you “enter” them and consider more carefully Wordsworth’s responses to them. When first published, the poems appeared under roman numerals without separate titles:
1from Lyrical Ballads, and Other Poems, 1797-1800 in The Cornell Wordsworth, eds. James Butler and Karen Green (1992).