PICTURES: New Lake District exhibition celebrates dying nature words

A new photography exhibition at the childhood home of Lake District poet William Wordsworth celebrates the dying dialect words for Britain’s landscape.

The Word-Hoard: Love letters to our land, which opens at the National Trust’s Wordsworth House in Cockermouth tomorrow (11 March), has been guest-curated by award-winning nature writer Robert Macfarlane. It follows his 2015 bestseller Landmarks, which explored the regional dialect words connected to nature, terrain and weather.

The exhibition brings together some of Macfarlane’s favourite dialect nature words alongside 25 photographs of the British landscape by the author’s parents, Rosamund and John Macfarlane.

Watergaw

Watergaw (Rainbow, Scots). Photograph shows the view from Watergate, Lowestwater, towards Crummock Water (Lake District). Credit: Rosamund & John Macfarlane

Robert Macfarlane, who teaches English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, said: “I spent two years gathering as many of our place-terms and nature-words as possible, from more than thirty languages and dialects around Britain and Ireland, and then releasing them back into imaginative circulation.

“Without words, the landscape can easily become a blandscape: generalised, indifferent, unobserved.”

The words in Macfarlane’s ‘hoard’ include shreep, an East Anglian word for mist clearing slowly, and sun-scald, a Sussex word for a patch of bright sunlight on water.

The Word-Hoard will be open daily, except Friday, until 3 September, and admission is included in entry to the house and garden.

For more see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wordsworth-house.

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In Pursuit of Spring- part three

100 years ago on Easter Day the poet Edward Thomas cycled through the Quantock hills in west Somerset on the last stage of his journey In Pursuit of Spring. The weather was almost spring-like, in sharp contrast to the preceding days of his ride from London. He visited Coleridge Cottage, only he did not find the great poet and metaphysician there. Instead, he encountered the spirit of Coleridge in the lanes around Nether Stowey and on Kilve Beach, a place where Coleridge, William & Dorothy Wordsworth, Charles & Mary Lamb and latterly Shelley had all wandered and mused. Thomas too mused on Kilve Beach, which magnetically attracts poets (Virginia Woolf visited, on her honeymoon, and many living poets).

Then, Thomas ascended to Cothelstone Hill, one of the highest points of the Quantocks, where he found (or perhaps did) something rather odd: ‘By the side of the road were the first bluebells and cowslips. They were not growing there, but some child had gathered them below at Stowey or Durleigh, and then, getting tired of them, had dropped them. They were beginning to wilt, but they lay upon the grave of Winter. I was quite sure of that. Winter may rise up through mould alive with violets and primroses and daffodils, but when cowslips and bluebells have grown over his grave he cannot rise again: he is dead and rotten, and from his ashes the blossoms are springing.’

Had ‘some child’ really carried bluebells and cowslips all the way up there that day – presumably from a garden, for spring was running late, Easter had come early and cowslips and bluebells would not have been out in the Quantocks? Surely only a poet would do such a thing, and a fine one at that? Three Easters later, Edward Thomas was to lose his life on the Western Front. He lives on though, through his words – which touch chords deep within us.

In the final, emotive episode of In Pursuit of Spring Matthew Oates meets with Coleridge scholar Justin Shepherd at Coleridge Cottage and on Kilve Beach to discuss the significance of Nature poets like Coleridge and Thomas today, and to ask whether their voices continue into Now, through the poetic line.

Kilve Beach

Kilve Beach

The final readings, from the book’s concluding chapter (entitled The Grave of Winter), are by Robert Macfarlane.

  • Matthew Oates is a naturalist and follower of the poetic approach to Nature. He has worked for the National Trust for over 20 years, but poetry is steadily taking him over.
  • In Pursuit of Spring, a tribute to Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Radio 4. East Sunday. 2.45pm. Thereafter on iPlayer (3 episodes).

In Pursuit of Spring- part two

A hundred years this Easter, when Easter also arrived early, the poet Edward Thomas embarked upon a journey, by bicycle and foot, from his parent’s house in south London to the Quantock hills in west Somerset, the scene of the remarkable Romantic partnership between Coleridge, whom he particularly admired, and Wordsworth. A year later his account of the journey was published under the title In Pursuit of Spring, as the maelstrom of the Great War was brewing.

In Pursuit of Spring can be viewed as being the jumping off point for Thomas’s greatly admired poetry, for much of the book’s prose is on the very brink of poetry, though the developing poetic trance is frequently broken by moments of laconic humour and sojourns into human trivia. One passage late in the opening chapter transmogrifies easily into –

Meekly, by night, the north-east wind

Gives up its power to the south. Sweet

Soft days follow, when the earth,

An invalid certain of recovery, delicate

With smiles, languors and fatigues,

Discloses violets to children,

And some lovers.

It is St David’s Day.

Copses, roadside hedges, brooksides,

Possessed by myriad primroses

In thick, long-stemmed clusters,

Their green, just flower-like,

Their scent, suited to the invalid,

Strengthens the earth.

The start of the next paragraph outs him: ‘Then for most of the day it rained, and what was done under cover of that deliberate irresistible rain, only a poet can tell.’ He knew what poets can tell, but had yet to find his poetic Muse, or at least his confidence as a poet. His real journey In Pursuit of Spring is towards his poetic Muse.

Thomas’s pilgrimage took him through the Surrey hills into Hampshire, past Winchester and Salisbury, and up over Salisbury Plain, where he was serenaded by an ethereal of skylarks. On descending from the Plain he stayed with friends at the delightfully named Dillybrook Farm, which then must have epitomised the Edwardian rural idyll he loved so dearly.

Dillybrook Farm, Wilts

Dillybrook Farm, Wilts

This Easter you are invited to share Thomas’s In Pursuit of Spring journey on Radio 4, presented by the National Trust’s Matthew Oates, a keen follower of Thomas’s approach to the natural world. Saturday 3.30pm, the concluding programme on Easter Sunday at 2.45pm.

In Pursuit of Spring

Matthew Oates Presenter

I first perused In Pursuit of Spring in my penultimate year at school, naively attracted by the title. I had found a copy in the school library, but I could relate only to the paragraphs based around my native Somerset, including the final chapter The Grave of Winter. I knew Thomas as a minor First World War poet, in the shadow of Owen and Sassoon, but was hugely impressed by his rural descriptions and by his profound love and knowledge of nature. It took me years to discover him properly as a poet, even though I lived within his East Hampshire heartland for 20 years. His is my favourite poetry – and here I am certainly not alone, for it seems that his poetry is growing in popularity almost monthly.

But I fear that his rural prose is underrated and in danger of becoming neglected. The South Country (1909), In Pursuit of Spring (1914) and its precursor The Icknield Way (1913) are classics in English rural prose, every bit as memorable as Adlestrop and As the Team’s Head-brass, his two best known poems. Thomas’s rural writings could follow those of his mentor Richard Jefferies and friend WH Hudson into relative obscurity. That would greatly devalue British natural history – by severing it from its roots.

The Radio 4 series came about when two streams of consciousness converged. I submitted a tentative proposal to R4 to celebrate the book’s centenary, only to find – joyously – that my friend Andrew Dawes of the BBC Natural History Unit (radio) was thinking along similar lines. Of course, the BBC is gearing itself up for the centenary of the First World War anyway.

Originally, I aspired towards following Thomas’s route, on cycle, but today’s traffic – and Thomas detested the traffic levels of 1913 – would erode any vestige of poetic experience from that. It would be purely a physical, mechanical pilgrimage. No, a faithful re-enactment would not work. At one point, live transmissions were considered, involving a network of radio stations, but that was rather over-ambitious and would have proved too costly.

In the event we found Thomas such a rich seam, with so many dedicated and scholarly admirers, that we ended up recording rather more than we originally intended. Much had, of necessity, to be left out, including The Other Man (Thomas’s alter ego which makes a series of curious interjections in the book) and the remarkable responses I received from asking contributors what they felt poets are actually for.

In Pursuit of Spring, a tribute to Edward Thomas, is presented by Matthew Oates and produced by Andrew Dawes. Readings are by Robert Macfarlane, with contributions from Richard Emeny and Colin Thornton of The Edward Thomas Fellowship, Sophie Lake of Values In Nature & Environment (VINE), Justin Shepherd of The Friends of Coleridge, Rebecca Welshman of The Richard Jefferies Society and Lucy and Sophie Milner, Edward’s great and great-great grand daughters.

 In Pursuit of Spring programme 1 Good Friday 3.30pm BBC Radio 4