Well, folks, I am certainly not in London anymore. Greetings from the Lake District–a place so beautiful I can see why Wordsworth, a self-proclaimed “worshipper of nature,” located an alternative sublime in these misty mountains and rolling green hills. As I compose this entry, my blistered feet burn from an afternoon hike through Loughrigg and the Rydal Caves. My notebook is filled with pages of notes from the four lectures that I attended this morning. But before I go into detail about these adventures from the day, let me start from the beginning.
The trip to Grasmere from London was a real pain in the neck. Rushing with my gargantuan suitcase (did I really have to buy those coffee table books at the Tate Britain?!), I felt like something off of a foreign language flashcard; the vocabulary word would be “stressed,” and the image would be a sweaty, coffee-stained woman lugging a valise. A Danish man with a mullet took pity on me and helped me lift my bag onto the railcar. The ride itself was fine, though the cabin was marked with a distinctly European grime. The space smelled like egg salad, and Cadbury wrappers were wedged in the various crevasses of my seat. Beside me, two boys in matching Arsenal jerseys played electronic football on handheld devices. A man who looked like a James Bond villain (bleach-blond hair and a strange scar) bought two water bottles and alternated taking sips from each. I watched a woman write in her journal on the other side of the aisle: “August 1st, 2011—A good day,” she had written.
At Oxenholme station I met up with the other Wordsworth Conference participants. We took a transfer bus from Oxenholme to Grasmere (the site of the convention). I met Mark, a Blake scholar who, in typical British fashion, struck me as ridiculously humble: “Ah yes, Stevens,” he said of my paper, “not too knowledgeable, a bloke like myself, but his work from 1939 to 1942 has always struck me as most pleasing, indeed!” Upon arrival at Grasmere, the conference participants were brought to a very amusing meet-and-greet session. At the event, I sipped sweet sherry and talked up various Wordsworth scholars (“Have you met the young American? An undergraduate!” I overheard and swelled with pride). By the end of the evening, I had spoken about a seemingly endless list of Wordsworth topics: Wordsworth and the Gothic, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, Wordsworth and the new colonial epic, Wordsworth and the textile industry, Wordsworth and the city, Wordsworth and animal imagery…. it goes on. I also spent a long time speaking with a French woman about Mont Saint Michel (“zee most exquisite abbey zat my country boasts,” she said). Amidst all these prestigious academics, I felt intimidated and honored, but also thrilled to be welcomed to such a community of likeminded people. If nothing else, I like to think that I bring a certain youthful pep to the conference. I am definitely the one to drink my sherry a little too quickly, to not know what hollandaise sauce is, and to comment that Wordsworth looks like he really needs to use the loo in the portrait hanging above the dining hall’s mantle. Wordsworth portraits aside, the real talk of the evening was Stephen Gill—the Justin Timberlake of the Wordsworth Convention. A renowned Wordsworth scholar (he edited my edition of The Prelude!), Professor Gill is scheduled to lecture here at the conference. He is the superstar of his field and I can’t wait to hear his talk!
After dinner we were brought to a reception at Dove Cottage, the old Wordsworth homestead. I saw Dorothy’s old shoes (tiny, satin slippers) and the desk where Wordsworth likely composed much of his verse. In the living room of the cottage, I discussed Irish poetry with Nancy, a PhD student from San Francisco. “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you/and loved the sorrows of your changing face,” we recited together, marveling at the beauty of Yeats’s verse. “Oh my God, there are others like me!” I thought to myself as Nancy and I clutched each other. The sublimity of the poem, coupled with the wine, made us both momentarily shaky.
This morning I went for a run through the old graveyard. I suddenly looked up and found myself in front of Dorothy and William Wordsworth’s graves. I kissed the two stones and thanked my friends for their counsel. They have already led me very far.