In the words of the man of the hour, Mr. Wordsworth, I find myself “blest in thoughts that are their own perfection and reward” here at Grasmere. I’m taking this morning to gather my thoughts as I reflect on these first three days of inspiring intellectual discourse. Though I don’t think I can align myself with Wordsworth as a “worshipper of nature” (Between my hatred of mosquitoes and deep affinity for air conditioning, I would more aptly dub myself a “dealer-with-nature”), I do have to admit that the Lake District is staggeringly beautiful. Yesterday I traveled to “Long Meg”—a Neolithic ruin to which Wordsworth composed one of his most well known sonnets. We read Wordsworth’s ode to the “Giant Mother” at the foot of the great stone—a tremendous, red rock that juts out of a grassy pasture. Long Meg, a monolith covered in cryptic, spiral designs, is the 69th stone in a Stonehenge-like ring of rocks that was likely the foundation of some sort of Druid temple. “The Ultimate Poem is Abstract,” Stevens entitled one of his most famous works. In their abstraction and simplicity, the Neolithic rocks did seem almost Stevensian to me. The spooky, other-worldliness of the scene was enhanced by a pony camp that was taking place in the field. Slack-jawed tween girls stood with their ponies in the meadow, amidst the rocks, feeding their “mane-men” (sorry, all; the pun was too good to pass up!) carrots and dandelions. After our sojourn to Long Meg, we continued on to Great Salked, a medieval abbey in the Northern part of the Lake District. I ran my fingers over Saint Cuthbert’s tomb before heading to the pub with Nicholas Roe (Director of the Conference and Keats scholar) and Anna Zimmerman, an English professor from Fordham University. Over bitter ales we discussed Anne Wroe, an esteemed keynote lecturer (she writes for The Economist) who is speaking at the conference next week. Nicholas told us that Wroe has recently come out with a new book—a biography of Orpheus that got a terrific review in The Guardian. According to the review, Wroe’s study of the mythological character marks the beginning of a new kind of biography; one that explores the life of a fictitious character. I can’t wait to check it out.
Yesterday I attended a wonderful pairing of two lectures on Wordsworth’s Lucy Poems. Especially revelatory for me was Gregory Leadbetter’s exploration of the strange verbal architecture that marks Wordsworth’s ‘A Slumber Did my Spirit Seal.” Leadbetter was primarily concerned with the “double-tonguedness” (as he called it) of the poem; in its ambiguity, the verse itself becomes a ritual—a transition between spaces of life and death, male and female, human and inhuman. Though the papers themselves are fascinating, some of my best revelations have come during moments of “creative conversation” (to mobilize critic Edward Clarke’s phrase) with various scholars here. Over meals and on hikes, we discuss poetry and criticism amongst ourselves. Nancy offered me an interpretation of Joyce’s “The Dead” (the architecture of the marital house mirrors the dysfunction of Gabriel’s marriage) that completely changed my understanding of the story. Subashree explained her love of King Lear over all the other Shakespearean tragedies in a way that gave me goose bumps. According to Subashree (a scholar from Calcutta), the other Shakespearean tragedies have morals, but not King Lear. Therein lies the tragedy of the play, and the tragedy of reality as well: life doesn’t make sense. These moments of discussion and connection are the ones that I find most sustaining.
Okay, everyone, I’m off to Levens Hall this afternoon (a 16th-century manor house), but stay tuned for more news from Wordsworth-ville! Thank you for reading!