Wordsworthian weather

Storm Desmond wrought havoc on an unprecedented scale. The BBC’s stunning aerial photography in the aftermath shows something of the extent of the struggles facing thousands – to whom the hearts of the nation go out.

Cumberland’s weather has long shaped and and made it. Coleridge spoke of Dorothy Wordsworth as his friend William’s “exquisite sister”; beloved of both poets, she was herself a poet in prose. Desmond’s downpour has reminded me of some of Dorothy’s own wet weather observations in and around Grasmere precisely 214 years ago. These journal entries painted as vivid a picture then, I think, as the BBC’s excellent television photography does in our time, tonight.

December 5th, 1801, Saturday. My head bad and I lay long. Mr Luff called before I rose. We put off walking in the morning, dull and misty and grey – very rainy in the afternoon and we could not go out. William finished The Prioress’s Tale, and after tea Mary and he wrote it out. Wm not well. No parcel from Mrs Coleridge.

December 6th, Sunday. A very fine beautiful sunshiny morning. William worked a while at Chaucer, then we set forward to walk into Easedale. We met Mr. and Mrs. Olliff who were going to call upon us; they turned back with us and we parted at the White Bridge. We went up into Easedale and walked backwards and forwards in that flat field, which makes the second circle of Easedale, with that beautiful Rock in the field beside us, and all the rocks and the woods and the mountains enclosing us round. The sun was shining among them, the snow thinly scattered upon the tops of the mountains. In the afternoon we sate by the fire: I read Chaucer aloud, and Mary read the first canto of The Fairy Queen. After tea Mary and I walked to Ambleside for letters – reached home by 11 o’clock. We had a sweet walk. It was a sober starlight evening, the stars not shining as it were with all their brightness when they were visible, and sometimes hiding themselves behind small greyish clouds, that passed soberly along. We opened C’s (Coleridge’s) letter at Wilcock’s door. We thought we saw that he wrote in good spirits, so we came happily homewards where we arrived 2 hours after we left home. It was a sad melancholy letter, and prevented us all from sleeping.

December 7th, Monday Morning. We rose by candlelight. A showery unpleasant morning, after a downright rainy night …

from the Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth
edited by Helen Darbishire, p86

Ah, the enduring appeal of a diarist’s account!

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