Lyrical Ballads: exploring Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley

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From 4-7 February, 6.2 English students studying Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) visited Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley. We explored a number of sites that were important to the early Romantic poets and that were depicted throughout their poetry, and learnt about the poems’ historical and contemporary critical reception.

Below is our poetic response to the trip, which draws on the various forms and meters experimented with by Wordsworth and Coleridge. There is no “gaudiness and inane phraseology” as seen in many “modern writers” though, as Wordsworth continued, to say:

“Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed; it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.”

By Ed’s English Set, with thanks to Ed Mason and Clare Lock for an incredible trip!

A Romantic Road Trip

How to begin? What a wonder:

We rose with the dawn one Friday morn

And headed to Kilve’s shore;

Taking in Somerset’s landscape and croissants

on our Bedales bus to the rumbling of its core.

 

On the beach we contemplated Wordsworth’sIMG_8699

‘Anecdote for Fathers’, found fossils,

And maxed out on photographs

The rock formations afforded us.

 

To Watchet, to its harbour, to its sculpture

Of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

To coffee, cake and reading

‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Lime Tree Bower’.
Then arriving in Wells, the smallest city in the land,

The Good Earth provided us lunch and warmth of conversation

We met Agnes in her eighties

She is full of energy

Conversation turned to Bedales and she recognises the name

She mentions ‘riotous’ behaviour whilst chuckling into her soup.

Upon leaving we’re told to ensure we see ‘Quarter Jack’

Who, in Wells Cathedral, in his glorious mechanisation kicks

A chime from the bells each quarter hour.

 

Food filled, we ventured a cavern of vast size

The Wookey Hole.IMG_8714

Tracking the neoclassical footsteps of Alexander Pope,

the group entered an ancient Jurassic world guided by a Wookey enthusiast,

special effects enhanced tales of witches, Celts and cheeses

then out through a mirror maze and Victorian penny games

and away from the Bizarre.

 

Down the rained cobbles of the most complete medieval street in Europe,

In Wells. We entered the rib cage of the Cathedral

Following its high white bones arching upwards

To prettily painted veins of decoration,

Hearing the high notes of Wells choir rehearsing

For Handal’s Messiah in some hidden chamber.

 

Upon the hour, in the vestry we witnessed

Jack’s musical movement in all its glory

Thanking Agnes quietly.

 

Travelodge and shower

went another hour.

 

Out for food to be filled again!

Then Tesco for face masks and ice cream

Bed time. Sweet dreams.

 

We rose with the rain

Bus and breakfasted again.

To Tintern and its rustic ruinIMG_8755

Dancing in the rain drops

We frolicked among its

Battered buttresses

And tried to recreate Turner’s perspective

And Wordsworth’s words

‘with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony and the deep power of joy

We see into the life of things.’

 

Tintern Abbey to Clifton’s cave

Limboing we descended down a rocky oesophagus

To a viewing platform made from the cave’s mouth

Looking out toward the suspension bridge-

Sending us whistled complaints in the wind.

And there we read of how Coleridge struggled to define

the difference betwixt beautiful, picturesque and sublime.

 

Lunchtime.

 

Bristol – a tapas bar

Hummus, chicken, pesto, carrot and coriander

A market selling silver from Northern India

The seller selling Bristol

For the beauty of its people.

Beautiful.

 

We regrouped at the Arnofini Gallery

Watched John Akomfrah’s ‘Vertigo’ which showed

Humanity’s repeated history of atrocity

Aiming to encourage our sympathy.

A brisk walk in the rain to food

Quinoa and avocados-

Eating al-fresco in Nando’s,

To a show at the Wardrobe theatre-

‘The hours before we wake’ Prophetic and amusing;

A pill for dreaming in the 22nd century.

Bus, bed and lie-in until 9:30. Luxury.

 

We rose with the bright sky

Then drove into Glastonbury

And headed up the tor, losing ourselves in the breeze

Thinking of ‘these hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows little lines

Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door.’

Somerset and more.

Picturesque.

 

Then to the last

Stonehenge. our final pilgrimage

paying homage to the scene where Tess lay,

the stones of ceremony and great debate.

Those stones which seem to defy man’s possibility

On nature’s wind-wild verdant vast plateau.

Sublime.

Shuttling back to the Bedales bus,

we beetled home under one grey sky

on roads where two great Romantics roamed

along the Valley of the Wye.