Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

KEATS’S FIRST WATERFALL

In Ambleside a few days ago to give a lecture, I decided to spend the afternoon walking up to Stockghyll Force, the lovely small waterfalls in the woods uphill behind Ambleside. The weather had been rainy so the Force was full and quite spectacular.

Stockghyll has always been a favourite of mine, and especially so because Keats wrote about it so wonderfully. He came here with his friend Brown, when they were on their walking tour to Scotland in 1818. In a  letter to his brother Tom, Keats wrote:

“The different falls have as different characters; the first darting down the slate-rock like an arrow; the second spreading out like a fan – the third dashed into a mist  –  and the one on the other side of the rock a sort of mixture of all these. We afterwards moved away a space, and saw nearly the whole more mild, streaming silverly through the trees. What astonishes me more than any thing is the tone, the coloring, the slate, the stone, the moss, the rock-weed; or, if I may so say, the intellect, the countenance of such places. The space, the magnitude of mountains and waterfalls are well imagined before one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone must surpass every imagination and defy any remembrance. I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write more than ever…”

What I had not realised until I revisited the passage is that Keats described this as ‘The first waterfall I ever saw’! He had been to the country around London before, and to Sussex, previously, but not travelled widely; and had never previously visited mountainous country. So Stockghyll Force was his ‘first waterfall’.

And I love the way the passage shows Keats feeling that the landscape is alive, that it speaks to him and has a consciousness: ‘the intellect, the countenance of such places’.

And the sense that the place, and nature itself as manifested here, will enable him to ‘learn poetry’. Coming from Keats, that is deeply impressive.

If you visit the Stockghyll yourself, you can see how your impressions of the falls compare with Keats’s. Their different ‘characters’: arrow…fan…mist…or however you see them for yourself. Keats is teaching us how to look!

Walking back from the main falls along the bank, I noticed a point where a smaller beck came out to join the main one, from under a mysterious archway in the rocks:

So I climbed up into the ‘tunnel’, fascinated to see where it would lead, even at the cost of getting some water in one of my boots. And guess what? Turned out the beck was just passing under the path I’d previously climbed, and I’d walked over the top of it half an hour before without noticing. Never mind, I had the excitement of seemingly exploring that mysterious tunnel into apparently mysterious unknown territory!

When you’re out for a walk, everything can be an adventure.

MARGARET CROPPER: REDISCOVERING A LAKELAND POET

Margaret Cropper (1886-1980) is a poet about whom I’ve long been enthusiastic. I discovered her work when I was preparing my Literary Guide to the Lake District – her poems turned up in the Manchester Central Library and I’d never heard of her.

I read her narrative poem Little Mary Crosbie and was stunned: it’s a vivid, moving account of the fostering of an eight-year-old girl from a Children’s Home and it gives a magnificent, compassionate account of her experience, and of the Local Authority’s almost-successful attempt to claw her back into the Home.

It’s full of compassion, tinged with dialect, and beautifully written.

Margaret Cropper lived in Burneside, Cumbria (formerly Westmoreland), and wrote a number of medium-length narrative poems about local life, as well as quite a number of short lyrics. Her poems were written in the 1930s, and deserve to be looked at alongside the socially-conscious left-wing poetry of the day – though Cropper herself was a Christian, and albeit a pacifist was not a Socialist as far as I can tell.

Her work was admired by Norman Nicholson and John Betjeman but she never found a major London publisher. The copy I have was published by Titus Wilson of Kendal.

I’m giving a lecture on her work at 6.30pm on Tuesday 6 February at Cumbria University, the Ambleside Campus (the one that used to be Charlotte Mason College). It’s free. Do come if you can.

Tickets from: www.ticketsource.co.uk/cultural-landscapes

In the current re-valuation of women’s writing, we need a Woman Lakeland Poet – and here she is! Margaret Cropper should be rediscovered, and I hope to begin the process with my lecture.

See you there!

 

Ian Marriott: Touched

Sometimes a book of poems comes along that I really want to draw attention to. Such a book is Ian Marriott’s pamphlet collection Touched, just published by the excellent Cinnamon Press.

Ian Marriott’s poems are remarkably economical: invariably he uses very small brief stanzas, each one provoking thought before you move on to the next. There is something haiku-like, or at any rate contemplative about his stanzas: you feel the need to pause an reflect on each one before you move on to the next. The title Touched seems to refer to this quality as much as anything. The poems touch us, or require us to touch them in reading.

Not that the touch is necessarily comforting. Marriott’s poems can be bleak, and have a way of using unsparing and even harsh images from nature to communicate human experience.

For much of Touched, this seems to be experience of trauma. The book opens with a nine-page sequence (but don’t be alarmed: that’s nine small pages of nine tiny stanzas…) –

The abandoned child
plays and replays
his loop of pain
until in the end
there’s little else…
Both oppressor
and oppressed –
in a single body
the bully, and abused.

Those lines tell – or show, rather – something I’d never seen before but which makes perfect emotional sense. I guess we can all identify with it, and many of us find something inside us that answers.

Images from nature are offered which are both exact in themselves and psychologically acute, as in the section called ‘Pond Skater’:

A Fön wind
from the wrong quarter
upends me –
or the slow dark
of a rising trout.
So perilous
this thin meniscus –
six legs splayed out.

Yes, I had to Google ‘Fön wind’ too: more often spelt foehn or Föhn, it’s a dry downhill wind off a mountain (it’s called the Chinook in the Rockies); maybe Marriott was a bit unwise to use this unfamiliar term, but at least we’ve learnt a new word and fact. But more important, it’s a lovely piece of natural observation; but we realise that the pond skater is also the emotional human self – so easily thrown, disturbed, or plunged into depression. we all know the feeling.

Later in the same sequence I found an unforgettable section, odd, grotesque and cheerful – at least, I think cheerful and find it so, ultimately – like something straight out of a Lowry painting:

Front leg missing,
one hundred percent dog –
he loped towards us
without an ounce
of self pity –
that whole, un-whole body,
muscled and twisting
against its loss.

An image to contemplate, unforgettable. And there are the quiet observations of nature and people, each small stanza a thing that yields more each time you ponder it:

INVERARY, SEPTEMBER

A grey heron
hunched on the tide,
shoreline always
a sense of becoming –
day-trippers slip
from city buses,
here to measure
their lives.

Ian Marriott is a writer to enjoy – and to contemplate. Order his fine pamphlet from Cinnamon Press here: https://cinnamonpress.com/image/  and his previous book The Hollow Bone here: https://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/products/the-hollow-bone-by-ian-marriott

Ian will be reading at Manchester Poets – Chorlton Library, M21 9PN, 7.30 pm on Friday 22 April. Or if you’ve missed him, why not follow one of those links and buy one of his publications?

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT

I’ve often felt frustrated that, although I’ve worked with the Tarot on and off since I was 16, I’ve never been able to remember the order of the Trumps. A couple of weeks ago, I thought of making up a rhyme to help recall the numbers.

So I did it. It’s just doggerel but others might find it useful, so here it is. I happened to be using the Rider Waite pack. Then I remembered that in the old Marseille pack, Justice and the Strength/Force are swapped around. So I made another version to fit the Marseille pack.

Anyway, here they are. First the rhyme for the Rider Waite pack; then some Notes and Comments; and finally the rhyme for the Marseille pack. One or the other should hopefully fit other packs/decks as well.

Some of the Rider Waite Tarot cards

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT
Rider Waite Pack
 
One’s the Magician, beginning his quest;
Two the High Priestess, a cross on her breast;
Three is the Empress, a goddess you see,
And Four is the Emperor, his orb at his knee.
The Hierophant’s Five, whose good prayers we receive,
And Six are the Lovers, fair Adam and Eve.
Seven’s the Chariot, pursuing its path,
And Eight is for Strength, who can tame the lion’s wrath.
Nine is the Hermit, who lives far from town,
And Ten is the Wheel, where we’re tossed up and down.
Eleven’s for Justice, he’s strict but he’s fair,
And Twelve the Hanged Man, with one foot in the air.
Thirteen’s an old friend, the black flag is his sign,
And Temperance Fourteen, adding water to wine.
Fifteen is the Devil, with souls on a chain,
And Sixteen’s the Tower: destruction and pain!
Seventeen is the Star, pouring spiritual light,
And Eighteen’s the Moon, bayed by dogs in the night.
Nineteen is the Sun, with the children at play,
And Twenty’s for Judgement, the Earth’s final day.
Twenty-one, the World Soul dances graceful and free,
And Zero’s the Fool: could that be you or me?

NOTES:

1. Yes, I know the ‘quest’ is ours, rather than the Magician’s; but I wanted to give a sense of ‘setting out’ on our journey. And after all, surely every magician ought to be on a quest?

2. The ‘cross’ is obvious in the Rider Waite version. In the Marseille, it’s just two crossed straps, so maybe not a real ‘cross’ at all. Also she’s dressed as a female Pope. So the Marseille version could be either ‘Two’s the Popess in her triple crown drest’ or – drawing on the medieval legend of the female Pope – ‘Two is Pope Joan, in her triple crown drest’ (which I like best of all).

3. I associate the Empress, who looks like a bountiful fertility figure, with the Triple Goddess. But as the line ends with ‘you see’, you can put in some other words here if you like!

4. It would have been nice to say ‘his sword at his knee’ but in the picture it’s a round thing like an orb. For the Marseille pack, I’ve adapted to match the picture: ‘his shield at his knee’.

5. ‘Good prayers we receive’ is slightly awkward, but I couldn’t find a better phrase; still, if he prays for us, then we are at least receiving the benefit of his prayers. For the Marseille pack, I’ve changed ‘The Hierophant’ to ‘the Pope’, and altered the words to rhyme with the line about Force.

6. Rider Waite makes the Lovers definitely Adam and Eve. The Marseille pack has Cupid overhead, and the young man turning away from Dame Philosophy in her laurel wreath to go with the lady. Oh foolish chap! Or maybe not. I’ve changed the line accordingly.

8, 11, 12, various changes of wording to fit the differences between packs. The Hanged Man in all packs looks perfectly happy, and seems to be an acrobat. That doesn’t stop him from standing for an uncomfortable betwixt-and-between situation if he comes up in a reading. Even an acrobat doesn’t want to spend all his time upside down. But nor does he deserve the sinister reputation he has amongst non-Tarot people.

13. In the Rider Waite pack, Death has a black flag. For the simpler Marseille design, I’ve said ‘and the skull is his sign’.

15. In Rider Waite, the souls are clearly on chains. In Marseille, it looks like ropes, so I’ve changed accordingly. Choose whichever you prefer.

19. The Rider Waite card has a single child, on horseback. You could say ‘With the child who’s at play’ if you want to be purist about it. I think ‘children at play’ is nicer. As there’s a low wall in the Marseille picture, I suspect the children are actually Romulus and Remus, in which case it’s all going to end badly, but never mind.

21. I suppose strictly it should be ‘world’s final day’ as other planets would presumably be judged, not just earth. But I wanted to save ‘world’ for the next card, so too bad! You could say ‘our Reckoning Day’ or something, but I prefer it as it is.

A few of the Marseille Tarot cards

And now here’s the Marseille version:

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT:
Marseille Version
 One’s the Magician, beginning his quest;
Two is Pope Joan, in her triple crown drest;
Three is the Empress, a goddess you see,
And Four is the Emperor, his shield at his knee.
Five is the Pope, who can pray for our souls,
And Six are the Lovers, whom Cupid controls.
Seven’s the Chariot, so drive it with care,
And Eight is for Justice, she’s strict but she’s fair.
Nine is the Hermit, who lives far from town,
And Ten is the Wheel, where we’re tossed up and down.
Eleven’s for Force, who can tame the wild beast,
And Twelve the Hanged Man – not perturbed in the least!
Thirteen’s an old friend, and the skull is his sign,
And Temperance Fourteen, adding water to wine.
Fifteen is the Devil, with souls on a rope,
At Sixteen the Tower falls, but don’t lose all hope!
Seventeen is the Star, pouring spiritual light,
And Eighteen’s the Moon, bayed by dogs in the night.
Nineteen is the Sun, and the child who’s at play,
And Twenty’s for Judgement, the Earth’s final day.
Twenty-one, the World Soul dances graceful and free,
And Zero’s the Fool: could that be you or me?
 

Please feel free to share this, disseminate it, improve it, pass it on, use it for any purpose you like, only don’t copyright it to yourself, please, even in an adapted version. Thank you!

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Wordsworth’s Prelude – and remembering Robert Woof

Dr Robert Woof, with his wife, the Wordsworth scholar Dr Pamela Woof

In the current strange time of the Covid19 lockdown, one unexpected pleasure has been to hear – on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, of all unexpected places – Sir Ian McKellen’s reading of passages from William Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem The Prelude.

It’s a fine reading, in McKellen’s thoughtful, resonant voice, of selected highlights – including the famous ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’ passage about the poet’s youthful optimism regarding the French Revolution.

But for me, a completely unexpected pleasure – though a very poignant and almost shocking one – was to hear, all of a sudden, the episodes being introduced each time by a few brief words in the voice of my old friend Robert Woof, Director of the Wordsworth Trust and Dove Cottage, Grasmere.

Robert (1931-2005) was the world’s leading Wordsworth scholar, and also an extraordinary man: humorous, difficult, charming, eloquent, devious, generous, loveable and much more. It was his work, at the head of a matchless team of staff, that turned Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s former home, from a minor ‘heritage’ destination into a powerhouse of scholarship and creativity, nationally recognised as an exemplary museum and centre of culture and creativity.

Robert was Director when I went in the late 1970s to research my biography of Thomas De Quincey; and it was his idea that I should assemble a team to edit De Quincey’s complete works – a project which came to fruition in a 21-volume edition from the London publisher Pickering and Chatto in 2000-2003.

Robert was a source of endless wise advice and friendly comfort through these difficult projects. His wry sense of humour and his endless knowledge were great resources. He taught me resilience and a lot about handling people (I had a team of ten co-editors to work with!).

He was, above all, a wonderful reader and interpreter of Wordsworth. His rich, gentle, slightly grainy Northern voice was exactly right, and his understanding of the poetry was second to none. In fact, if anyone could have read The Prelude better than Ian McKellen, it might have been Robert Woof.

Sadly, Robert died in 2005, just after the completion of the Wordsworth Trust’s new Collections Centre – the ‘Jerwood Centre’ – into which he’d put his heart and soul. Indeed, I think that, though seriously ill, he willed himself to live long enough to see it complete and open.

It was a complete shock to hear his voice introducing a passage of McKellen’s reading. The presenter didn’t mention his name, the announcer never credited him; since the reading was clearly from an archive, I wondered if anyone at the BBC knew who he was, or even realised that he was there alongside McKellen. I’ll admit that I shed a few tears when I heard my old friend’s voice so suddenly, with all his old clarity and thoughtful eloquence.

In these strange days, it was oddly like getting a message from a friend who is gone, in one sense; but who is in another way very much present for me, and will always be.