Norman Nicholson and Geology

Although I found the talk by Professor Andrew Gibson a bit heavy-going, it did inspire me to read more about Nicholson and geology; and the importance of rocks in Nicholson's poetry and prose. I have an excellent book Norman Nicholson's Nature by Ian Brodie. Brodie explores the importance of geology in Nicholson's poetry, prose and drama.

In To the River Duddon, Nicholson uses a spring of the nascent river Duddon, as an image of Cumbrian geology:

........from your source
There when you bubble through the moss on Wrynose
(Among the ribs of bald and bony fells
With scree scratches in the turf like grey scabs).

Nicholson reveals a passion for the geology of the Lake District in Cumberland and Westmorland. He writes: "in no other part of England, has the life and character of a district and its people been so controlled by the nature of the rock and by the forces which acted upon it". He went even further "to look at the scenery of Cumberland and Westmorland without trying to understand the rock is like listening to poetry in an unknown language – you hear the beauty of the sounds, but you miss the meaning. For the meaning is the rock."

In The Pot Geranium (1954) there is a sequence of poems, The Seven Rocks. The poems follow the geological map of Cumbria: Skiddaw Slate, Scafell Ash, Coniston Flag, Eskdale Granite, Mountain Limestone, Maryport Coal and St Bees Sandstone. These are not just names for poems but an incorporation of the geology: In Scafell Pike:

Therefore hope
Is a theological virtue
And a geological grace,
Felt in the why
And wherefore of a rose,
And when rocks solidify
And the watching sky
Knows the fire’s purpose
And the way the water flows

I love Nicholson's description of the limestone rock of the South Lakes, where limestone "goes on the razzle’. I hadn't realised before, just how much there is about rocks in Nicholson's poetry and prose. Again in Cumberland and Westmorland he writes: "the whole slope stands in fluted tapering columns shaped very much like the fan-vaulting of a cathedral turned upside down." Here he reveals his understanding of geology, with this description of the Wasdale screes of Illgill Head.

So, all in all, my appreciation of Nicholson's writing has increased this week and I will continue to read his work with a deeper understanding.