Southey's Keswick

On Tuesday we were up in Ambleside, at the Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas event. This month's event was Dr Charlotte May, speaking about Southey's Keswick.

I was really interested in this talk as I know very little about Robert Southey. Even though he's one of the Lakes Poets, and Poet Laureate, his poetry and prose has sort of passed me by. I'm not really sure why this is. Maybe it's because I've always thought of Southey as rather dull and a producer of vast tomes! Southey was reported by Wordsworth "never to be without his umbrella, even on the most cloudless summer days". I take this to to be an indicator of his careful and unexciting life. I came away from the talk, however, inspired to read some of Southey's poems, and even dip into some of his prose works.

Dr Charlotte May was an excellent speaker, passionate about the poet, his family, friends and life at Greta Hall and Keswick. She read from the poem The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo:

Once more I see thee, Skiddaw! once again
Behold thee in thy majesty serene,
Where, like the bulwark of this favored plain,
Alone thou standest, monarch of the scene,—
Thou glorious mountain, on whose ample breast
The sunbeams love to play, the vapors love to rest.

Once more, O Derwent! to thy awful shores
I come, insatiate of the accustomed sight,
And, listening as the eternal torrent roars,
Drink in with eye and ear a fresh delight;
For I have wandered far by land and sea,
In all my wanderings still remembering thee.

I thought how very beautiful these lines are and agreed with Southey that poetry is "something to be spoken, not just to be read".

One of the reasons I have always had some affection for Southey, even though I knew very little about his work, is the way he cares for Samuel Taylor Coleridge's wife and family (Southey's sister-in-law), when Coleridge abandons them. Greta Hall was known in Keswick as the Aunt Hill! It's interesting to wonder what the locals made of the family, their literary visitors and work. There were indeed many visitors including Shelley, Caroline Bowles (Southey's second wife) and Mary Barker, a fellow poet and author.

So, a very interesting talk, by a speaker with a great deal of passion for her subject.