Tuesday Poem – Floating Island by Dorothy Wordsworth

“Harmonious Powers with Nature work
On sky, earth, river, lake, and sea;
Sunshine and cloud, whirlwind and breeze,
All in one duteous task agree.
“Once did I see a slip of earth
(By throbbing waves long undermined)
Loosed from its hold; how, no one knew,
But all might see it float, obedient to the wind;
“Might see it, from the mossy shore
Dissevered, float upon the Lake,
Float with its crest of trees adorned
On which the warbling birds their pastime take.
“Food, shelter, safety, there they find;
There berries ripen, flowerets bloom;
There insects live their lives, and die;
A peopled world it is; in size a tiny room.
“And thus through many seasons’ space
This little Island may survive;
But Nature, though we mark her not,
Will take away, may cease to give.
“Perchance when you are wandering forth
Upon some vacant sunny day,
Without an object, hope, or fear,
Thither your eyes may turn—the Isle is passed away;
“Buried beneath the glittering Lake,
Its place no longer to be found;
Yet the lost fragments shall remain
To fertilize some other ground.”

The above poem was apparently known as Floating Island at Hawkshead. A later version including a dedication to her doctor was renamed Lines addressed to my kind friend & medical attendant,Thomas Carr. It was published for the first time in 2013. Where? On the Oxford University Press Blog together with a fascinating article about Dorothy. If you are at all interested in Dorothy, it is a must to read.


Dorothy Wordsworth
Dorothy Wordsworth

Dorothy Wordsworth 1771-1855 has been the centre of a huge amount of interest over the last two centuries. She was the sister of William the poet. Dorothy wrote only a few poems herself but started a journal in the late 1790s, recording walks, visits, conversations, and  the natural world. The journals were not intended for publication. She once said, “I should detest the idea of setting myself up as an author.” Dorothy would have been surprised to know that she herself she would become  the topic of numerous books, but then hers is an interesting story. She is said to have been a huge influence on William’s writing and much has been written on that subject too.  Below is a brief extract from her ‘Journal of a Tour at Ullswater’ 1805.

‘But to return; when our path had brought us to that part of the naked common which overlooks the woods and bush-besprinkled fields of Blowick, the lake, clouds, and mists were all in motion to the sound of sweeping winds;—the church and cottages of Patterdale scarcely visible, or seen only by fits between the shifting vapours. To the northward the scene was less visionary;—Place Fell steady and bold;—the whole lake driving onward like a great river—waves dancing round the small islands.’

Dorothy’s journals are easily accessible on the public domain. They contain much detailed information about the walks she her brother and other friends, including Coleridge, took…the people they met and much else.They’re a marvellous read.

Thank you for visiting today. Please return to The Tuesday Poem Hub where Zireaux is today’s editor. He comments…’One of the most beautiful themes in poetry (which circles just beyond the black hole tug of a trope) is that of the passively almighty. The powerfully weak. The noisy unnoticed. A kind of stop-motion perspective in which things that appear silent and still and locked in eternity — the ocean, the dead, the ancient rocks of Australia (see that greatest of ghost stories, Picnic at Hanging Rock) — can rise up, knock us over, overwhelm our world with their substance.’

7 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem – Floating Island by Dorothy Wordsworth”

  1. Impossible to read this now without thinking of climate change, Helen, and the effect on the small islands in the Pacific.

    An interesting example of how knowledge changes reading!

    A lovely choice.

    1. Thanks Penelope. Yes I see your point about climate change. On the other hand if more people had Dorothy’s wonderful appreciation of nature just think of the difference that would make.

  2. A poem after my heart, Helen. Thank you for it, and for your commentary. I wasn’t aware of the poem’s existence and I must add dear Dorothy and her floating world to my lyrical list (poetry’s forerunner of the “listical”) in Res Publica II, in which I tried to recall as many imagined islands as I could – http://www.immortalmuse.com/2014/02/17/a-traveler-wrecked-in-seas-of-time-by-zireaux/ Nice the way Dorothy’s island floats, “obedient to the wind,” and sinks, “buried” in the glittering water. – Zireaux

  3. Nice poem to read this week. I don’t quite understand the punctuation — but I also just came from the un-punctuated poetry of W.S. Mervin at Kathleen Jones’ blog… But I like the floating and drifting here, and this last part, especially:

    Yet the lost fragments shall remain
    To fertilize some other ground.

    Thank you! Lovely.

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