A WHIRL-BLAST from behind the hill
Rushed o’er the wood with startling sound;
Then–all at once the air was still,
And showers of hailstones pattered round.
Where leafless oaks towered high above,
I sat within an undergrove
Of tallest hollies, tall and green;
A fairer bower was never seen.
From year to year the spacious floor
With withered leaves is covered o’er,
And all the year the bower is green.
But see! where’er the hailstones drop
The withered leaves all skip and hop;
There’s not a breeze–no breath of air–
Yet here, and there, and everywhere
Along the floor, beneath the shade
By those embowering hollies made,
The leaves in myriads jump and spring,
As if with pipes and music rare
Some Robin Good-fellow were there,
Were dancing to the minstrelsy.
William Wordsworth 1799
I thought this a bright, cheerful poem for winter. So far among the usual late autumn/ winter happenings in my corner of the Southern Hemisphere; we have experienced bouts of heavy rain, and I mean the 300mm over two days sort, been exhilarated by a thunderstorm, which rattled my roof and shook the walls and floorboards and had me sitting in a corner counting Mississipi One, Mississipi two etc, after each bout of lightning. My garden chairs have blown in the wind and my new lawn is enjoying the extra dose of nitrogen and sprouting well through the scatter of autumn leaves, though it has to be said, it is slowing down. No whirl-blasts yet but there is a new sprinkling of snow on the surrounding mountains. Officially winter starts tomorrow, and is expected to be mild.
Wordsworth had this to say about the above poem;
”0bserved in the holly-grove at Alfoxden, where these verses were written in the spring of 1799. I had the pleasure of again seeing, with dear friends, this grove in unimpaired beauty forty-one years after.”
His sister, Dorothy Wordsworth in her Alfoxden Journal, said, “March 18, 1798. The Coleridges left us. A cold windy morning. Walked with them half-way. On our return, sheltered under the hollies during a hail shower. The withered leaves danced with the hailstones. William wrote a description of the storm.”
Interestingly, the title of this poem varies between the whirl-blast coming from behind the hill or over the hill, while most writers talk about a whirl-blast being a burst of thunder. However some scholars mention that it is of Cumbrian origin and means a whirl wind.
Jo Parnell’s Blog has an interesting article on Alfoxden in her blog, Words for Sam. She writes from her firsthand experience of visiting the place where William and his sister Dorothy spent what seems to be, from the information I have accessed, a very enjoyable and fruitful year. “The most famous period in Alfoxden Hall’s history is when the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy lived there during the time of their friendship with Coleridge, from July 1797 to June 1798. At that time it was a privately-owned home. The Wordsworths leased the house 23 English pounds (including taxes) for the year. While the Wordsworths lived at Alfoxden Hall, many famous literary figures of the day came to visit them.” To read more and I recommend you do, go here.
What interests me is that it often appears that the Wordsworths were very well off but from all accounts they often had to borrow from friends.
If you are interested in Wordsworth and Coleridge and their work from this time, Oxford University Press published a collection, in their Oxford Classics series (July 2013) Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1802 William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edited by Fiona Stafford. OUP says this, Wordsworth and Coleridge’s joint collection of poems has often been singled out as the founding text of English Romanticism… Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.’
Please visit the Tuesday Poem Page for other Tuesday poems.