Considered part of the Romantic Movement, the Lake Poets were a group of English poets who lived in the Lake District of Cumberland and Cumbria, UK, at the turn of the nineteenth century. The three main poets of what has become known as the Lakes School were William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey.
They were first described in a derogatory manner as the “Lakes School” by The Edinburgh Review, “the School of whining and hypochondriacal poets that haunt the Lakes.”Later they were described as “Lakers” with similar intent by the poet Lord Byron. This was a misnomer, as the group wasn’t born out of the Lake District, nor was it a cohesive school of poetry.
Interestingly, there was a bit of irony involved in readers’ perception of the School; inspired by reading the poetry they chose to visit the area, which in Wordsworth’s mind would destroy the very thing that made it special. He did end up writing an excellent guide to the region. After all, if you can’t shoo them away, write a visitor’s guide.
At the time, it seemed many of the first and second generation Romantic poets had a bit of a complex along with a strained relationship with the Lakes (apart from Wordsworth). Author of the book, Romantic Poetic Identity and the English Lake District, Penny Bradshaw described the relationship:
For the most part other Romantic poets either struggle with a Lake Poet identity or come to define themselves against what the Lakes seem to offer in poetic terms.”
For Wordsworth, he chose to settle at Dove Cottage in Grasmere with his sister Dorothy, as the Lakes became part of his identity as a poet. Not just considered a nature poet, his poetry is about the organic relationship between people and the natural world.
A Narrow Girdle of Rough Stones and Crags
A narrow girdle of rough stones and crags,
A rude and natural causeway, interposed
Between the water and a winding slope
Of copse and thicket, leaves the eastern shore
Of Grasmere safe in its own privacy:
And there myself and two beloved Friends,
One calm September morning, ere the mist
Had altogether yielded to the sun,
Sauntered on this retired and difficult way.
—-Ill suits the road with one in haste; but we
Played with our time; and, as we strolled along,
It was our occupation to observe
Such objects as the waves had tossed ashore-
Feather, or leaf, or weed, or withered bough,
Each on the other heaped, along the line
Of the dry wreck. And, in our vacant mood,
Not seldom did we stop to watch some tuft
Of dandelion seed or thistle’s beard,
That skimmed the surface of the dead calm lake,
Suddenly halting now–a lifeless stand!
And starting off again with freak as sudden;
In all its sportive wanderings, all the while,
Making report of an invisible breeze
That was its wings, its chariot, and its horse,
Its playmate, rather say, its moving soul.
–And often, trifling with a privilege
Alike indulged to all, we paused, one now,
And now the other, to point out, perchance
To pluck, some flower or water-weed, too fair
Either to be divided from the place
On which it grew, or to be left alone
To its own beauty. Many such there are,
Fair ferns and flowers, and chiefly that tall fern,
So stately, of the queen Osmunda named;
Plant lovelier, in its own retired abode
On Grasmere’s beach, than Naiad by the side
Of Grecian brook, or Lady of the Mere,
Sole-sitting by the shores of old romance.
–So fared we that bright morning: from the fields
Meanwhile, a noise was heard, the busy mirth
Of reapers, men and women, boys and girls.
Delighted much to listen to those sounds,
And feeding thus our fancies, we advanced
Along the indented shore; when suddenly,
Through a thin veil of glittering haze was seen
Before us, on a point of jutting land,
The tall and upright figure of a Man
Attired in peasant’s garb, who stood alone,
Angling beside the margin of the lake.
“Improvident and reckless, ” we exclaimed,
“The Man must be, who thus can lose a day
Of the mid harvest, when the labourer’s hire
Is ample, and some little might be stored
Wherewith to cheer him in the winter time.”
Thus talking of that Peasant, we approached
Close to the spot where with his rod and line
He stood alone; whereat he turned his head
To greet us–and we saw a Mam worn down
By sickness, gaunt and lean, with sunken cheeks
And wasted limbs, his legs so long and lean
That for my single self I looked at them,
Forgetful of the body they sustained.-
Too weak to labour in the harvest field,
The Man was using his best skill to gain
A pittance from the dead unfeeling lake
That knew not of his wants. I will not say
What thoughts immediately were ours, nor how
The happy idleness of that sweet morn,
With all its lovely images, was changed
To serious musing and to self-reproach.
Nor did we fail to see within ourselves
What need there is to be reserved in speech,
And temper all our thoughts with charity.
–Therefore, unwilling to forget that day,
My Friend, Myself, and She who then received
The same admonishment, have called the place
By a memorial name, uncouth indeed
As e’er by mariner was given to bay
Or foreland, on a new-discovered coast;
And POINT RASH-JUDGMENT is the name it bears
—by William Wordsworth
Think of an area around a lake or river. Describe the view—the landscape, the activity surrounding it—in fine detail. Put on your best Lake Poet attire and write a poem as a response to what you see or imagine.
Let it be the river Eno,
and as if the map of where is wind,
it buckles in the autumn trees and grasses.
Back bent on a lift of limb,
I twist, as sap drops like alluviums scattered
on steep slopes, where water weakened in its course.
I would so quietly live
among the particles of light and air, a hue
ubiquitously hiding along guiding banks of green:
garden, rake, and handle,
yellow aging tear-shape falling,
wet and taken, leaf and ribbon
—by Rick Maxson
Photo by Pedro Fernandez. Creative Commons via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland