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Wordsworth biographer star of literary lunch

lit lunch team photo

Tributes to William Wordsworth, the poet and the man, were paid at a celebration literary lunch in Ambleside.

The curators of Wordsworth’s home at Rydal Mount, Peter and Marian Elkington, hosted the lunch at the Old Stamp House restaurant, the third and final event to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Daffodils.

Chef Ryan Blackburn and his brother Craig, who own the restaurant in the building where Wordsworth worked as a civil servant, the Distributor of Stamps, created a Cumbrian-themed menu for the occasion.

The guest speaker, the eminent historian and biographer Juliet Barker, who has written two books about Wordsworth, spoke of her affection for Rydal Mount: “I get the strong sense that this was the home that was most important to Wordsworth,  that he and his family loved. It is the most wonderful place.”

Her talk focused on the two versions of Daffodils, the longer and definitive one being that published from Rydal Mount in 1815. She said: “I think it is one of the most important and evocative poems Wordsworth ever wrote. It encapsulates Wordsworth’s great idea about what he thought poetry was, ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’ and, like all his work, it was meant to be read aloud.

“It epitomises for me everything that Wordsworth the poet and the man was about.” She countered the critics who have tried to imply that the poem was Dorothy’s work.

“Though he and Dorothy saw the daffodils together, and she recorded the event in her journal, he wrote her out of the account with ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’. Dorothy’s journal was an aide memoire, but he makes the poem his own. She was his eyes and ears but it was not a poem Dorothy could have written. She doesn’t have the depth that Wordsworth brings to the poem.”

There were two lines in the final version, however, that Wordsworth did acknowledge were written by his wife, Mary:

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude

“That was the only time he ever said that someone else wrote any of his lines,” said Ms Barker.

Among the guests at the lunch was the artist Hideyuki Sobue whose new portrait of Wordsworth was unveiled at Rydal Mount earlier this month. Curator Peter Elkington said that he hoped the literary lunch would be the first in a series hosted by Rydal Mount at the Old Stamp House.

Pictured are guests at the lunch, from left to right: Vicky Robinson, Peter Elkington, Juliet Barker, Mary-Anne Elkington, Marian Elkington, James Barker and Mike Robinson

Literary lunch at the Old Stamp House to mark Wordsworth anniversary

A literary lunch is to be held in Ambleside to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of William Wordsworth’s Daffodils, one of the world’s most famous poems.

The celebration will be at the award-winning Old Stamp House restaurant, which is based in the building where the poet once worked as a civil servant.

The guest speaker is the eminent historian and literary biographer, Juliet Barker, who has published two books about Wordsworth.

The event, on Wednesday April 22 – the day before the anniversary of Wordsworth’s death – has been organised by Peter and Marian Elkington, the curators of Rydal Mount, the house near Ambleside where the poet lived for 37 years, and from where he published the final and definitive version of Daffodils in 1815.

Chef Ryan Blackburn, an admirer of Wordsworth’s work, is creating a Cumbrian-themed three course meal for the occasion. It is hoped that literary lunches hosted by Rydal Mount at the Old Stamp House might become regular events.

Bookings for the lunch, which costs £22.50 for three courses with coffee, should be made directly to the restaurant by calling 015394 32775. Numbers are strictly limited and early booking is advisable.

The Old Stamp House is where Wordsworth worked as the Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, from 1813, the year that he and his family moved to Rydal Mount, until he started to earn enough money from his writing.

Peter Elkington said: “We are thrilled that Juliet Barker is joining us for this very special celebration. She will talk about Wordsworth’s life and work, and no one is better placed to reveal the elusive private man behind the public image.”

Daffodils has captured the hearts of poetry lovers across the world. It has been recited simultaneously by 150,000 schoolchildren, won an American TV talent show when read by a young contestant, and translated into many languages. A version in Chinese calligraphy written on a six-foot high scroll was presented to Rydal Mount recently by a lecturer at Shandong Jiaotong University in China.

The poem was set to music in a song, I wandered lonely as a cloud, recorded by American folk glitter queen Judy Polan in 1996.

The poet’s great great great great grandson Christopher Wordsworth said of the appeal of Daffodils: “The poem has deceptively simple language which delivers a profound message.”

The inspiration for the poem came from a walk Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy took through the woods beyond Gowbarrow at Ullswater and came across a “belt” of wild daffodils blowing in the wind from the lake.

Rydal Mount is still owned by the Wordsworth family and open to visitors daily. The house is a treasure trove of Wordsworth memorabilia. The gardens are being restored according to plans made by the poet. Below the house is Dora’s Field , which Wordsworth planted with daffodils in memory of his eldest daughter, who died from tuberculosis in 1847.

Juliet Barker is the author of Wordsworth, A Life (2000) and Wordsworth, A Life in Letters (2002). She lives in Yorkshire, and is a former curator and librarian of the Bronte Parsonage Museum, and author of a number of books about the Brontes.

The Old Stamp House was launched last year by Ryan Blackburn, formerly of Holbeck Ghyll and The Cottage in the Wood, and a Cumbrian Chef of the Year winner. He and his brother Craig source local ingredients from top Cumbrian suppliers.

  • Wordsworth wrote several earlier versions of Daffodils but the version we know today is this final one published in 1815.