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Snapshots from the father of nature writing
It was a rich Orange Sky like that of a winter Evening save that the fleecy dark blue Clouds that rippled above it, shewed it to be Morning…
I’m away for a few days, so this week I offer a shortish follow-up to last week’s piece marking the 250th birthday of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
‘STC’ is associated with the lyrical poetry of the Romantic era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but really I’d say his best writing lies in his observations of nature from his walks and excursions in the Lake District and elsewhere in Britain. (By the way, I’ve written about a different sort of trip to Lakeland before.)
In one of his 1803 notebooks, just after the entries I explored here last time, we have a fine example in the form of a series of ‘images’ (in fact in these he was editing his own previous notes recorded over the preceding years). They make for lovely prose poems, and I share them with you here. I particularly like the murmuration of starlings – I saw one today myself.
Images. Shadow of the Tree in the ruffled water distinguishable from the Breeze on the water only by its stationariness. In clear water over an uneven channel, as in the Greta behind my House, a huge Boa convolvulus – an enormous Adder…
Star (at Barnard Castle) bright, large, the only one, right over the Tower – now absolutely cresting it – & now as we came nearer, twinkling behind the motionless Fragment, a high wall ruined into a rude Obelisk.
Shootings of water [–] threads down the Slope of the huge green Stone. – varieties of this on the Clyde, in my Scotch Tour.
The white rose of Eddy-foam, where the stream ran into a scooped or scolloped hollow of the Rock in its channel – this Shape, an exact white rose, was for ever overpowered by the Stream rushing down in upon it, and still obstinate in resurrection it spread up into the Scallop, by fits & starts, blossoming in a moment into a full Flower…
Black round Ink-spots from 5 to 18 in the decaying Leaf of the Sycamore. A circular glade in a forest of Birch Trees, and in the center of the circle, a stone standing upright, twice a tall man’s Height – and by its side a stately Ash Tree umbrellaing it.
A road on the breast of the mountain, all wooded save at the very Top where the sharp naked crag lorded it – this road seen only by a stream of white Cows, gleaming behind the Trees, in the Interspaces.
A host of little winged Flies on the Snow mangled by the Hail Storm near the Top of Helvellin.
Awoke from one [of] my painful Coach-Sleeps, in the Coach to London. It was a rich Orange Sky like that of a winter Evening save that the fleecy dark blue Clouds that rippled above it, shewed it to be Morning. These soon became of a glowing Brass Colour, brassy Fleeces, wool packs in shape rising high up into the Sky. The Sun at length rose upon the flat Plain, like a Hill of Fire in the distance, rose wholly, & in the water that flooded part of the Flat a deep column of Light. But as the Coach went on, a Hill rose and intercepted the Sun — and the Sun in a few minutes rose over it, a compleat 2nd rising, thro’ other clouds and with a different Glory. Soon after this I saw Starlings in vast Flights, borne along like smoke, mist – like a body unindued with voluntary Power – now it shaped itself into a circular area, inclined – now they formed a Square – now a Globe – now from complete orb into an Ellipse – then oblongated into a Balloon with the Car suspended, now a concave Semicircle; still expanding, or contracting, thinning or condensing, now glimmering and shivering, now thickening, deepening, blackening!