On Visiting Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s Home, to Better Enjoy His Poetry

I recently spent three days in the English Lake District, which could only mean one thing: a mandatory visit to Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s home between 1799 – 1808. Located in Grasmere, a short but idyllic bus journey from Windermere, fans of Romanticism – or any other reader or visitor – can tour the 400-year-old cottage and garden where Wordsworth wrote some of the greatest poetry in the English language.
Dove Cottage, Wordsworth's home
The view of Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home, from the top of the garden.

This is where Wordworth spent over eight years of “plain living, but high thinking”, writing much of the poetry for which he is best remembered today. This includes his “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”, “Ode to Duty”, “My Heart Leaps Up”, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, and parts of his autobiographical epic, The Prelude. Dove Cottage is also where Dorothy Wordworth, William’s sister, wrote her famous Grasmere Journals, now on display in the adjacent museum.

On my visit to Dove Cottage I had a tour of the house, as a building of stone floors, dark panelled rooms, small windows and fireplaces throughout. You can see the seat where Wordsworth penned his most famous poems, and sit in the garden, their place of rest, mindfulness and inspiration. It was, wrote Wordsworth, ‘the work of our own hands’. Here the family planted flowers and vegetables, watched birds and butterflies and, above all, read and wrote poetry.

Wordsworth's garden of Dove Cottage

By spending time in the near-sublime surroundings of the Lake District, alongside Wordsworth’s home and garden, it’s easy to get a sense of where the poet found his inspiration and motivation to write. You can also form an idea why other Romantic poets – including Coleridge, Robert Southey and Charles Lamb – were so influenced by the area. I know I’d like to spend more time here writing and reading.

During my visit there was also a temporary exhibition on “Walking Poets”, comparing Wordworth’s poetry to the haikus of Bashō, which contained some really beautiful art interweaving the words of both poets. Would I have made this connection without visiting Dove Cottage? I doubt it, so the Wordsworth Trust certainly deserve a pat on the back.

Dove Cottage in the Lake District
The front of Dove Cottage, located in Grasmere.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

– “My Heart Leaps Up” – William Wordsworth

Dove Cottage poetry in the garden
“The peas are beaten down. The scarlet beans want sticking. The garden is overrun with weeds.” Dorothy Wordsworth 1800.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

-From “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud”

Dorothy Wordsworth 'Timon of Athens' quote
“I read Timon of Athens. Dried linen. Molly weeded the turnips. John stuck the peas.” Dorothy Wordsworth, 1800.

Have you visited the home of any other famous writers or artists? If so, did you also get a sense of how they found their inspiration in their home and surroundings?

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