Address to a Child on a Boisterous Winter Evening, Dorothy Wordsworth

Seems like its a week of women poets this week 🙂 I discovered Dorothy Wordsworth when teaching English Literature at the University of Liverpool, when I taught on a module on women and spirituality. I have always been interested in women’s diary and journal writing, which is how I got into studying women’s literature. I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for Dorothy Wordsworth as I’m not a huge fan of the Romantic poets (despite studying them for my Masters), and wondered what it must have been like having William for a brother! Dorothy and William had an interesting relationship, he used some of her work but did not attribute it to her. Her journals also contain reflections on similar subjects that William then went on to write poetry about, especially those daffodils (!), and it can be argued that her reflections are even more poetic than those of her brother. Sadly she never managed to publish during her lifetime and she struggled with her mental health throughout her life. I chose this poem as at first I though it described a boisterous child at bedtime rampaging around, which in a way it could be seen that the wind is an analogy of that in the early verses. This seemed appropriate for those who have children self isolating at home and learning on screens all day 🙁 I think all of us feel a bit trapped in our houses and I like the way this poem frames her home as a safe secure place. I find it helpful to remind myself of this, even if I am getting rather familiar with these walls! The imagery is beautiful and powerful too. That feeling of snuggling down under the duvet when the weather rages outside. So warm and cosy!

Address to a Child on a Boisterous Winter Evening


What way does the wind come? What way does he go?
He rides over the water, and over the snow,
Through wood, and through vale; and o’er rocky height,
Which the goat cannot climb, takes his sounding flight;
He tosses about in every bare tree,
As, if you look up, you plainly may see;
But how he will come, and whither he goes,
There’s never a scholar in England knows.

He will suddenly stop in a cunning nook,
And ring a sharp ‘larum; but, if you should look,
There’s nothing to see but a cushion of snow,
Round as a pillow, and whiter than milk,
And softer than if it were covered with silk.
Sometimes he’ll hide in the cave of a rock,
Then whistle as shrill as the buzzard cock;
– Yet seek him, and what shall you find in the place?
Nothing but silence and empty space;
Save, in a corner, a heap of dry leaves,
That he’s left, for a bed, to beggars or thieves!

As soon as ’tis daylight tomorrow, with me
You shall go to the orchard, and then you will see
That he has been there, and made a great rout,
And cracked the branches, and strewn them about;
Heaven grant that he spare but that one upright twig
That looked up at the sky so proud and big
All last summer, as well you know,
Studded with apples, a beautiful show!

Hark! over the roof he makes a pause,
And growls as if he would fix his claws
Right in the slates, and with a huge rattle
Drive them down, like men in a battle:
– But let him range round; he does us no harm,
We build up the fires, we’re snug and warm;
Untouched by his breath see the candle shines bright,
And burns with a clear and steady light.

Books have we to read, but that half-stifled knell,
Alas! ’tis the sound of the eight o’clock bell.
– Come, now we’ll to bed! and when we are there
He may work his own will, and what shall we care?
He may knock at the door – we’ll not let him in;
May drive at the windows – we’ll laugh at his din;
Let him seek his own home wherever it be;
Here’s a cozie warm house for Edward and me.

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