Saturday, July 22, 2006

Wordsworth among the peasantry

James Fenton at the Guardian on Canon Rawsley's collection of local reminiscences about the poet:

He was not popular. That is, he was shy and retired, and did not mix freely with the people. He didn't frequent public houses, unlike Hartley Coleridge. Canon Rawnsley's interviewees invariably think of Hartley as a preferable character, a friendly man, a great drinker and a philosopher - a being superior to a poet. Wordsworth's hobby, says one witness, was poetry. 'It was a queer thing, but it would like eneuf cause him to be desolate; and I'se often thowt that his brain was that fu' of sic stuff, that he was forced to be always at it whether or no, wet or fair, mumbling to hissel' along t'roads.'

This mumbling, this 'continually murmuring his undersong,' as Canon Rawnsley puts it in his politer register, features in the peasants' vocabulary as 'bumming'. Here is Wordsworth on the grass walk at Rydal Mount: '. . . he would set his he'd a bit forrad, and put his hands behint his back. And then he would start bumming, and it was bum, bum, bum, bum, stop; then bum, bum, bum reet down till t'other end, and then he'd set down and git a bit o'paper out and write a bit; and then he git up, and bum, bum, bum, and goa on bumming for long enough right down and back agean. I suppose, ya kna, the bumming helped him out a bit.'

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