Here’s my poem ‘The Path that Follows the Traveller’, reprinted from Their Colours and Their Forms: Artists’ Responses to Wordsworth, eds Carol McKay & John Strachan (Wordsworth Trust, 2013). Ostensibly it’s an elegy about Wordsworth’s growing conservatism, but it’s also about how simultaneously wonderful and wearying it can be to trudge on under rain. Umbellifers are plants with umbrella-like branching stems, like cow parsley.
The path that follows the traveller
‘It is not my intention to be illiberal’
– Wordsworth, ‘Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff’
The rain is proof. The rain offers
baptism to those who would fulfil
their responsibilities as gardeners, as dog-walkers,
as students of the terms on which one man
might cross the land without salary or retinue.
Only when your felt hat melts, when you taste
salt on the face’s shore, and a thorn wind,
do horizons sink behind the mist
to take in continents. I mean cold solitude
taught you togetherness. And the rain grew your beans,
each brown brain soaked in northwesterlies
until pod parliaments of foetuses
began to greenly form and wait.
In the rain you grew old. Let those who preen
and pine to die immaculate
mock your tiredness,
your bracken beaten down by rain recanting.
You turned to firesides and silk to soothe
your shrivelled old been in the rain too long
fingertips. To have stayed where you were
was against Nature.
All travelling goes somewhere, out of the sublime
view, out of the valley of light, towards the grave,
towards the glass grave of fame
and so much water that even
the umbilical cord of your signature risks
dissolution like the stone of your beloved hills.
It is enough that you passed through,
snapping umbellifers as you went, to show the way,
leaving little lakes in the prints of your boots.