Happy Birthday William!

April 7 marks William Wordsworth’s 250th birthday. He will be celebrated from London to the Lake District and all around the world. But we should remember him in Somerset as well.

During a miraculous year from June 1797, Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wandered the Quantock Hills in friendship and created poems and prose that have never been forgotten. Lyrical Ballads, the volume that Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote in the shadow of the hills, is regarded as a foundation stone of English literature.

While Coleridge was living in his ‘miserable hovel’ at Nether Stowey, Wordsworth and Dorothy rented the secluded mansion called Alfoxden, near Holford. It was there that Dorothy began her luminous journals and that Wordsworth wrote some of his first and finest lyric poems. The poem reproduced here unites brother and sister on a spring morning in Somerset long ago.

To My Sister

It is the first mild day of March:
Each minute sweeter than before,
The Redbreast sings from the tall larch
That stands beside our door.

There is a blessing in the air,
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
And grass in the green field.

My Sister! (’tis a wish of mine)
Now that our morning meal is done,
Make haste, your morning task resign;
Come forth and feel the sun.

Edward will come with you;—and pray,
Put on with speed your woodland dress;
And bring no book: for this one day
We’ll give to idleness.

No joyless forms shall regulate
Our living Calendar:
We from to-day, my friend, will date
The opening of the year.

Love, now a universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing,
From earth to man, from man to earth,
—It is the hour of feeling.

One moment now may give us more
Than years of toiling reason:
Our minds shall drink at every pore
The spirit of the season.

Some silent laws our hearts will make,
Which they shall long obey:
We for the year to come may take
Our temper from to-day.

And from the blessed power that rolls
About, below, above,
We’ll frame the measure of our souls:
They shall be tuned to love.

Then come, my Sister! come I pray,
With speed put on your woodland dress;
—And bring no book: for this one day
We’ll give to idleness.

William Wordsworth, Alfoxden, Somerset, March 1798