Index  Dorothy Wordsworth

She gave me eyes

An Evening Walk - A play of echo and reflection

The lake was now most still, and reflected the beautiful yellow and blue and purple and grey colours of the sky. We heard a strange sound in the Bainriggs wood, as we were floating on the water; it seemed in the wood, but it must have been above it, for presently we saw a raven very high above us. It called out, and the dome of the sky seemed to echo the sound. It called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre; a musical bell-like answering to the bird's hoarse voice. We heard both the call of the bird and the echo, after we could see him no longer. 

The Grasmere Journals, Sunday 27 June 1800

The reflection of the clouds in the mirror-smooth water; the echo of a bird's voice from the mountains. On a warm July evening, rowing on the smooth waters of Lake Grasmere, Dorothy registers a play of echo and reflection under the dome of the sky.

In the watery valleys of the Lake District, every sound enhances and deepens silence, especially on calm summer evenings. The ringing of a languid church bell, the splashing of an oar in the water, a gate being closed. William Wordsworth already described that effect in one of his earliest poems, An Evening Walk, when he was 17-18 years old.

All air is, as the sleeping water, still,
Listening the aerial music of the hill,
Broke only by the slow clock tolling deep,
Or shout that wakes the ferryman from sleep,
Soon followed by his hollow-parting oar,
And echoed hoof approaching the far shore;
Sound of closed gate, across the water borne,
Hurrying the feeding hare through rustling corn;
The tremulous sob of the complaining owl;
And at long intervals the mill-dog's howl.

The Excursion (1815) contains a passage with images directly taken from Dorothy's description of the raven over the Bainriggs forest, as quoted above. There are important differences, though. For example, William emphasises even more than his sister the breadth of the all-encompassing dark blue dome of the sky by making pale stars shine in it. From Dorothy's 'musical bell-like answering to the bird's hoarse voice' he makes an 'an iron knell'. What he omits is the reflection of the clouds in the water. He focuses entirely on the echo of the bird’s voice.

And often, at the hour
When issue forth the first pale stars, is heard,
Within the circuit of this fabric huge,
One voice - the solitary raven, flying
Athwart the concave of the dark blue dome,
Unseen, perchance, above all power of sight -
An iron knell! with echoes from afar
Faint - and stille fainter - as the cry, with which
The wanderer accompanies her flight
Through the calm region, fades upon the ear,
Diminishing by distance till it seemed
To expire; yet from the abyss is caught again,
And yet again recover’d!

The Excursion IV, 1169-1181