Wordsworth in Darley Dale – Lynda Aylett-Green

‘Where is the wretched fellow?’ the Duke shouted, scanning the bridge over the Derwent and the road winding round to the distant hills. ‘I gave up yesterday’s hunt to wait for him, damned if I’ll lose another day. It’s his loss, dammit. What’s his name?’

‘Wordsworth, Your Grace. Poets lose all track of time once they get a sniff of inspiration, and he’s got so grand these days. He won’t be one for hunting, Sir.’

‘He must ride out. A poet needs to see the chase, and the view from our hunting tower and the beaters flushing out the game! No finer sight in the land. This Wordsmith chappie comes highly recommended – did a fine job on old Wellington, dashed stirring bit of versifying. Just wait till he sees Chatsworth.’

‘Is that a dust cloud over Beeley way, Sir? I do believe there could be a carriage …’

’Well then, I’ll wait awhile. Saddle up my hunter ready, Thornton, and another for our poet.’

The Duke strode across the terrace and up the steps bordering the cascade to get a better view. The dust had settled; there was no carriage on the road, but a lone rider trotting sedately.

‘The hunters are ready, Your Grace. And I’m told a messenger approaches from the south.’

‘No harm in waiting another few minutes. Find out his business, Thornton.’

Lynda Aylett-Green

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire approached from the rose garden. ‘Still here, William? What are you lurking about for? You have no interest in floribunda.’

‘The poet Wordsworth is due any minute. He’s doing me a sonnet on Chatsworth. He’s on his rounds. What’s a sonnet, Mother?’

‘Prettily rhyming verse in fourteen lines.’

‘Only fourteen! That’s no good. He’ll have to do better that. Can’t get all of Chatsworth into fourteen lines. Yes, Thornton, what news?’

‘A messenger from the poet Wordsworth, Sir.’

‘Bring the man forward. Is Mr Wordsworth approaching, fellow? The light is fading, the day is ruined.’

‘My master is detained in Darley Dale, Sir.’

‘Some accident? Some flood or banditry? He’ll not get his lines rhymed before supper at this rate.’

‘Mr Wordsworth has been struck by a tree, I mean, struck by the poetic notion of a tree … on a hill.’

‘A tree? One tree detains him in that god forsaken spot? Master and messenger are raving mad. Forgive me, Mother. I’m off to the library to pen a stern reply, and you, messenger, follow me. I want a clear account of this tomfoolery. We have hills and trees aplenty in Chatsworth.’

In the library the Duke sits like a judge at his massive desk. ‘Now give me an account of the poet’s progress. And no more trees and hills, it’ll be some Darley doxey’s caught his fancy, the Dale’s got more bawdy houses than Bakewell.’

‘No, your Worship Sir. We were on our way out of Matlock at a fair pace when the coachman, knowing the love of poets for folklore and

Lynda Aylett-Green

legend, points to Oker Hill above the Derwent and the lone tree and

recounts the story of two young brothers and their sad fate.’

‘What utter twaddle. But surely only a second’s delay so close to Chatsworth. What then?’

‘My master alighted and stared at the legendary hillock as though in a trace a good half-hour, then bade the coachman approach the spot, commanding “Tell me more about those ancient times…”

’I’ll have that coachman flogged,’ the Duke roared.

‘…whereupon like any good poet he must alight again and saunter through the meadow then climb to the top of the knoll …’

‘While I await with the best bloodstock saddled…’

‘And right there and then he penned a lot of neatly rhymed verse.’ The messenger stepped forward and proudly held out a mud-stained sheet, ‘and fair copied it for Your Holiness to see.’

The Duke, now pink with irritation, took the scrap with distaste. What’s this?  “A Tradition of Oker Hill in Darley Dale.”  What tedious trivia! Unless … from that hill there is some grand view of Chatsworth. The Duke declaims:

       “Tis said that to the brow of yon fair hill

        Two brothers clomb…”

‘The fellow’s an illiterate charlatan. There’s more, and worse.’

        “Not one more look exchanging, grief to still

          Or feed, each planted on that lofty place

          A tree……..”

   ‘What grief is he blathering on about? And so two trees got planted on a puny hummock in Oker. This is no epic – this is piss poor stuff.’

Lynda Aylett-Green

The Duke plumped angrily down at his desk, scribbled, sanded and

sealed. ‘Take this, Messenger, and say I expect Mr Wordless here within the hour.’

The Duke stumped off to supper, and over port a few hours later was

awakened by much clattering in the marble hallway.

‘Another message from Mr Wordsworth, Your Grace.  He regrets that, reaching Rowsley and glimpsing your mighty palace in the sunset from a hilltop, he has chosen to stay in Haddon …’

‘He prefers that rustic pile?  When world-famed Chatsworth in within reach? His lack of taste and talent leave me speechless …’

‘If only that were so, William,’ said the Dowager Duchess, taking another sheet of paper from the quaking messenger. ‘Our poet churns out verses by the furlong. Here is one about our own place. Allow me …

“Chatsworth! Thy stately mansion and the pride

      Of  thy domain, strange contrast do present

      To house and home in many a craggy rent …’

   The Duke snatched the scroll. ‘He dares contrast this temple of good taste with craggy hovels? Is that his meaning? What is his meaning?

“… thrifty occupants….modest farms..”

   The Duke tore the sheet to shreds.  Damn the fellow, he’ll get no wages from me. No mention of marble columns and famed cascades. I’ll see him ruined and banned from every palace in the land.’

‘Poor William, you are years too late. Mr Wordsworth has soared too high and mighty to be toppled by mere dukes and princes.’

The Duke cast the fragments into the fire. ‘We shall see. Send word he is not to set foot on this estate; these scribblings will never see the light of day. We’ll hear no more doggerel of thrifty, tree-planting yokels and hillocks in Oker and the world will thank me for it!’

His mother sighed and went to bed.


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