I will never forget the first glimpse I had of
Lake Windermere. The bus leaned from side to side as the narrow road wound through a lacy canopy of trees. As my vision out of the dusty window gently rocked, the shining waters peaked out from the trees between the hills, a mist rising from its surface. The wistful hand of beauty cupped my heart and presses it, forcing a slow sigh from my lips. Green and more green was this tucked away gem of creation. Its sudden glimmer in the early sunlight came through the soft vapor of an English morning in answer to every fantasy I had ever had of an enchanted world.
The coach as they call it, came to a stop up on a hill where a white house nestled in verdant coziness. I was at Rydal Mount. William Wadsworth lived there from 1813 until 1850 when he died. It began as a farm cottage in 1574 and I could almost feel the centuries of life it had seen. Additions to the house in the 1700s made it worthy for a great poet, and it remains virtually unchanged. The Wordsworth family still owns and uses the house when it is not open to the public.
Doorways shorter than I am accustomed to were like picture frames for phantoms…reminiscent of a time when people were different in ways and stature. My feet caused the wooden floors to creak as I entered the rooms of the historic house. Antique furniture placed neatly on the worn floors sat empty, watched by portraits of their former inhabitants. Shelves of leather bound books perfumed the air with age and reflected the mind of the man who once poured over their now yellowed pages. In the kitchen I was captivated by the stained, uneven stone floor which was part of the original cottage. I tried to imagine the people who prepared simple meals there at the hearth with only the glow of the fire to illuminate their work.
Wordsworth believed that a garden should be an extension of nature. From the house a sloping stretch of lawn ended in a tumble of trees and brush, enticing me to explore. As I did I discovered a trickling stream and moss covered stone steps embedded in the earth that carried me up and down a woodsy hill which overlooked the lake in a sylvan paradise. I was keenly aware of beauty all around me and nature liberated. As if on cue a bird sang somewhere and a light rain began to fall through the cool, misty air. I walked along a path with a pleasure that felt indulgent, wanting to melt into the trees and float endlessly in time. I found the small “summer house” on the hill where the poet would sit and write, inspired by the beauty and tranquility that surrounded him. It was like a square gazebo made of gray stone with an entrancing view of
Lake Windermere. Sitting there where Wordsworth himself had sat, I understood his poems and passion for nature as never before. I felt his spirit there in the woods while listening to the whisper of the wind as it flitted over a carpet of wildflowers and bushes, and watched the blue gray sky slowly swirl above the placid water in the distance. My skin was alive with sensations as the cool rain blew lightly into my face in tiny drops. But even as sensory as my experience was, it felt almost more spiritual than physical. I had a strange paradox of emotions, hollow and full, poignant and joyful…in this tangible mirage. Lines from Wordsworth‘s poems celebrating these ethereal wonders that nature provoke came to my mind.
The best description of my experience was an overwhelming home sickness. Not for
or even my family, but that greater place of which my soul must be unconsciously reminded when I experience beauty. Imprinted on my spirit is the knowledge of my heavenly home forgotten in this veil of mortality. How it must yearn for home when a touch of the familiar splendor is felt in this lesser sphere. This is the joy and sorrow I felt when awakened to an aesthetic world when I first saw America Lake Windermere; touched by the insights of a brother who lived before me when he said:
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.”