Sunday, 1 September 2013

Wordsworth's Barberry Tree

Did William Wordsworth write the poem called The Barberry Tree about a wild berberis tossing and dancing in the wind, like the more famous daffodils?  This question has been equally tossed about in the half-century since the text, ascribed to him by Charles Elton, was first discovered, and though critics remain divided and uncertain, the piece has been included in the official oeuvre.  Now Christie Arno has found a second manuscript version, also transcribed by Elton, with significant differences, as if a draft in progress had been rejected. Her account of the discovery, and full text, are in the TLS, here

Whereas the previous view of the poem was that it dated from WW’s early years at Dove Cottage, Christie demonstrates how closely the Barberry Tree accords with the landscape and life in Somerset in 1798-9, when the Wordsworths rented Alfoxden House, close to the Coleridges at Nether Stowey.

This was the reason for my visit earlier this year, a little later than the barberry usually flowers, but certainly in full accord with the fields and lanes and cider orchards described in the poem, and above all with the strong winds blowing over the Quantock hills, where we found what seemed the descendants of the withered hawthorn, muddy pond and mound described in The Thorn, a contemporary work.  And we met a large group of wild mares and foals, the Quantock ponies that WW did not write about.


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