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David Lassman Poets shared West Country inspiration

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 16, 2014

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Last week, fellow columnist Terence James mentioned the friendship Dymock poets Edward Thomas and Robert Frost forged before and during the First World War. A friendship, he observed, which rivalled that of Byron and Shelley a century earlier.

Continuing this theme then, this column celebrates two other famous poets and their friendship which, although now probably most closely associated with the Lake District, had its beginnings in Somerset. William Wordsworth first met Samuel Taylor Coleridge while visiting Bristol in 1795. Later that year, Wordsworth moved to Dorset, and while there, Coleridge stayed with him for several weeks. The visit was such a success the two fledgling poets quickly developed a close relationship; so much so that Wordsworth, along with his sister, Dorothy, moved to Alfoxden House, Holford, to be close to Coleridge who lived about three miles away in Nether Stowey.

Although the time they spent together in Somerset, walking the Quantock Hills and talking of poetical revolution, was little over a year, the results of this period would change the course of English literature and poetry forever. As it was there Coleridge and Wordsworth worked on the poems that would become Lyrical Ballads – the 1798 collection of poems that has been seen as marking the beginning of the English Romantic movement.

Among the poems Wordsworth contributed was Tintern Abbey, written after visiting the ruins in Monmouthshire, just across the Gloucestershire border.

Meanwhile, Coleridge, although in the end only contributing a handful of poems to the collection, included as one of them, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. During this period Coleridge also worked on other famous poems such as Kubla Khan and Christabel.

With this collection, the two poets attempted to overturn the highly-convoluted forms of English poetry which existed at that time and through using everyday language instead, bring the art form within the reach of the average person.

Lyrical Ballads was published anonymously in September 1798, and a few days after its publication the poets left Somerset, never to return, and sailed to Germany. They later settled in the Lake District and it is this area which has become most synonymous with the poets and their work.

Ultimately the poets would fall out and with it their close friendship ended. Nevertheless, their legacy continues and although they may now be known as the "Lake Poets", reminders of that friendship and their literary roots can be found in Somerset.

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