Sunday, January 20, 2008


Sad Ravages in the Woods

It was a custom among the members of the poet William Wordsworth's family to name places after each other. Wordsworth's brother John was a sea captain. At home in Grasmere John Wordsworth was so fond of a grove of fir trees that it was called John's Grove. A path within the grove was so worn by John's footsteps that it was called John's Path. These names appear in the journal of Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William and John, e.g. "John's Grove" in 1801 (Nov. 12, Dec. 27) and 1802 (Jan. 26, Feb. 8, Feb. 23, April 29, May 26, June 2, June 13, June 23), and "John's Path" in entries for March 4 and June 13, 1802.

William Wordsworth alludes to this family custom in his series Poems on the Naming of Places. In number VI in the series he mentions John's Grove ("Upon a hill / At a short distance from my cottage, stands / A stately Fir-grove") and John's Path ("I found / A hoary pathway traced between the trees"). He describes how he realized that it was his brother's footsteps that had worn the path:
And with the sight of this same path—begun,
Begun and ended, in the shady grove,
Pleasant conviction flashed upon my mind
That, to this opportune recess allured,
He had surveyed it with a finer eye,
A heart more wakeful; and had worn the track
By pacing here, unwearied and alone,
In that habitual restlessness of foot
That haunts the Sailor measuring o'er and o'er
His short domain upon the vessel's deck,
While she pursues her course through the dreary sea.
Despite the possessive noun, the Wordsworths did not own John's Grove, and the owner of the property cut down the trees there. In a letter to Mary Wordsworth, John the irascible sea captain wrote, "I wish I had the monster that cut them down in my ship & I would give him a tight flogging."

In a journal entry (March 4, 1802), Dorothy Wordsworth wrote that woodcutters were "making sad ravages in the woods."

Bruce Crane, Old Woodlot

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