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The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, the Wordsworths and Their Year of Marvels Hardcover – 2 Jul 2019


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Dazzling … Before I read this book I was something of a Wordsworth-sceptic. But Nicolson is one of the most persuasive advocates of his genius I have read. The Making of Poetry brings the poetry to life, but also the countryside … It has paid off brilliantly. He is helped along by Tom Hammick’s beautiful illustrations.’ The Times

‘The perfect marriage of poetry and place … Nicolson, in the footsteps of Wordsworth, comes with his own Coleridge, the prodigiously gifted and colourful artist Tom Hammick, whose dreamy woodcuts and paintings are scattered through the narrative …. Poetry and place are perfectly braided together in prose whose biographical mood pays tribute to Richard Holmes and whose topographical fervour evokes Robert Macfarlane.Observer

‘Adam Nicolson takes us deeper into this extraordinary time and place, and these explosive young minds, than ever before in his captivating book … It is intensely moving and thrilling.’ Evening Standard

“Spellbinding … The Making of Poetry is an excitingly new kind of literary book … One of the most imaginative and luminously intelligent books about poetry I have read’ Financial Times

‘Sublime … Nicolson’s prose swoops and sings all over the landscape; his poets’ embeddings in nature and interconnections of thought are richly evoked, and his enjoyment of their journey into understanding is utterly infectious.’ Sunday Times

A fabulous book! Passionate, original, intensely personal, and thrillingly observant … It will have terrific impact. …Completely captivating. It is also truly moving. Above all, he is fascinating on the central relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth.’ Richard Holmes

‘One of the most beautiful books I’ve seen’ Spectator

‘I started underlining particularly beautiful passages, but soon realised that I would end up underlining virtually the whole book’ Mail on Sunday

From the Back Cover

The Making of Poetry
Coleridge, the Wordsworths and Their Year of Marvels
Adam Nicolson
The Making of Poetry tells the story of how two young men of genius, living on the edge of the Quantock Hills in Somerset, developed a new understanding of the world, of nature and of themselves. Bestselling and award-winning writer Adam Nicolson recreates this ‘year of miracles’ by embedding himself in the lives they led in Nether Stowey, over 200 years earlier.

The sixteen months these poets spent here has a claim to being the most famous moment in the history of English poetry. It has always been portrayed as a time of unbridled delight and overabundant creativity, from which extraordinary poetry emerged. In fact, it was a time of adventure and perplexity, of Wordsworth and Coleridge both ricocheting away from the revolutionary politics of the 1790s in which both had been involved and both to different degrees disappointed. Wordsworth was unheard of, and Coleridge was still under attack in the conservative press. Both were in retreat: from cities; from politics; from gentlemanliness and propriety; from the expected; towards nature; and – in a way that makes this year foundational for modernity – towards the self, its roots, its forms of self-understanding, its fantasies, longings, dreads and ideals.

The poetry they produced was astonishing: ‘This Lime Tree Bower My Prison’, ‘Kubla Khan’, The Ancient Mariner, ‘Christabel’, ‘Frost at Midnight’, ‘The Nightingale’, Wordsworth’s strange and troubling poems in Lyrical Ballads, ‘The Idiot Boy’, ‘The Thorn’, the grandeur and beauty of ‘Tintern Abbey’, and, in his notebooks, the first suggestions of what would become passages in The Prelude.

Adam Nicolson relived the months the poets spent in the Quantocks, immersed in their notebooks and the facsimiles of their rough drafts, lowering himself into the pool of their minds. The poets in this book are not  literary monuments but living people, young, troubled, ambitious, dreaming of a vision of wholeness, knowing they had greatness in them but confronted again and again by the uncertain and contradictory nature of what they understood of the world, of each other and themselves.

The driving and revolutionary force of this year was the recognition that poetry was not an aspect of civilisation but a challenge to it; not decorative but subversive, a pleasure beyond politeness. This was not the stuff of drawing rooms. Its purpose was to give a voice to the voiceless, whatever form that voicelessness might have taken: sometimes speaking for the sufferings of the unacknowledged poor; sometimes enshrining the quiet murmuring of a man alone; sometimes reaching for the life of the child in his ‘time of unrememberable being’, beyond the grasp of adult consciousness; sometimes roaming in the magnificent strangeness of Coleridge’s imagined worlds.

Wordsworth called poetry ‘the first and last of all knowledge’: poetry comes both before and after everything that might be said. Its spirit and goal is to exfoliate consciousness, to rescue understanding from the noise and entropy of habit, to find richness and beauty in the hidden or neglected actualities. The strange, unlikely and unfashionable claim of this year stems from that recognition: poetry can remake assumptions, reconfigure the mind and change the world.


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