Cloud over Catbells (John Gerrish): "Many a walk in the clouds on the mountains did I take."
Coleridge describing his struggles with 'Christabel' in a letter to Josiah Wedgwood.
'THE SEARCH FOR INSPIRATION
As Coleridge developed his powers of prose, his
power of writing verse seemed to be on the wane.
"My poor Muse has deserted me," he had written to
Thomas Poole, from Germany, "perhaps when I
return to England I may find her again." She continued,
however, to elude him. 'Christabel' still lay in his
desk unfinished; Coleridge had promised to complete
the poem for inclusion in the new edition of 'Lyrical
Ballads', but the result was intense, exhausting, and
frustrated struggle. " I tried and tried, and nothing
would come of it . . . many a walk in the clouds on the
mountains did I take: but all would not do," he told
his patron, Josiah Wedgwood, despairingly. Coleridge
had counted upon the euphoric effect of the Lakes to
restore his Muse to him, but to no avail. When,
suddenly, she did return, it was as a result of an
evening's wining and dining with a local clergyman.
Muses are proverbially unpredictable! Clearly this
one preferred a libation of wine to a wander in the
clouds. 'Christabel Part II', a miraculous performance,
was at last composed and, on October 4th in triumph,
with a draft of the poem in his pocket, Coleridge set
out for Dove Cottage, via Helvellyn, to read 'Christabel'
to the Wordsworths.
Coleridge had started out late and his walk was a
long one, but it was a clear night and the moon was
almost at the full. His notes, jotted by moonlight,
indicate that by the time he had arrived on the
summit of Helvellyn he was virtually in a state of
intoxication from the excitement and breathtaking
beauty of the walk. Above all he was overawed by
moonlit Striding Edge, "That prodigious Precipice of
grey stone with deep Wrinkles facing me." He stood
for a long time gazing at the astounding scene around
him; mountains, lakes, tarns, spread out under the
night sky around him, an incredible chiaroscuro of
shadow and moonshine.'
From 'The Illustrated Lake Poets' by Molly Lefebure
The dramatic 'Striding Edge' (Abrahams) on Helvellyn, taken from the
spot where Coleridge stood gazing at it in awe and wonder.
I was drawn to this piece in particular as I, too, have climbed Helvellyn - once up Striding Edge in fear and trepidation at the age of thirteen, with a friend whose parents waved to us gaily and called out, "See you at the other side!" and drove off.
There was no going back and where the rock rises steeply, just below where Coleridge stood, is practically vertical with a drop into a tarn way below on one side, or to a stony valley to the other. I recall clinging on, travelling on all fours and thinking that I would have to spend the rest of my life there. Fortunately, some strong and older youths took us under their wing and helped us to the top. Such relief! The other side is less steep, more of a tough walk than a climb, and this, I presume, is the route that Coleridge took ... but at night!! Brave or mad?