A few weeks ago I gave the Jonathan Wordsworth Memorial Lecture at the Royal Institution in London (where Coleridge lectured on Shakespeare!), for the Wordsworth Trust. It was called 'The Poet and the River' -- I hope a podcast version will be online soon -- and was about how Wordsworth, Coleridge and more recently Ted Hughes wrote much of their best poetry under the influence of rivers. One section was about Wordsworth's childhood memories of his home by the river Derwent in Cockermouth. It is with the music of that river that the first (1799) Prelude began. Little did I know that a few weeks later, the Derwent would be in Wordsworth's house.
My review of Vladimir Nabokov's much hyped novel fragment The Original of Laura was published in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. It was one of the first two reviews to appear, the other being by Martin Amis in the previous day's Guardian. I find it very interesting that Amis and I are both troubled by the same thought: that the recurrence of certain motifs raises the fear that what we might call The Lolita Defence -- the argument that the paedophile tendency belongs only to the brilliant but deranged narrator, the diabolically lovable Humbert Humbert, and not to his creator -- is beginning to look a little shaky.
We tend to think of the First World War poets on Remembrance Day. But there were some pretty good Second World War poets, too, the best of them being Keith Douglas (killed, aged 24, shortly after D-Day) and Sidney Keyes (killed in action in Tunisia, aged 20). Keyes is the less well-known of the two. Here is his magnificent elegy in memory of William Wordsworth:
No room for mourning: he's gone out Into the noisy glen, or stands between the stones Of the broken ridge, or you'll hear his shout Rolling among the screes, he being a boy again. He'll never fail nor die And if they laid his bones In the granite vaults or iron sarcophagi Of fame, he'd rise at the first summer rain And stride across the hills to seek His rest among the bony lands and clouds. He was a stormy day, a wet peak Spearing the sky; and look, about its base Words flower like crocuses in the gaunt woods, Blank though the dalehead and the hanging face.
When the RSC Shakespeare Complete Works was published in 2007, I launched an editor's blog. This is periodically updated as new individual volumes appear in the series, and when news, corrections and matters of Shakespearean editorial interest emerge. But, having enjoyed the way that the blogging process brings one into touch with readers, I am going to blog here, probably with very variable frequency and length, on other literary matters. I'll be reporting on work in progress, seeking advice and opinion, and providing links to reviews and articles that appear elsewhere - some by me, some by others. The latter beginning with this excellently provocative piece about the value of the humanities in the latest Harper's Magazine.
Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College and Professor of English Literature in the University of Oxford, is well known as a Shakespeare scholar, biographer, critic and broadcaster. He was previously Professor of Shakespeare & Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick.