The Wordsworths: Romantics at Christmas

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By Catherine Redford

William Wordsworth’s ice skates
When I decided to write a post about the Romantics at Christmas, one family immediately came to mind: the Wordsworths. The festive season repeatedly punctuates Wordsworth’s work, from a community gathered together at Christmas in ‘The Thorn’ and the image of a family sitting ‘Like happy people round a Christmas fire’ in ‘Michael’ to the minstrels playing their ‘Christmas tune’ in the River Duddon sonnets. We encounter joyful recollections of the ‘frosty season’ in Book I of The Prelude, in which Wordsworth explains how ‘cottage windows through the twilight blazed’. The poem reveals how the young William ‘wheeled about’ on his ice skates, ‘Proud and exulting, like an untired horse / That cares not for its home’.

Unfortunately, Christmas was not always a happy time for Wordsworth. In Book XI of The Prelude, he recalls the Christmas of 1783 in what has become known as the ‘Waiting for the Horses’ episode. Wordsworth, just thirteen years old at this point, recollects how ‘Feverish, and tired, and restless’ he waited to return home for the holidays, only for his father to die within ten days. Although Wordsworth found something positive in this ‘spot of time’, returning to …read more