Bright Caverns

In Book 3 of The Prelude, Wordsworth describes a private, portable space located ‘within my mind’. He describes this interior space like a cave that he might ‘enter in at will’, finding there a bright store of thought. In the 2015 Jonathan Wordsworth Memorial Lecture given by Professor Frederick Burwick, this ‘dazzling cavern’ is identified as the site of Wordsworth’s imagination. You can watch the whole lecture online or read a shortened version over on the Wordsworth Trust’s blog.

Years 1 and 2 at St. Catherine’s School in Penrith explored their own ‘bright caverns’ of imagination today, learning to carefully confuse and compound their senses in order to ‘draw’ sound. Students listened to field recordings made in the local landscape at the same time as drawing and they produced some dazzling examples of how we might imagine sound of using colour and pattern as well as language.

Here, a student from Year 2 represents the cave’s echo:

v v v
Helo Helo Helo

And here the wind is a string tangling around a mountain that is full of words that — to me, at least — sound like foot steps. Every splashy and echoing sound is followed by a question mark which, having explored Cathedral Caverns yesterday, seems exactly right.

Holly in Cathedral Cavern above Little Langdale

Helo? Helo? Helo? I shouted into the cave.
—-?—- said the cave in reply.

Claude glass

In my first week in residence, I’ve been making these Claude glasses, small curved black mirrors which 18th-century poets would have bound like a pocket-book and take up into the fells.

In a sonnet written in response to William Westall’s book of engavings, Views of the Caves near Ingleton, Gordale Scar, and Malham Cove, in Yorkshire, Wordsworth describes the view into a cave as being just like a Claude glass, or ‘Truth’s mystic glass’. In later editions he changes this to ‘thought’s optic glass’.

Night Pieces

Night is a continuous shadow or a moon-lit cloud in these erasure poems drawn from Wordsworth’s ‘A Night-Study’ by students at Energy Coast University Technical College in Workington. Sixty students wrote sixty variations and these are only a couple of the many bright nights imagined today. Other students had Wordsworth’s traveller ‘tread / o / n / the moon’ and one opened with what sounds like a warning: ‘piece / is / over’.


As part of the CAVES workshop, the students also wore ear defenders to write in response to sound (and soundlessness), exploring how to manage both the flow and fidget, the start and the stop of new ideas.