The rich landscape and diverse history of Britain has fuelled the imaginations of the world’s greatest poets for centuries. Whether it’s the Romantics and their pastoral celebrations of nature and the countryside, Chaucer’s ribald celebration of the road to Canterbury or Robert Burns, whose verses have become forever entwined with the cultural identity of Scotland – the importance of poetry to the nation is certainly something to champion.
This is why National Poetry Day is such an important celebration – not only of the nation’s poets and poetry, but of the very landscape that has played such an important part in inspiring countless classic verses. We’re going to take a look at some of our favourite poets, poems and the locations that inspired them.
William Wordsworth: The Lake District, Cumbria
Daffodils is perhaps the quintessential English poem, and undoubtedly one of the most popular. It was inspired by a walk Wordsworth took alongside the banks of Ullswater on a stormy day with his sister. Despite the famous opening line, it’s not too easy to wander lonely as a cloud in the Lake District today.
Thanks to the heritage of Wordsworth and the Romantic poets – not to mention the wonderful lakes and landforms, the Lake District is something of a holiday hotspot. Though, if you take yourself away from the tourists, it is entirely possible to find your own corner of this Cumbrian paradise to contemplate the beauty of nature and find your own inspiration.
Robert Burns: Dumfries and Ayrshire, Scotland
My Heart’s in the Highlands is a beautifully vivid celebration of the iconic landscape and native wildlife of Scotland. With this, and many other works, often set to music, Burn’s is equally celebrated as a songwriter as he is a poet. Ayrshire is the place to visit to begin your appreciation of the ‘Scottish Bard’. The village of Alloway hosts the Burns Cottage Museum, the home Robert’s father built and where the poet lived until he was seven years of age.
The Robert Burns House in Dumries is where he spent his later years, creating some of his most beloved works in the study. It is a key pilgrimage site for many Burns admirers, with Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats amongst others visiting over the years.
Dylan Thomas: Laugharne, Wales
As Robert Burns is to Scotland so too is Dylan Thomas to Wales: a national treasure and cultural icon whose work captures a wonderful sense of place. Thomas’s life in the Carmarthenshire town of Laugharne was a constant inspiration to the writer with his famous radio play Under Milk Wood capturing several of the characters he encountered there (though the setting more closely resembled New Quay).
Poem In October is a more fitting example that displays the region’s beauty. Written after a birthday walk from his home The Boathouse up to the shoulder of Sir John’s hill, the poem provides a perfect accompaniment whilst you enjoy the ‘Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk’ around the area.
The Brontës: Haworth, Yorkshire
Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Patrick (aka Branwell) were home schooled in the delightful Yorkshire Dales village of Haworth. The siblings’ father was parson at the church and it was in the Haworth Parsonage where they developed their literary talents, developing stories of increasing complexity. After receiving lukewarm feedback from one of her poetry idols, Charlotte and her sisters eventually decided to try and get published together – using the more masculine pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Whilst their first book of poetry only sold three copies, the sisters continued to produce work in secret and their legacy was secured in the following years.
The Brontë Parsonage Museum is undoubtedly the best place to visit for an appreciation of the Brontës and the surroundings that inspired them. Alongside a packed calendar of events you will find much to admire in the surrounding area.
Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury, Kent.
Chaucer is regarded as ‘the Father of English Literature’ due to his work helping to popularise Middle English over the more frequently used Latin, Italian and French. The collected Canterbury Tales was his magnum opus, a work that many claim he never completed but still comprises 24 stories over 17,000 lines of text. The Canterbury Tales themselves are often bawdy stories told by a large cast of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent. While the tales themselves offer a fine sense of place, they also offer a wonderful window into a time of great change in Britain, with references to social upheaval, the invention of paper, the written word and political clashes.
The cathedral today offers a wonderfully preserved experience to visitors. One of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England, there’s much to admire and, if you’re feeling inspired, write home about.
Rudyard Kipling: Burwash, Sussex
Kipling is also known for his short stories and novels alongside poems such as IF-, a beloved ode to stoicism and often voted the UK’s most popular poem. Whilst he dwelled in some of the UK’s most scenic and vibrant locations, it was his time in Burwash, Sussex that proved the most creatively fruitful. Here, amongst many other works, he was inspired to create Puck of Pook’s Hill, a collection of short stories and poetry narrated to two children living near Burwash. The work itself is considered a seminal work of fantasy that incorporates classic English literature and history.
Burwash is the perfect place to celebrate and explore Kipling’s life. The author spent over 30 years there at Bateman’s, a stunning Jacobean mansion that is now open to the public through National Trust stewardship. Inside you will find it as Kipling left it when he passed away in 1936, with a book lined study and many South Asian artefacts.