At Lulworth Cove a Century Back

Lulworth Cove.jpg

Photograph by Christopher Benson

When my family traveled to England this summer, a guide to Thomas Hardy Country began our tour at Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset. He read aloud this poem about the tragedy of being invisible owing to “indecent and perspiring haste,” as Friedrich Nietzsche once put it. Here, Time is personified and urges the wayfarer to become a “friend of lento,” slowing down long enough to really see what lies before his eyes: an ordinary-looking man whose verse would achieve an extraordinary afterlife. Hardy included this note with his poem: “In September 1820 Keats, on his way to Rome, landed one day on the Dorset coast, and composed the sonnet, ‘Bright Star! would I were steadfast as thou art.’ The spot of his landing is judged to have been Lulworth Cove.”

At Lulworth Cove a Century Back

Had I but lived a hundred years ago
I might have gone, as I have gone this year,
By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know,
And Time have placed his finger on me there:

You see that man?’ – I might have looked, and said,
‘O yes: I see him. One that boat has brought
Which dropped down Channel round Saint Alban’s Head.
So commonplace a youth calls not my thought.’

You see that man?’ – ‘Why yes; I told you; yes:
Of an idling town-sort; thin; hair brown in hue;
And as the evening light scants less and less
He looks up at a star, as many do.’

You see that man?’ – ‘Nay, leave me!’ then I plead,
‘I have fifteen miles to vamp across the lea,
And it grows dark, and I am weary-kneed:
I have said the third time; yes, that man I see!’

‘Good. That man goes to Rome – to death, despair;
And no one notes him now but you and I:
A hundred years, and the world will follow him there,
And bend with reverence where his ashes lie.’

Watch this video on the Jurassic Coast.

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