“I’ve told you I was sorry,” said Dorothy.
“Well, that’s no good,” said William Wordsworth. “I’m a laughing stock.”
And he was. He had written “Daffodils” a month earlier. Since his handwriting looked as if a spider staggering home from the pub had left a trail of sick across the page, his sister Dorothy used to re-write his poems, using calligraphy that she had learnt at Miss Havistock’s School of Talents That Young Ladies Will Need Until They Can Find Themselves A Husband.
She had written “Daffodils” out and had sent it to the publishers.
The poem had appeared this week in the Times Literary Gazette. The opening line read “I wandered lovely as a cloud”.
The rest of journalism, who normally reported on poetry as often as they reported on the Under-11 Division 3 Lacrosse Championships, had been quick to react. Punch had featured a cartoon of Wordsworth wearing a ribbon bearing the words “Mr Universe 1802”. The Mail On Sunday had written a scathing piece under the headline “who’s a pretty boy, then?”. The Male On Sunday, a very different publication, had offered him a surprising amount of money to appear as their November Hunk Of The Month.
“What were you thinking?” asked Wordsworth.
“Well, it’s your handwriting,” said Dorothy. “I couldn’t tell whether the word was “lonely” or “lovely”. I went to ask you, but you were on your couch in vacant or in pensive mood, ie, fast asleep after your Sunday dinner, so I picked the more likely option.”
“More likely? The option where I said a cloud was lovely? What’s lovely about a cloud?”
“Some of them are really lovely. I’ve seen one that looked like a sheep -”
“They all look like sheep.”
“Ok, bad example. I’ve seen one that looked like a bunny rabbit, one that looked like the face of Disraeli, even one that looked like a combine-harvester, and I don’t even know what that is.”
“But why would I have written that I was lovely? I sound like Byron, thinking that I’m God’s gift to women.”
He didn’t notice Dorothy blush. She had never told her brother that she and Byron lay oft upon a couch themselves.
“Well, why would it have said “lonely”?” she said. “Clouds are never lonely, they tend to arrive in a crowd. A host, even. And then they combine to drop four days of rain on you in two hours. This place isn’t called the Lake District for nothing.”
“It makes more sense than “lovely”. This was to be my masterpiece, and you’ve ruined it.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” snapped Dorothy, “it’s a poem about bloody flowers. It’s only one step up from “roses are red, violets are blue”.”
There was a shocked silence after this. Dorothy was as shocked as William at what she had said, but there was no way of unsaying it. She looked into William’s eyes and saw them filled not with anger but with hurt, which was much worse.
William left the room. Dorothy thought for a while, then realised what she had to do.
She didn’t just transcribe William’s poetry, she did it for her lover Byron too. And although she loved Byron and hated what she was planning, she consoled herself with her growing suspicion that she was not the only wench in receipt of his wenching.
Besides, William was her brother, and that meant more.
A week later she returned from the village to find William surrounded by the Times Literary Gazette and other newspapers. He was laughing heartily.
“What is it, William?” she asked.
“I’m off the hook,” said Wordsworth. “They’re picking on Byron now.”
Dorothy raised her eyebrows. “Really?” she said. “Why, my dear?”
“Because,” said Wordsworth, “he’s just written a poem with the opening line “She walks in bootees, like the night”.”
This was written for Sidey’s Weekly Theme, which this week is “opening lines”.
The picture is from Wikipedia, and is of a manuscript in the British Library.