Last week I finally paid a visit to Prick Your Finger, a yarn shop in the Bethnal Green area of London. PYF has been around for a number of years and I have no good excuse as to why I haven’t been before.
It’s a wonderful shop, full of quirky and inspiring handspun, handyed and upcycled yarns by the owner Rachel Matthews which happily sit alongside established British brands including Jamieson’s and John Arbon. Rachel is keen to promote artists and artisans working with yarn and fibre and uses the shop front as a gallery space and also stocks an excellent range of artists books and publications from small print runs. This beautifully titled book caught my eye:
A Perfect Republic of Shepherds was published to accompany a 1997 photography exhibition commissioned by The Wordsworth Trust showing portraits of Cumbrian shepherds with an essay about William Wordsworth by Robert Woof. I bought a copy to send to my Dad thinking he would probably know a few of the shepherds depicted in the book.
All of this is a preface to what my actual June selection for The Year in Books is. I have Sophie Scott to thank for bringing William Wordsworth to my attention when a few weeks ago on Instagram she posted the following poem:
Composed Upon Westminster Bridge
3rd September 1802
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
It’s such a beautiful piece and summed London up so perfectly on that particular evening after I had travelled home from the centre of town across the river and back to the flat. We didn’t study Wordsworth at school but something tells me I probably wouldn’t have appreciated his words quite as much as I do upon reading them now. I promptly bought The Major Works published by Oxford and have happily been dipping in, reading, marking pages and re-reading since.
There’s a sad and lovely poem called We Are Seven which includes the following verse:
“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.”
Funny how things different facets of our lives tie together. And how does this tie-in with a visit to Prick Your Finger and A Perfect Republic of Shepherds? Well, unbeknowst to me when I picked the book up at PYF, Wordsworth was born and lived in the Lake District and the title, ‘A perfect Republic of Shepherds’ is taken from a description of his homeland:
‘Towards the head of these Dales was found a perfect Republic of Shepherds and Agriculturists’…this pure Commonwealth; the members of which existed in the midst of a powerful empire, like an ideal society or an organized community whose constitution had been imposed and regulated by the mountains which protected it…”
Many of Wordsworths poems refer to the hills and shepherds who tended flocks across the Lake District, and the cover illustration for the Wordsworth book is a detail from a painting by John Sell Cotman entitled, ‘The Shepherd on the Hill’.
You never quite know when you are going to stumble across these funny coincidences in life, but treasure them when you do.