The Raven's Nest Episode

Reconstructing Composition

The account of the young Wordsworth stealing eggs from a nest occurs in MS JJ on Xv where a version above the line drawn on the page is immediately revised below it. The first version runs:


{[?]ith what strange utterance did


the loud dry

Blow through my ears, what colours

what motion did

The cothe cloud

the lou

the colours of the sky


WhThe sky was {then

no sky

Of earth & whith what motion move the cloud,

As on the perilous brink cliff


(MS JJ, Xv)

The passage runs on from that on Yv where the lines are written in regular blank verse. This context, as well as the nature of the work on the page, is such that it looks very much like an example of Wordsworthian written composition with no preceding oral composition. Where Wordsworth has first composed by thinking and speaking aloud outside, draft material is generally written in full lines which are metrically regular, whereas here, the full metrical line is not in place.

The next version is written out immediately below the first on the page:

As on the perilous brink cliff


ridge cliff alone

While on the perilousedgeI hung

With what strange utterance did the loud

dry wind

Blow through my ears the sky seemd not

a sky

Of earth, and with what motion moved

the clouds

(MS JJ, Xv)

What emerges is a model of half-line composition which provides the poet with a number of different possible combinations. The initial entries on the page are probably the two top half-lines “With what strange utterance did / Blow through my ears” with the word “wind” either also written then, or at the time of entering the words “the loud dry” below the line. Initially then, the lines could read “With what strange utterance did blow through my ears / The loud dry wind” as well as “With what strange utterance the loud dry wind did / Blow through my ears”.

The next revision perhaps occurs after the decision to place “loud dry wind” between the first two half lines, and so now concerns the second half of the second line. Wordsworth needs a second half line here so plays with two options (“the colours of the sky” and “what motion did the cloud”). When he finally rewrites the passage, the first half line option disappears. This suggests that the line below, beginning “the sky was then no sky” is a revision of it, which then leads into the entry of the two lines below that, one using some of the crossed-out revision (“whith what motion move the cloud”) one of them a new half line: “As on the perilous brink cliff”.

Wordsworth then realises that this line will work well as the start of this small section and so begins again, placing it first. Changes here are detailed – “brink” is rejected perhaps because it suggests the position of feet, rather than hands. “Edges” is crossed out as being too unspecific in terms of the kind of place concerned. “Ridge” or “cliff” are thus retained as options. Both of these words also assonate with “perilous”.

Half line composition is a characteristic of Wordsworth's drafting, keeping his options open at the early compositional stage. There are a number of examples of it also in Home at Grasmere, particularly in MS A.