Writing Over Another Text

Look at this picture of a William Wordsworth manuscript. You can see that he has written in a copy of a printed book. The book is a copy of poems by his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Why do you think Wordsworth did this?

Your Turn

Working in pairs, each of you type out two copies of a poem in very neat handwriting. When you have done this, swap your neat copy with your partner.

Next, your teacher is going to give you some subjects to write a poem about.

Now draft your poem onto the sheet of paper with the typed poem. You can write it any way you like: in the margins, in between the lines, on top of the lines, across the lines.

If your poem is long, you might want to continue onto the second page, or you can re-draft your first version on the second page by entering it in a different way.

Compare your entry with that of others.

- How hard was it to write across someone else’s writing?

- Did it affect the way you wrote or thought about your writing?

- How do you feel about having someone else write across your neat copy? Do you think Wordsworth thought about this? Or Coleridge?

Now pin your examples on the wall to share with others.

Follow-Up Activities

Wordsworth and Coleridge: Friend or Foe?

Although Wordsworth and Coleridge were very close friends they did fall out in later years and there was frequently tension between them. This means that there are two ways of reading Wordsworth's entry of his own writing over Coleridge's printed text:

A. Wordsworth uses his friend's book because it contains blank pages waiting to be filled and because he wants to draw upon Coleridge to help him write.

B. Wordsworth uses his friend's book of poetry in an act of aggression – writing over his printed text to assert his own poetry.

Use the evidence below to decide which you think is more likely. Decide which evidence supports A and which supports B.

The evidence (decide which supports position A and which supports B):

- Wordsworth always found writing difficult

- Coleridge's Poems (1796) is the collection which made him famous before Wordsworth

- Wordsworth enters his writing first on blank pages, and spills over onto the printed page

- Wordsworth sometimes writes directly over Coleridge's printed words

- Paper was very expensive at this time

- Wordsworth sometimes writes in the margins of Coleridge's printed words

Reading Between the Lines

It seems from reading Wordsworth’s writing and Coleridge’s printed words, that Wordsworth was influenced by the printed words – although it is possible that he did not realise it at the time.

In the section of the manuscript where Wordsworth is writing in between Coleridge’s printed lines, he is drafting an image using a lamp as a metaphor for human life. Coleridge’s printed lines are describing the death of Christ in order to give man eternal life.

If we read Wordsworth and Coleridge together, this is what we have (Wordsworth’s draft is in bold):

in time when mists

As when a Shepherd on a vernal morn

Low [?hung] are [?or] [?] [?gazes] [?round]

Thro’ some thick fog creeps tim’rous with slow foot,

break up & are beginning to recede

Darkling he fixes on th’ immediate road

How please he is to

His downward eye: all else of fairest kind

Hid or deform’d. But lo! the bursting Sun!

Something on every side conceald

from view

In evry quarter some [?thing] visible

Both the handwritten text and the printed text are about the same subject, using similar imagery.

And finally . . .

Can you remember the definition of a manuscript given earlier? This page has both printed text (by Coleridge) and a hand written text (by Wordsworth). Is it a manuscript or not?