Sweet Was the Walk

William Wordsworth: The Man Who Walked a Lifetime

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By Ken Zurski

British poet William Wordsworth liked to go for long walks. A commendable act today for sure, but in the late 18th century, highly unusual for a man of Wordsworth’s class and stature. That’s because walking was considered impractical and unnecessary to many artists of the era, mostly painters, who chose to not waste their own time and energy getting to a picturesque location. A stately horse and carriage did just fine, especially for those who could afford one.

But Wordsworth was different. He loved nature too much to spoil the journey.  So in 1790, while a student at Cambridge, Wordsworth organized a walking tour through Switzerland and France.

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When he returned to England, his walks became daily occurrences, usually accompanied by his sister Dorothy. The two would venture off by foot into areas unknown, oftentimes relishing the thought of getting lost, sometimes for hours, even in the family’s lavish gardens.

One winter day, Wordsworth and his sister walked a fair distance between home and a hotel for an engagement. The snow was falling and the path slippery. But when they arrived, Wordsworth insisted they turn around and do it again. The second time was just as “heavenly” as the first, Dorothy wrote about her brother.

After Wordsworth’s death at age 80, a friend calculated he had walked 175-thousand miles in his lifetime.

Of course all the walking was an inspiration for his poems.

I wandered as lonely as the cloud

That floats on high o’er valleys and hills

When all at once I saw a crowd

A host of golden daffadils

His works were often named after his enjoyment. like one, titled “Sweet Was the Walk.”

Like a good doctor or lawyer, Wordsworth always carried a bag with him – about the size of a modern day briefcase – when he went for a walk.  Inside were his writing tools: a journal, pencil, coat, book, and for longer jaunts…a sandwich.