Hornbill – An Approach to Painting

It’s time for another post. It’s almost impossible to blog at the moment without reference to the pandemic and consequent social (that should really be ‘physical’) distancing. All I will say regarding that is that I’m grateful I’ve got an activity such as painting which I can do inside and is relatively straightforward. If the restrictions last for months it is going to impact on mental health globally, particularly for those who live alone. Yet, on the other hand if this forces all of us to ‘withdraw within and reflect upon ourselves’ that would be no bad thing.

I want to describe the process I go through when I paint in the hope that it may interest those of you who don’t paint and those of you who do, or those of you who have other creative outlets. I also describe how zoologists think about extinction threats.

I find my initial ideas by reading, looking and thinking. I look through bird books and online as I find that birds are an endless source of subject matter. (I’ve been a keen birdwatcher for decades)

Last Christmas my daughter gave me Facing Extinction written by four ornithologists and published by Christopher Helm. The book is a sad testament to how we exploit natural resources for profit but also has some encouraging and heroic stories about conservation of species. One of the birds discussed is the rufous-headed hornbill which is ‘critically endangered.’ ( Zoologists use seven categories of extinction-risk. In increasing order of threat they are, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct.) Although the book is beautifully illustrated this hornbill was not featured but I soon found images online.

The authors of the book explain how deforestation is a major factor in species decline and loss. For example, palm oil plantations are responsible for the full-scale destruction of rain forest habitats. (Most of the tree species in rain forests have taken up to ninety years to reach maturity and they are felled in an afternoon!) The oil from these trees is found in a huge variety of consumer products such as shampoo, peanut butter and biscuits. To reference this I decided to paint a ‘portrait’ of the hornbill next to a palm oil tree.

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Here is the initial drawing which has a few notes regarding colours I intended to use. When I ‘compose’ a picture I think about negative space from the beginning. (Negative spaces are the shapes between objects.)

The next image shows one stage of the painting where I have at first painted the palm oil tree before finishing the bird.

horbill one

This is the finished painting. I wanted to paint the out-sized bill in bright colours and to suggest its horny texture. You may also notice I’ve added more feathery texture to the neck and more leaf fronds on the right hand side.

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The overhanging fronds may suggest a protective covering for the hornbill but if you look closely the tips of the fronds appear as if they are slashed. Why is this? This is where a title of a painting is crucial, just as with a poem. I sent the finished painting to a few friends (on WhatsApp) and got responses along the lines of ‘vibrant’ and ‘uplifting’. Now, see how your view changes with two alternative titles. Firstly, Rufous-headed hornbill, secondly,  Critically Endanged. Obviously I would opt for the second but I must admit that I painted the palm tree with as much care and attention as the hornbill.

I would use the term ‘eco-art’ to describe most of my recent paintings. At first glance this one may remind you of a poster for a Caribbean holiday and I do wonder if this was a subconscious factor in its composition. Without the title, perhaps viewers may simple see this work as a colourful painting?

As a postscript, climate change will probably pose as many problems as the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps we are at a turning point in history now and our very survival will be in question if we do not seriously address this problem. It takes an invisible ‘enemy’ like a virus to get the engines of government and communities engaged. Climate change does not seem as immediate as Covid 19 but both phenomena show how interconnected everything is. Covid 19 has caused a global response. What will it take to get governments to take comparative action to mitigate against the dire effects of climate change?

 

 

 

Climate Catastrophe

It is February so this is my monthly posting.  I could write reams about climate change but will resisit that temptation. Most of us know the facts by now and some of us may even agree with Greta Thunberg that we should be scared!

Instead, I will describe something else. I have recently found good canvases with paintings on them in charity shops. It all started with the Christmas challenge (see my last post) which alerted me to a cheap way of finding painting ‘supports.’ The painting here is done on hardboard, another source from a charity shop. Usually if you find a framed picture there will be hardboard on the back. I take this out and prime it with Gesso and hey presto there is your support for a new painting. It has the aditional advantage that you can return the painting to the original frame when it is finished!

All this for £1 (minus cost of paints of course).

This picture is 45 x 38 cms.

 

 

New Painting: a Commission

 

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As a former art teacher, I’ve always been interested in art history but during the last few years I’ve had an opportunity to appreciate works of art in a more considered way. Firstly I looked at Renaissance works when I wrote a manuscript about that period of art and then I examined William Blake’s work as I attempted to write about his illustrations for the Book of Job. A few months ago I formed an art appreciation group with the purpose of visiting galleries and talking about the art there. It is much easier to admire the work of established artists than create your own but perhaps my immersion in world-renowned art works has nudged me in the direction of my own creativity.

Perhaps the foregoing facts started something in my subconscious. However, this painting of mine was not initially my own idea; a friend bought a canvas in a charity shop which was half coloured in a pinky-crimson paint. She wondered if I might like to make a painting of it! I decided to take up the challenge and see if I could incorporate the crimson colour as sky in a landscape. I would not usually choose a palette of reds and pinks but it is good to think outside of your comfort zone in art as well as in life. My friend wanted the painting for her bedroom.

The idea came to me to reference other artists in my painting; particularly to use well known motifs. I chose Cezanne and his Mont Sainte Victoire which he painted many times. The other motif of the house came from Paul Klee’s small painting, Arctic Thaw which is not as well known. Cezanne is often considered the father of modernism and I have always found Klee’s work delightfully whimsical. Apart from this starting point I had no idea how the painting would develop or turn out. It is a mistake to over-plan paintings and so I incorporated accidental shapes and colours as I worked using a large brush to begin with. I started with the Cezanne mountain so that had to be planned in so far as the shape would have to be recognisable to the viewer. The strange Klee house was also painted with the correct proportions. The rest of the painting developed more spontaneously – I’m not sure where the palm tree came from but I like the idea of combining disparate objects – do palm trees grow in mountainous regions? Um, maybe, but mine isn’t a particular species anyway, it is more generic and stylised with its nod to cubism. I added the horse rider to suggest a narrative.

I chose greens and yellows to act as complementary colours to the reds and pinks. I kept the tonal values close to emphasise the pastel mood of the painting. To use a musical analogy the painting is more an adagio than a scherzo. Paintings are often compared to music – the composition, colours, shapes and tones have their equivalents in music. I like to balance positive space with negative space and you will see how the latter relate to the former if you imagine the composition as abstract. If you can invert your screen you can also see the relation of shapes to each other better.

Looking at a paintings can also be compared to listening to music. There should be an indefinable aesthetic feeling of pleasure or an ‘aha’ moment when you take time to really look at a painting. Perhaps the computer screen is not always the best medium for this lingering appreciation.

I’m reasonably happy with the finished painting and enjoyed the process which involved making intuitive decisions about shapes, colours, tones and composition.

A Vision

earth

I first came across this description by J.B. Priestley in a wonderful book of his called, Man and Time. It is an exploration of time from different points of view; scientific, literary and religious. It is beautifully illustrated in colour. He was fascinated with phenomena such as pre-cognition and dreams and wrote his famous ‘time-plays’ such as Dangerous Corner to dramatise various anomalies and theories. The poem is based on one of Priestley’s own dreams.

A Vision1

I am on top of a high tower, looking down. I see thousands of birds

flying in separate flocks; one flock is a cloud of curlews,

one is a murmeration of starlings, one is a squadron of swans.

Gradually as I watch, the flocks fuse and become a vast aerial river

of birds; a river in the sky, a river of multicoloured feathers and wings,

a pulsating river, now spiralling, now circling, now cascading.

I hear a gentle honking, cooing and twittering as the river draws nearer;

I feel a cool draught of air on my cheeks.

*

I see generations of birds; watch them break their shells as they are born,

watch them flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter and die. Wings grow

only to crumble into dust, bodies are sleek and then bleed and shrivel.

Thousands upon thousands of flickering bodies flap wings and moult

feathers in heaps until the heaps form multicoloured hillocks of down.

Scrawny heads crack open fragile shells and the naked birds quickly grow

feathers, quickly fly and mate again and again only to bleed, shrivel and die.

I feel sick in my throat. What is the use of all this struggle to exist?

It would have been better if not one of them, if not one of us, had been born.

I stand on the tower; a man alone and in despair.

*

Now the thousands of birds become one multicoloured mass spread out

like a never-ending flower-bed on a desert sand. Time is running so fast

that the mass of birds is motionless. The desert seems an oasis of all

colours; blues, reds, yellows, purples and greens; the desert is a plain

sown with bird-bone-flesh-and-feathers. And along this plain, flickering

through the bodies themselves, there passes a tiny white flame, trembling,

dancing, then hurrying on, flickering through every particle of coloured

bird-bone-flesh-and-feather. Now it comes to me in a rocket-burst

of ecstasy that this flame is life itself and that nothing else matters;

nothing else could matter because, compared to this flame, everything else

is a shadow.

*

I am still in the tower and now I see a river of people.

Some are swimming, some are drowning and some are losing

their heads; and arms and legs. I see the water is thick with excrement

and blood. Bits of buildings, decapitated trees, vehicles and boulders

hurtle along with people and body-parts.

Time speeds up and the river flows faster; the bodies, boulders,

trees and buildings merge into a new mysterious form, gigantic,

like a whale, and the river convulses and surges like a tsunami.

Time goes even faster and I see the Earth

as if from the moon. And I hear a voice roaring like a lion:

“Who shall inherit the Earth?”

I am looking down from my moon-tower.

The Earth still looks beautiful; mottled, like a guillemot’s egg.

*

1Part-found poem: source; J.B. Priestley’s, Rain Upon Godshill, p304 William Heinmann Ltd, 1941.

The Blind Girl

I wrote this for another poetry website.

John Everett Millais’ The Blind Girl

First of all I sat for the blind girl. It was dreadful suffering, the sun poured in through the window. I had a brown cloth over my forehead which was some relief but several times I was as sick as possible and nearly argued. Another day I sat outside in a hay field, and when the face was done Everett scratched it out; he wasn’t pleased with it and complained about the showers.

Smoke from Everett’s pipe got in my eyes so I had to shut them. He told me to keep them shut. He told me not to see the beggar boy on the toll road; he told me not to see the three crows feeding on a dead rabbit or the adder by his own left boot. I laughed and said I could still see with my eyes shut. I could smell the acrid smoke rising from a factory chimney; I could hear the donkeys coughing in the field; I could hear the boy weeping. He told me to be blind.

The concertina was lent by Mr Pringle who had a daughter who had died. It was hers. He said we could keep it as it would never be played again. I smoothed my orange skirt and rested the concertina on my lap doing my best to be blind. It was difficult to keep my eyes shut on such a beautiful day. Everett said there was a double rainbow so I had to look. Everett wasn’t pleased as he was doing the face again. I stretched out my right hand and touched a wild flower growing in the grass. I knew it was a harebell as my little finger fitted inside just as if it was a thimble.

The next day the weather seeped into our drawing room and the double rainbow arched over the carpet. I had my eyes open and could see a painted lady fluttering at the window pane. I could hear concertina music softly playing.

[Part-found prose poem: Source/ Effie Millais’ journals]

To My Father

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I’ve been trying to write a long poem in tribute to my father who was a Wordsworth enthusiast. Needless to say, I have found it very difficult and don’t know what to make of my attempt. This is the beginning. The good thing about a blog is you can float ideas to try out. This is not a finished draft; merely a first attempt!

*

Is it for this an un-bridged chasm yawned between us?

I know I turned away from your literary conversations

and when you wrote your annotations, but be sure, that now

I venerate your Everyman hardback. Now you’re no longer

able to converse with Wordsworth or with me I’ll try

and bridge the widening gap. I’ve paid homage today

by gluing the loose spine and placing your book on my altar.

*

You didn’t annotate De Quincey’s quip, that Wordsworth’s legs

were certainly not ornamental so I wonder if you smiled

when you followed De Quincey’s meandering steps. Did you

chuckle when you read that beside a tall clergyman

Wordsworth’s figure appeared “mean” and he walked

like a beetle, even edging his companions off the highway?

Once you attached a grapnel around his eyes and underscored:

there was a light as if radiating from some spiritual world

the light that never was on land or sea.

I’m in concord here and throw a rope to the other side, hoping

I can narrow the distance. I’m following a convoluted path

here and now but recognise your footprints: your battles

en route and with the dimming light. Some footholds

afford some security and I can rest awhile. I travel on

and glimpse a finger-post pointing to a deep ravine;

I hope there’s a permissive path beyond the gorse.

*

I was a toddler trailing clouds of glory when you read

about your hero’s legs. Like his, yours conquered many a peak

and cut a path through scrub and gorse. Years later I came to myself

in a dark wood: I knew I had lost the way. If only I had

talked to you about Dante’s Labyrinthine Way!

Your furrow then was straight and certain, a bulwark against

the distractions of the world. You underlined in pencil;

he was guarded from too early intercourse with the deformities

of crowded life. In the ensuing years your naming of parts

obscured both our paths. You named the poetic faculty

as the highest good. I find your longer sentences difficult

to follow even with a magnifying glass. You turned his Ode

around and wrote horizontally. There is little that’s fugitive

but his spots of time became your asterisks; his radical ideas

your ‘toning down.’

I lay down my words in the shadow of yours;

I underline the verses next to yours and tomorrow I’ll copy out

your longer passages before they fade from view. My hands

touch the edge of both our worlds on this cold day.

A double underlining for the powers of reason and nature

thus reciprocally teacher and taught – you can be my guide

even at this late date. I know that, a voice without imagination

cannot be heard. Is it for this that I am searching for the signs?

Wordsworth’s Mysticism

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Grasmere

This is a version of a mini-essay I did for an online course designed by Lancaster University on FutureLearn. My late father was a Wordsworth enthusiast so this is partly a tribute to him. I have a few of his books on Wordsworth and have enjoyed reading my father’s many annotations he made in pencil.

Although Wordsworth became an orthodox Anglican in his later years this should not be held against him or detract from his championing of the ‘indwelling spirit’ throughout his life but especially in his younger years. He is not as radical as William Blake but, nevertheless, there are passages in The Prelude where he is preoccupied with a mystical view of reality and that necessary inner spiritual transformation of the individual.

We are all familiar with his ‘nature-worship’ which goes by the term ‘pantheism.’ Perhaps this is epitomised in his Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, and especially in the lines:

And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused

[. . . ] A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things . . .

However, we should not limit Wordsworth’s beliefs to nature-worship alone. I would argue his broader views have a lot in common with Blake (“to see heaven in a wild flower”), the English Mystics, St John of the Cross, and even Eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism. As with all mystical traditions, a universal ‘Love’ is at the centre of his worldview. In common with Blake, he also elevates “Imagination” to a position where it is co-joined with selfless Love.

Here is a passage from Book 14 of The Prelude (significantly, the 1850 version is not much altered from the 1805 version):

Imagination having been our theme,
So also hath that intellectual Love,
For they are each in each, and cannot stand
Dividually. — Here must thou be, O Man!
Power to thyself; no Helper hast thou here;
Here keepest thou in singleness thy state:
No other can divide with thee this work:
No secondary hand can intervene
To fashion this ability; ’tis thine,
The prime and vital principle is thine
In the recesses of thy nature, far
From any reach of outward fellowship,
Else is not thine at all. But joy to him,
Oh, joy to him who here hath sown, hath laid
Here, the foundation of his future years!
For all that friendship, all that love can do,
All that a darling countenance can look
Or dear voice utter, to complete the man,
Perfect him, made imperfect in himself,
All shall be his: and he whose soul hath risen
Up to the height of feeling intellect
Shall want no humbler tenderness; his heart
Be tender as a nursing mother’s heart;
Of female softness shall his life be full,
Of humble cares and delicate desires,

Mild interests and gentlest sympathies.

The independence of the individual is unambiguous here and has something of the broad sweep of Walt Whitman.

Be tender as a nursing mother’s heart” has an exact parallel in a Buddhist scripture which reads as follows:

Even as a mother protects with her life

her child, her only child

so with a boundless heart

should one cherish all living beings;

radiating kindness over the entire world;

freed from hatred and ill-will.

[part of the ‘loving-kindness verse’]

Book 14 is a fitting climax to Wordsworth’s Opus Magnum and achieves philosophical and psychological heights which not only illustrate the prospectus of Romanticism, but recapitulate his earlier ideas rather like the last movement of a symphony. I am in awe of The Prelude and look forward to comparing the three versions in the Norton Edition. I recommend it to anyone who has not read it in its entirety!

Is it a Dog’s Bone?

dog bone

 

This article was prompted by a remark from a woman I was on a health walk with in Saltwell Park. The metallic sculpture in the park elicited the question, “What do you think of the dog-bone?”

Yes, unfortunately it does resemble a cartoon dog-bone; a comparison I’m sure was not in the sculptor’s mind when he produced the sculpture.

The next week our walking group passed nearby the sculpture which is titled, Rise, and we stopped to talk about it. I put on my art-history hat and explained about abstract art: that it didn’t ‘represent’ anything other than itself, not even a dog-bone! Someone else said, “It can be anything you want it to be.” That innocent remark begs a multitude of questions such as, “Is a work of art successful if its form is so open- ended as to be a blank space upon which we project purely subjective ideas?”

This is getting into more philosophical territory which I will leave for a possible future blog.

Another person in the group drew attention to the shiny material (steel) and he contrasted it with the weathered, rusty appearance of Anthony Gormley’s Angel Of the North. Someone else even said we should keep an open mind and not jump to quick judgements. These last two remarks made me re-assess my own opinions; was I being too hasty in thinking the sculpture underwhelming?

The sculpture is by Stephen Newby and was commissioned by Gateshead Sculpture Festival in 2006. It is what is known as a site-specific sculpture. The title is always helpful when viewing art. So, this is called Rise. We are all used to seeing engineering structures, such as bridges which use cast iron for example, yet nevertheless, appear to be light and buoyant. Think of the Millennium Bridge crossing the Tyne or the Forth Railway Bridge.

The fact that Rise is balanced on one of its four corners and consists of curves and no straight edges suggests lightness and movement. Does it make you think of ‘dance’?

I have found that by questioning my knee-jerk reaction to Rise, I have appreciated some of its qualities more. We should approach art in an attitude of open mindedness and ‘disinterestedness.’ On the other hand I always like to relate art to my own life. This is easier in content-heavy and representational art but more difficult with abstract art. Nevertheless, we can still ask such questions as, “What mood does it engender? What does it express? What effect do the materials have?” Such questions are better than “What is it?” which closes down debate and reveals a misunderstanding of abstraction.

Stephen Newby pioneered a new technique in which he somehow ‘inflates’ stainless steel. His website outlines his aims:

Realism becomes obscured and the unmalleable and clinical appearance of steel is transformed into something soft, fluid and organic.

Elsewhere he is quoted: I like to create objects that confuse the eye and give the viewer the feeling that she has found herself in another dimension.

Examples of some of his other work include a metallic sofa, cushions and an oversized metallic crisp-bag. There is also a huge metallic ‘tyre’ (Titled, Halo) outside the main Tesco in Gateshead.

Is Rise anything other than an ephemeral talking point? Will our grandchildren view it as significant art in 50yrs’ time? Maybe not; but at least it has made a few of us look at it with fresh eyes. The ‘problem’ with a lot of contemporary art is that there is so much of it. There are thousands upon thousands of sculptures all vying for position as it were. Much of it is bland and forgettable.

I hope I have given Rise a bit of a rise and that it can now dance confidently in Saltwell Park for a while.

Old-Fashioned Art?

Yesterday, while on a local history walk I asked the historian if he had seen the current exhibition of the Treasures From the Shipley Collection at the Shipley Gallery, Gateshead. He hadn’t so I told him there were a number of seventeenth century Dutch Mannerist paintings on show. I expressed my admiration for them and he replied. “People aren’t interested in those kinds of paintings nowadays.”

At the time I thought I was out on a limb, but afterwards I tended to agree with him. His response got me to question my own reasons for liking the paintings. Was I enamoured because the paintings were centuries old and had been cleaned to show bright and shiny colours? Was I harking back to pre-modernist times when all paintings were representational rather than abstract or conceptual? Was there even a hint of snobbery in my admiration? (I am aware that many people do not even step inside a gallery.) After all such paintings, along with the huge and impressive Tintoretto in the gallery, are examples of ‘high art’ and, that the distinction between ‘high and low art’ is anathema to art critics today. There may be some truth in this latter claim as I do believe in a kind of ‘gold standard’ in art. No amount of pleading will convince me that Andy Warhol’s Marilyn prints are qualitatively on a par with Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. Yet, this is what post-modernist critics claim!

However, I’d like to make clear I am not a reactionary or debunker of modern art in the tradition of Brian Sewell. There is much I enjoy in contemporary art: Anthony Gormley, Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson to name but three which come to mind.

I’ll choose David and Abigail as one of the paintings to discuss. It was thought to be by the Dutch artist, Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638), but now is designated as ‘after’ the artist.

Wtewael, Joachim Anthonisz., 1566-1638; The Meeting of David and Abigail

When I first saw it I had no idea what was going on in the picture. I had a vague idea it referenced a bible story. Even so, I admired the skill of the painter to depict people, horses, trees and buildings in harmonious colour and tone and I noted the convincing perspective. I had to wait until I got home to look up the story – those visitors with smartphones can do this while looking at the painting!

Now, here is our first hurdle. Not many of us today see the relevance of bible stories. However, I was prepared to put that to one side. Art Aestheticians often talk about the principle of ‘disinterestedness’ when looking at art. They ask us to step into the artist’s shoes and not make snap judgements based solely on personal preferences.

So, in a nutshell the story is as follows:

Nabal, married to Abigail, is a rich landowner with many cattle and crops. He is proud and selfish. David has allowed Nabal’s men to graze cattle on his land and yet when David asks for food and shelter one day, Nabal refuses. David is offended and arms his 400 men who are under orders to kill Nabal’s men. Abigail hears about the plan and sets out with friends with food and drink to meet David. They meet and Abigail says her husband is an arrogant fool and she implores forgiveness. That’s David on horseback on the right with Abigail kneeling. Miraculously, her intervention does the trick as David is moved by Abigail’s determination, compassion and generosity. (Later, poor Nabal is ‘smitten by the Lord’ and dies – oh dear, this sounds like the old Old Testament ‘eye for and eye’ justice! David then marries Abigail).

The figures on the left are Abigail’s men carrying supplies and food, and those on the right are David’s soldiers. There is hence, a perfect symbolism in the composition with Abigail ( the force for compassion) in the centre of opposing forces. The two main tree trunks form a kind of arch which frame the crucial meeting of the protagonists.

If we are to take any spiritual teaching from this archaic story today, surely we can agree that reconciliation is superior to vengeance and war. In our own time we only need to think of Northern Ireland. And, on an individual level, forgiveness is a wonderful gift. Taking a leaf out of Alain de Botton’s book, Art As Therapy, I always try and relate art works (whether paintings, novels, plays, or music) to my own life; they can add to self-understanding. (The book, Art As Therapy,  is co-written with John Armstrong. Published by Phaidon, paperback 2016.)

To my eye, such paintings are not so much ‘old fashioned’ but timeless. They may not give up their magic straight away but with a little patience and, above all, leisure and time to look in a sustained manner, they can provide so much aesthetic pleasure.

Wordsworth’s Kites

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Red Kites were alive and well in the 1800s in the Lake District. I have found three separate references to kites in the poems of William Wordsworth and one mention by his sister, Dorothy. There may be more references than these but they alone prove that the iconic birds were a common sight in the Lake District just over two hundred years ago.

The first two instances are from Wordsworth’s narrative poem, Michael and from Dorothy’s Journal, dated 11 Oct 1800.

Greenhead Gill, mentioned at the beginning of Michael is a mountain stream/ravine behind the Swan Hotel, which is north of Grasmere.

If from the public way you turn your steps
Up the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll,
You will suppose that with an upright path
Your feet must struggle; in such bold ascent
The pastoral mountains front you, face to face.
But, courage! for around that boisterous brook
The mountains have all opened out themselves,
And made a hidden valley of their own.
No habitation can be seen; but they
Who journey thither find themselves alone
With a few sheep, with rocks and stones, and kites
That overhead are sailing in the sky.

As was usual with Wordsworth, some of his lines were prompted by his sister Dorothy. It seems Wordsworth was writing the early drafts of Michael in Oct 1800. She writes in her journal:

After dinner we walked up Greenhead Gill in search of a sheepfold. . . The colours of the mountains soft, and rich with orange fern; the cattle pasturing upon the hill-tops; kites sailing in the sky above our heads. Sheep bleating and in lines and chains and patterns scattered over the mountains.

The third reference is from the autobiographical The Prelude, Book First:

The heart is almost mine with which I felt,

From some hill-top on sunny afternoons,

The kite high among the fleecy clouds

Pull at her rein like an impetuous courser,

*

The fourth from his long poem, The Excursion:

With care and sorrow; shoals of artisans

From ill-requited labour turned adrift

Sought daily bread from public charity,

They and their wives and children – happier far

Could they have lived as do the little birds

That peck along the hedgerows, or the kite

That makes her dwelling on the mountain rocks!

In many of Wordsworth’s poems place-names are mentioned so it is possible to walk in his footsteps. When my parents were alive they lived at Troutbeck Bridge and I would often set off from there to walk behind Rydal Mount (one of Wordsworth’s residences) in the White Moss area. Easedale Tarn, accessible from Grasmere village, was another favourite, and nearby Helm Crag with its famous ‘Lion and the Lamb’ rock.

A mere decade or two after Wordsworth’s sightings, Red Kites began to be persecuted by Gamekeepers and by the closing decades of the nineteenth century they were extinct in England and Scotland. In the 1990s reintroduction programmes were established in England and Scotland. Our North East birds came as chicks from the Chilterns. They were released in the Derwent Valley in Gateshead in a four year project. There is a link in my blogroll to Friends of Red Kites.

I have been in touch with a curator-trainee at Dove Cottage (Wordsworth’s residence at Grasmere) and she tells me kites have been seen recently soaring overhead, so that is good news!