The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, the Wordsworths, and Their Year of Marvels

Adam Nicolson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (448p) ISBN 978-0-374-90849-2

In this elegant and vigorous paean to the Romantic period, Granta contributing editor Nicolson (Sea Room) profiles two of its greatest poets: William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He focuses on their stay, between June 1797 and September 1798, in a cottage in southern England’s Somerset county, a time that produced some of their best-known work: Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and “Kubla Khan,” and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, among them. Nicolson retraces their long walks through the countryside and intense exchanges about art and ideas, while also providing useful historical context, reminding readers this was a time of “brutal inequality” at home and of war and revolution abroad. He is especially articulate on the two poets’ divergent creative paths, as a self-doubting Coleridge turned outward for inspiration, while Wordsworth searched inside himself and started on the path to his masterpiece The Prelude. Admirably, Nicolson also pays tribute to Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, who lived with them and kept a journal of the period, which provides a prose counterpoint to her brother’s poetry. Nicolson leaves poetry fans with a vivid portrait of famous literary figures as “living people, young, troubled, ambitious” and trying to make sense of a confusing world. B&w illus. (Jan.)