Pursuing “a passion and a love” in the GPS age

DR | ET Leader

In late September, my wife Judie and I set off from our Bristol hotel for the possible location where Wordsworth wrote his “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” It wasn’t at the Abbey itself, as the title of his famous poem tells you. “A few miles above” (up the Wye Valley) puts you at Symon’s Yat, according to some scholars, and my colleague Daniel Taylor was eager to find its spectacular view.

We enjoyed a sunny day driving with Dan and his wife, Jayne, through scenes of “cottage grounds [and] orchard tufts,” to quote Wordsworth’s poem, and even beheld some “steep and lofty cliffs.” Thank you, Dan, for finding the place where Wordsworth reflected on the “passion…and a love” that sustained his imagination.

Bristol was one of the largest cities in England when Wordsworth wrote these words in 1798. Twenty years earlier, its representative in Parliament was Edmund Burke, on whom I wrote my PhD dissertation His life and works have often nourished my imagination: Burke sympathized with America in the years that preceded our War of Independence and was the first public opponent of the French Revolution. Throughout it all (as Coleridge wrote), he “reasoned in metaphor.”


England term student poses in front of Burke statue | Photo by VH

As we drove back into Bristol at rush hour, Dan was eager to return the rental car before the 6 p.m. deadline. I was skeptical that we could make it. We were soon gridlocked, my GPS slowed, and my phone battery was nearly gone. Color us lost.

“How is it possible,” I demanded, “that there is not a single statue of Burke in this city?” It was 5:50 and I couldn’t match my lazy GPS with the paper map that marked the rental agency’s office. Another minute and we’d need to rely entirely on the map.

“Are you sure?” said Dan. “Yes,” my voice rose higher:  “I’ve searched Google Maps for ‘Burke Statue, Bristol’ and found nothing.”

“Searching ‘Burke Statue, Bristol,’” said the voice from the GPS. “Make a U-Turn.”

“No! No! not now!” I pleaded. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bronze knee breech, a bronze finger jabbing the air, and a bronze, bewigged Burke.

It was 5:57.

“I recognize this corner,” my wife shouted. “The agency’s up the hill.”

“Make a U-Turn,” said the GPS.


We pulled in with seconds to spare.

Two good-hearted students went out that night and snapped this photo. Vince’s face expresses many things, but I see it as his kind indulgence for a professor’s enthusiasm. I hope my students are able to nurture their own enthusiasms when “five years have past,” whether it’s for Wordsworth, Burke, or another literary companion who can bring “life and food for future years.”

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