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The Borrowdale Fraternal Four

Poetic and Televisual Inspiration..

9 November 2009

Viewers of BBC2's Autumnwatch on Friday 6th November will have seen Martin Hughes-Games relishing his visit to the Borrowdale Fraternal Four – famous for their part in William Wordsworth’s poem “Yew Trees” – composed in 1803.

There is a Yew-tree, pride of Lorton Vale,
Which to this day stands single, in the midst
Of its own darkness, as it stood of yore:
Not loth to furnish weapons for the bands
Of Umfraville or Percy ere they marched
To Scotland’s heaths; or those that crossed the sea
And drew their sounding bows at Azincour,
Perhaps at earlier Crecy, or Poictiers.
Of vast circumference and gloom profound
This solitary Tree! - a living thing
Produced too slowly ever to decay;
Of form and aspect too magnificent
To be destroyed But worthier still of note
Are those fraternal Four of Borrowdale,
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove;
Huge trunks! - and each particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres serpentine
Up-coiling and inveterately convolved, -
Nor uniformed with Phantasy, and looks
That threaten the prophane; -a pillared shade,
Upon whose grassless floor of red-brown hue,
By sheddings from the pining umbrage tinged
Perennially - beneath whose sable roof
Of boughs, as if for festal purpose, decked
With unrejoicing berries, ghostly Shapes
May meet at noontide - Fear and trembling Hope,
Silence and Foresight - Death and the Skeleton
And Time the Shadow, - there to celebrate,
As in a natural temple scattered o’er
With altars undisturbed of mossy stone,
United worship; or in mute repose
To lie, and listen to the mountain flood
Murmuring from Glaramara’s inmost caves.

Eighty years later, in 1883, one of the Fraternal Four was blown down in a storm but the remaining three are still going strong and are, indeed, a truly remarkable site in an area of somewhat adverse growing conditions – enduring over 140” of rain each year! It is also rather fortunate that they were there for all to see, even in Wordsworth’s time as during the reign of Elizabeth I, German miners, extracting copper from the mountainside, petitioned for more fuel as they had used up all the available timber in the Borrowdale valley.. Thank Heavens they left the Yews untouched and we can still marvel at them today.. Get a glimpse of the other two here and here..

One of the Borrowdale Fraternal Four Photo: ATH Vanessa Champion