The Rock of Names

Rock of Names c. 1880; photo by Herbert Bell. Courtesy of the Armitt Trust, Ambleside.

The deep friendship between William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and S. T. Coleridge shaped many aspects of their lives. On one occasion, Coleridge carved their initials, as well as those of other close members of their circle, onto what would be later called the “Rock of Names,” a slab of stone at the side of the road between their Lake District homes. William immortalizes this action in his original manuscript of the poem “The Waggoner,” where he charges the stone to hold the memory of their bond long after they’ve all died:

“Rock of Names!

Light is the strain, but not unjust

To Thee, and thy memorial-trust

That once seemed only to express

Love that was love in idleness;

Tokens, as year hath followed year

How changed, alas, in character!

For they were graven on thy smooth breast

By hands of those my soul loved best;

Meek women, men as true and brave

as ever went to a hopeful grave:

Their hands and mine, when side by side

With kindred zeal and mutual pride,

We worked until the Initials took

Shapes that defied a scornful look—

Long as for us a genial feeling

Survives, or one in need of healing,

The power, dear Rock, around thee cast,

Thy monumental power, shall last

For me and mine! O thought of pain,

That would impair it or profane!

Take all in kindness then as said

with a staid heart but playful head;

And fail not thou, loved Rock! To keep

Thy charge when we are laid asleep.”


The Rock of Names was nearly destroyed during the construction of the Thirlmere Reservoir in the late 1800s, but its fragments, cemented together, can now be seen behind Dove Cottage in Grasmere.

Contributed by Emily Wright