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"I have never seen anywhere else such exquisite scenery as surrounds this village of Matlock."

Nathaniel Hawthorne[1]

Poetry included on this page:

Poetry elsewhere within the web site (return here by clicking the "Back" arrow on the toolbar)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The poem below was written when Elizabeth Barrett was visiting Matlock Bath in 1814; she was only 8 years old. It is from "Hitherto Unpublished Poems and an Inedited Autobiography", ed. H. Buxton Forman (Boston: The Bibliophile Society 1914), vol. 1, pp. 46-47. The poem has been very kindly sent to me by Sandy Donaldson and is published here with her very kind permission.

27. On Visiting Matlock - Derbyshire

The carriage stops - the neat and smiling Inn,

The works of Man we leave - Gods works to win.

Now then up shaggy hills we climb

To get to Natures cavern, grand and fine,

This scene is Natures work, these trees are hers,

These oaks, these elms, these yews, these firs. -

Now to her Palace, swiftly draw we near,

Which ever must inspire great awe and fear;

Where shaggy rocks are opening to our view,

Her jewels sparkle o'er, with wat'ry dew, 10

Now burning tapers in each hand is [sic] put,

To light the way, to guide the weary foot,

Down the abyss o'er rugged path we stray,

And steps descending reach the wat'ry way,

Here heedless Ba, with magic wonder struck, 15

With eyes upraised, she gave her foot a duck.

The cavern dark, Papas laugh resounded,

Mama's, Bro's, Addles,' all loud rebounded;

Vast chambers now expanding to our sight,

Glittering in various gems, of spar so bright, 20

The massive rocks upon an angle rest,

Nature bears all these wonders in her breast,

Now then advancing to the morning sun,

We quit this shadowy cave with vapours hung,

And joy to see the beauteous glowing day, 25

The rocks, woods, waters, all in bright array,

Then running, tumbling down the hill,

New wonders rise, our thoughts to fill,

Papa so ever kind, our joys to swell,

Led us to see the petrifying well,

Where heads, wigs, baskets, eggs, lie on the ground

Soon turned to stone, in dropping waters drowned.

Farewell, farewell, ye scenes of joy so sweet,

All other joys lie humbly at thy feet.

Date: 11 June 1814, Carlton, given with title.

Source: Berg Poems, ff. 17-17v.

Publication: HUP 1:46-47.

John Betjeman

Matlock Bath[2]

From Matlock Bath's half-timbered station
I see the black dissenting spire-,
Thin witness of a congregation,
Stone emblem of a Handel choir;
In blest Bethesda's limpid pool,
Comes treacling out of Sunday School.

By cool Siloam's shady rill--
The sounds are sweet as strawberry jam:
I raise mine eyes unto the hill,
The beetling Heights of Abraham;
The branchy trees are white with rime
In Matlock Bath this winter-time.

And from the whiteness, grey uprearing,
Huge cliffs hang sunless ere they fall,
A tossed and stoney ocean nearing
The moment to o'erwhelm us all:
Eternal Father, strong to save,
How long wilt thou suspend the wave?

How long before the pleasant acres,
Of intersecting Lovers' Walks
Are rolled across by limestone breakers,
Whole woodlands snapp'd like cabbage stalks?
O God, our help in ages past,
How long will Speedwell Cavern last?

In this dark dale I hear the thunder
Of houses folding with the shocks,
The Grand Pavilion buckling under
The weight of the Romantic Rocks,
The hardest Blue John ash-trays seem
To melt away in thermal steam.

Deep in their Nonconformist setting
The shivering children wait their doom--
The father's whip, the mother's petting
In many a coffee-coloured room;
And attic bedrooms shriek with fright,
For dread of Pilgrims of the Night.

Perhaps it's this that makes me shiver
As I ascend the slippery path
High, high above the sliding river
And terraces of Matlock Bath;
A sense of doom, a drear to see
The Rock of Ages cleft for me.

A verse from this poem is elsewhere on this site:
Stone Quarrying. The page also discusses what perhaps prompted Betjeman's verses.

Erasmus Darwin

" Where as proud Masson rises rude and bleak,
And with misshapen turrets crests the Peak,
Old Matlock gapes with marble jaws, beneath,
And o'er scared Derwent bends his flinty teeth;
Deep in wide caves below the dangerous soil
Blue sulphurs flame, imprisoned waters boil;
Impetuous streams in spiral columns rise
Through rifled rocks, impatient for the skies."

Loves of the Plants (Canto IV. v. 175 seq.)[1]

John Gisborne

" Nor from thy haunts
O Matlock, shall this heart be long withdrawn,
Nor e'er repine to meditate afresh
On scenes which ever please! Unlike the world
Whose friendship snares the bosom, yet with whom
Repeated converse serves but to expose
Delusive joys, thou dost endear thyself
Most closely when familiar; and to hold
Communion with thy river, rocks, and shade
In each revolving season, soothes the mind
And lulls the passions to Divine repose."[1]

Gisborne also wrote about the Derwent:

" Down the vale
Comes Derwent, sovereign river of the Peak.
But when he passes Megdale's tufted rocks
Feeling the pressure of the narrowed vale,
He foams, he frets, he wheels: and rushing thence
Through arches half engulfed, where yonder bridge
Presumes to check his congregated pace,
Sweeps onward, careless of the opening scene
Of beauty and magnificence combined.
Yet, as if conscious of his mighty powers,
As if to swell the triumph of his route,
Just where the traveller stops oft to view
The wondrous scene, to all the caverned hills
He speaks in thunder; calls on Matlock's Tor
To wake the mountain echoes from repose
And bids his billows with redoubled roar
Toss high their tawny crests."[1]

William Sampson

Sampson was an early seventeenth century poet. Here he was writing about the River Derwent:

" Amid thy valleys Darwent swiftly runnes
Who, like a tender mother, to her sonnes
Yields foords and springs and waters, sweet and cleare
As the blest sunne in his meridian spheare.
There may you see the salmon, tench and trout,
Like Neptune's Tritons, nimbly frisk about.
Sometimes along the flower-enamelled vales
She does inundate, and tells wanton tales
Unto the meadows, for she takes a pride
Her crystal limbes on pearly sands to glide,
As if she were enamoured on the hill,
Whose steepe descent her water-courses fill,
As loth she were to leave the continent
And thrust her head into her sister Trent."[1]

Anna Seward, "the Swan of Lichfield"

Anna Seward wrote about her" favourite river" in 1775.

" There under pendant rocks, his amber flood,
As Hebrus swift, impetuous Derwent pours;
And now, beneath the broad, incumbent wood,
Silent and smooth and deep, he laves the shores;
Till gaily rushing from his darksome way,
His foamy waters glitter on the day,
Resistless, dashing o'er each rocky mound;
And still on his umbrageous bank he shows
Woodbines and harebells and the musky rose;
The heavy velvet wild bees murmuring sound;
His every grace that decks Pieria's clime,
Green vale and steepy hill and broken rock sublime."[1]

Places mentioned in the poetry are described on this web site. Below are a few examples:

General View from The Heights of Abraham, about 1914.
The Great Petrifying Well
Eight year Old Elizabeth Barrett was entranced.
Matlock Bath: Great Rutland Cavern, Old Oak Tree and Roman Staircase, also visited by EB
Matlock Bath from Lovers Walk, 1779.
Matlock Bath: Lovers' Walks. This page is the first of several about the Walks.
Matlock Bath: The Dungeon Tors or Romantic Rocks.
Matlock Bath Station and High Tor, described by Betjeman as "half-timbered".
Matlock Bath: Upper Wood
The Speedwell Cavern, mentioned by Betjeman, was in Upper Wood.
Matlock Bath: High Tor
One of a series of images of the Tor.
Gisborne (see above) was one of several poets who mentioned the Tor

Magic Lantern Slides and Vista Screen views has some interior shots of the Great Rutland Cavern which Elizabeth Barrett Browning visited

There are several images of the Wesleyan church/chapel mentioned by Betjeman
There is a description on the Churches page

William Smedley

William Smedley owned the Cumberland Cavern in the Nineteenth Century[3].

smedley poem

Image of the Cumberland Cavern poem in the collection of and provided by and © Glynn Waite.
All on this page is intended for personal use only.


[1] Published in Firth, J.B. (1908) "Highways and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London

[2] John Betjeman's Collected Poems, John Murray (Publishers) Ltd., 50 Albermarle Street, London, WIX 4BD © John Betjeman 1968, 1962, 1970.

[3] See a description of the Cavern in Bemroses' Guide to Matlock ... , about 1869, p.14 and Smedley's advertisement in the same publication. Also see Matlock Bath: Royal Cumberland Cavern.