Writing and Ruminating

Thoughts on writing, reading, and poetry. With the occasional diversion, bien sûr.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth

On my way home from this morning's writing session with Angela De Groot (, who, by the way, just won an award from Writer's Digest for a poem she wrote), I spied daffodils in bloom on a hill. No further explanation is needed for today's poem choice - the rest of my post is a reprise from last April.

Some of you may know this poem as "Daffodils", though that's not its actual name; its real name is "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud", and it's an extremely popular, much-anthologized poem.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
  That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
  A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
  And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
  Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
  Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
  In such a jocund company:
I gazed— and gazed— but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
  In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
  Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Form: Each stanza has 6 lines, is written in iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), and has a rhyme scheme of ABABCC; this form, essentially an open form in "sixain" (six lines to a stanza), was first developed by Shakespeare in "Venus and Adonis", and was used by Wordsworth in this poem, written in 1804.

Discussion: If you read this one aloud, it is easy to fall into a "pause-at-the-end-of-each-line" mentality, as a means of emphasizing the rhyme scheme, but this is something you SHOULD NOT DO, because you will be lulled into a false sense of complacency by the rhythm and sing-song rhyme effect you achieve, and you will not truly hear the poem.

Here's the first stanza written out with pauses only where they naturally occur:

I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host,
of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake,
beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


If you go back and read the poem aloud, following the punctuation, you will be able to better hear what Wordsworth is saying. And while references to nature and use of metaphor are common devices in modern poetry, they are used in part because Wordsworth came along and wrote in the way that he did, with a reverence for and appreciation of nature, and with a focus on emotional response to nature and other stimuli. As a result, Wordsworth is widely credited as being one of the first poets in the Romantic era, along with his friend Coleridge, whose poems were included in the 1798 publication Lyrical Ballads, which I referenced in a now-old quoteskimming post.

Today's poem is one of the best-loved and most well-known in the English language, and that is with good reason: its imagery is lovely, its rhyme and metre make it easy to memorize, and the story it tells (of seeing something beautiful and unexpected in nature and reliving it in memory) is one that resonates with a lot of people. Wordsworth also looks at psychological aspects of memory here - he relates the actual story of his walk with his sister, Dorothy, and their happenining upon a large swath of daffodils by a lake. But the point isn't that he took a walk and saw daffodils; it's the emotional journey he took (from loneliness to happiness), and the effect of the memory of the daffodils on his present mood. At the time he wrote the poem, he was breaking new ground, although it may seem tame to some now. But I rather think that those who take the time to read the poem aloud will not think it tame, but will instead take the journey along with Wordsworth from lonely wandering to a happy view of blinding yellow daffodils to an appreciation of the joy the memory must hold.

Speaking of Dorothy Wordsworth, she accompanied her brother most everywhere he went, and she was a poet as well as a diligent diarist. Wordsworth is believed to have relied on her diaries when calling up details to write some of his poems. Here, for instance, is Dorothy's journal entry from the excursion with her brother when they saw daffodils by the lake:


The entry is from her Grasmere Journals, and is dated April 15, 1802:

Thursday 15th. It was a threatening misty morning—but mild. We set off after dinner from Eusemere. Mrs Clarkson went a short way with us but turned back. The wind was furious and we thought we must have returned. We first rested in the large Boat-house, then under a furze Bush opposite Mr Clarkson's. Saw the plough going in the field. The wind seized our breath the Lake was rough. There was a Boat by itself floating in the middle of the Bay below Water Millock. We rested again in the Water Millock Lane. The hawthorns are black and green, the birches here and there greenish but there is yet more of purple to be seen on the Twigs. We got over into a field to avoid some cows—people working, a few primroses by the roadside, woodsorrel flower, the anemone, scentless violets, strawberries, and that starry yellow flower which Mrs C. calls pile wort. When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway. We rested again and again. The Bays were stormy, and we heard the waves at different distances and in the middle of the water like the sea. Rain came on—we were wet when we reached Luffs but we called in. Luckily all was chearless and gloomy so we faced the storm—we must have been wet if we had waited—put on dry clothes at Dobson's. I was very kindly treated by a young woman, the Landlady looked sour but it is her way. She gave us a goodish supper. Excellent ham and potatoes. We paid 7/ when we came away. William was sitting by a bright fire when I came downstairs. He soon made his way to the Library piled up in a corner of the window. He brought out a volume of Enfield's Speaker, another miscellany, and an odd volume of Congreve's plays. We had a glass of warm rum and water. We enjoyed ourselves and wished for Mary. It rained and blew when we went to bed. N.B. Deer in Gowbarrow park like skeletons.


It's pretty obvious that Wordsworth and his sister observed the same field of flowers, not just because we know that they were together when they came upon the lake and its flowers, but also because their writings share some other commonalities, such as the description of the daffodils dancing in the wind. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but I rather think not.

I hope you enjoyed your day, and I hope you found daffodils or some other bit of loveliness to hold in your mind's eye. My friend Andi is hosting Poetry Friday today over at A Wrung Sponge - you can see all the entries by clicking the Poetry Friday box below.


Kiva - loans that change lives

Labels: , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home