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Daffodils — a Poetry Friday post

Last week, I posted My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold by William Wordsworth, and I'm back again this week with more of his work. I was thinking about this poem the other day, on noticing the green shoots of daffodils outside a friend's door.

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.

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. 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 complaicency 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 Sunday's 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: it's imagery is lovely, it's 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.

Enjoy your day, and I hope you find daffodils or some other bit of loveliness to hold in your mind's eye.

Site Meter


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 7th, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
Loveliness. Must send to my mother-in-law, who squeals when the first daffodils appear.

Jules, 7-Imp
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
Perhaps your mother-in-law already knows the poem. If not, I'm certain she'll love it.
Mar. 7th, 2008 03:42 pm (UTC)

I swear I can smell the daffodils when I read this piece.
Thank you for posting. I'm so glad you do these poetry Fridays, b/c it brings back so many poems I forgot I love.
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
I love Poetry Friday too, because it reminds me of poems I haven't thought of and introduces me to new ones, too!
Mar. 7th, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
Your timing is perfect! Just yesterday, I glanced out back and saw the green stems of daffodils appearing (these were bulbs we brought from our old house to our new house). It's my yearly sign of hope, that spring is indeed coming -- also a little poignant, as I miss England and it reminds me of visiting the Lake District and Dove Cottage.
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
I should so love to visit England. Bath and Chawton and Winchester and Steventon for Jane, and the Lake District for Wordsworth and Coleridge. Oh. And the Peak district, because it looks so lovely on film.
Mar. 7th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
My family lives about an hour away from the Lake District where Wordsworth lived and wrote. I spent many many days there among the brooding hills and deep lakes. Whenever the sun would break through the clouds and some stunning vista would reveal itself, my mother would pause and say, "I feel a poem coming on". She would scan the horizon and begin, "I wandered lonely as a cloud...". It was the family joke and your choosing this poem today brings a smile and a tear to this homesick girl.
Mme T from Destined to Become a Classic
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Wordsworth
I love that story. How wonderful!

Hugs for the homesickness.
Mar. 7th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
Interesting comments about reading it aloud. Good to remember how words can be read so differently.

And just the thought that those daffodils are coming. Oh, joy. Yes, I can see them, too, in my minds eye.
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC)
Over on YouTube, you can find lots of folks reading the poem, often accompanied by footage of daffodils by the thousands. The pictures are gorgeous, but I haven't found a reading that really "speaks" to me yet (most sound patterned and sing-songy). Where's Alan Rickman when I need him?
Mar. 7th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
Ah, daffodils. Flowers strong enough that even I can grow them. :)

I like this poem, I do, but that rap version that Fuse 8 posted one Sunday just won't leave my head.
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC)
The rapping kangaroo, right? I found him today, too, and remembered seeing him on a blog long ago. I'm glad you reminded me whose blog it was!
Mar. 7th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
Wordsworth was definitely one of my favorites. So gorgeous...

I always found his name ironically apt.
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
You're correct about his name. It could only be more appropriate if it were "Wordsmith".
Mar. 7th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
Ahh, in my part of the country the only daffodils are in the grocery store. Soon, I hope! (sigh)

I enjoyed your commentary on this poem. And good point--it should be easy to memorize. I'm going to use that idea and have my daughter memorize at least the first stanza.
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
I hope your daughter enjoys the poem, if she has to memorize it! (It's apparently standard practice to memorize it in India, and in some schools in Britain as well.)
Mar. 7th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC)
I honestly think I might have go get a bunch after reading this. Pop 'em in some water and call it a day....
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:42 pm (UTC)
Daffodils are such a sunny, happy flower. And so sweet-smelling (too sweet-smelling for me on some days, honestly, but I still love them).
Mar. 7th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
And this is my favorite poem, as well -- I got to visit Buttermere Lake in the Lake District (which supposedly is the lake he walked by when he saw the daffodils) -- it was supremely lovely, especially with the poem in mind. Of course, we were there in June; many, many ferns but the daffodils had been gone for a few months.

My favorite line is the last one, of course, and many a day do I lay upon my own couch and let my heart dance with the daffodils :)
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
His sister, Dorothy, kept a diary, and wrote about their walk:

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. (Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal)
(no subject) - robinellen - Mar. 7th, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Mar. 7th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - robinellen - Mar. 7th, 2008 11:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
What a great poem. So peaceful feeling - and making me ready for my daffodils to bloom.
Mar. 7th, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
Alas! The squirrels have eaten up my daffodils and/or they have been killed off by poor soil conditions. But this fall, I shall try planting some again.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 7th, 2008 11:13 pm (UTC)
I would love to see that.
Mar. 8th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
I hope Mother Nature subscribes to your blog. Not only will She get a poetic treat with a scholarly explanation.

But She also might get the hint!
Mar. 8th, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC)
She also might get the hint!

Yeah, New England's been pretty well-socked with snow this winter, and I'm sure you guys are anxiously waiting to see daffodils poking through!
Mar. 8th, 2008 01:44 pm (UTC)
I read the poem aloud, then went directly to my couch to "lie in a vacant or pensive mood," where I stubbornly ignored the "Blizzard of 08" raging outside. I closed my eyes and thought daffodil thoughts. I'm feeling better now, thanks to you and Bill W.

Mary Lee
A Year of Reading
Mar. 8th, 2008 02:16 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad the poem was able to help out. We've only seen a very little snow here this year, while so much of the rest of the nation has been ploughed under.
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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