Friday, April 16, 2010

An April 15th Inspiration, One Day Late

On April 15, 1802, the poet William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, took a walk around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater, in the Lake District of England. During their walk, they came upon what Dorothy later described in her journal as a "long belt" of daffodils by the shore, " about the breadth of a country turnpike road." She continued her description:

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 dancing ever changing.

Inspired by this experience, Wordsworth wrote perhaps his most famous poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," in 1804. It's my favorite poem. I first discovered it with my mother in a poetry anthology she had purchased. I was in my early teens at the time and struggling to create my own separate identity while searching for qualities in my mother that I could admire and emulate. I remember my pleasure in reading Wordsworth's poem with her. The poem's joyous imagery is forever linked for me with a moment when my mother and I were in complete accord.

Here is the poem:

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"

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.

Just as the poet discovers the bliss of remembered pleasure, each time I re-read his poem, I experience the remembered happiness of reading it for the first time with my mother.


  1. He wrote, "Art is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recalled in tranquility." We see that in the last stanza and in your comment... that his (and your) experiencing isn't the art, but the art happens in the recollection (recreation?). In his imagination his heart dances with the daffodils. I like also how he gazed — and gazed — but little thought (didn't think)... what an amazing man!!!!

  2. O to be in England, now that April's there...

  3. Perfect poem for this time of year in New England - the yellow season:forsythia and daffodils. Thanks for sharing this beautiful poem.

  4. Unfortunately many contemporary poets have chosen to ignore Wordsworth, criticizing his "rigid rhymes," etc. But I say that any poem that manages to stay so brilliantly alive for so long, and any poet who wrote such a poem deserves our respect. bonnie