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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.

1804

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" at Bartleby 
The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth at Bartleby



"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":
Poetic Happy Face or Literary Delight?

Let's say right up front that, yes, this nineteenth century poem is a little bit corny from our perspective today. Okay, maybe it's a lot corny and doesn't play as well as it once did, especially not in an age of cynicism when a hard edge is useful for cutting other things down.

But if you open yourselves up to the poem -- and millions of appreciative readers have -- you can discover that it doesn't only describe dancing daffodils. In addition, the poem has qualities something like the dancing daffodils, and has the capacity to evoke a sense in us that we are dancing along with them.

The poem accomplishes this not only with vivid images depicting movement but with a lively and flowing meter that calls up a sense of the easy-going dance of the daffodils, and with rhymes that evoke a sense that the words are in synchrony, just as the daffodils are in their appearance and, at least to some degree, in their dance.

By way of example, look at these two lines. In addition to the easy-flowing meter, they offer parallel words and phrases that convey a sense of orderly rhythm: 

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Elements that (mostly) match in the lines include:
Beside the lake, / beneath the trees,
Fluttering / dancing
trees / breeze

Soon after this, even the nearby waves are described as dancing with the daffodils. And, at the end, the speaker tells us that his heart dances with them, also.

Dancing, as we all know, can be contagious. With the meter, the rhymes and other sound combinations, the waves, and the speaker all dancing with the daffodils, is it any wonder that many readers catch the beat and feel just a little bit like they're dancing inside, as well? 

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
and the Preface to Lyrical Ballads

The poem also has another aspect that deepens its meaning. At the end, we are told that the speaker likes to remember the experience with the daffodils to cheer himself up. As he puts it:

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

With these words, Wordsworth embodies in the poem a philosophy he described in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, where he said that poetry "is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility...." Wordsworth believed that, as the individual remembers a past emotion while in such a state of tranquility, the emotion is reproduced in the mind.

In the poem, the speaker describes himself as often recollecting just such an emotion, which allows him to evoke a state of delight, and serves as a corrective to a negative state of mind. Of course, the actual poet is himself recollecting all this (since the poem is based on an experience he had) to write the poem.

For us, it is all a fiction that can evoke our own state of delight, and evoke a sense in us of what life might be like if it were based on delight, and we lived in harmony with a benign nature. So, even though the poem may seem a little corny and overdone from our perspective today, and even though it offers an idealized portrait of nature, it can still call out to us, if we are inclined to join in the dance.

 -- Ken Sanes


 

Here is an excerpt from Dorothy Wordsworth's April 15, 1802, journal entry describing the experience that "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" is based on. You can read the full entry and an essay on it via the link:

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, 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 Luff's, but we called in.

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“I wandered lonely as a cloud” analysis by SparkNotes:

This simple poem, one of the loveliest and most famous in the Wordsworth canon, revisits the familiar subjects of nature and memory, this time with a particularly (simple) spare, musical eloquence. The plot is extremely simple, depicting the poet’s wandering and his discovery of a field of daffodils by a lake, the memory of which pleases him and comforts him when he is lonely, bored, or restless. The characterization of the sudden occurrence of a memory—the daffodils “flash upon the inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude”—is psychologically acute, but the poem’s main brilliance lies in the reverse personification of its early stanzas. The speaker is metaphorically compared to a natural object, a cloud—“I wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats on high...”, and the daffodils are continually personified as human beings, dancing and “tossing their heads” in “a crowd, a host.” This technique implies an inherent unity between man and nature, making it one of Wordsworth’s most basic and effective methods for instilling in the reader the feeling the poet so often describes himself as experiencing.

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Here are a few excerpts on "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," from Wikipedia, which I haven't fact-checked). The footnote numbers have been removed:

It was inspired by an April 15, 1802 event in which Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, came across a "long belt" of daffodils....

It is usually considered Wordsworth's most famous work. In the "Nation's Favourite Poems", a poll carried out by the BBC's Bookworm, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" came fifth. Well known, and often anthologised, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" is commonly seen as a classic of English romanticism within poetry, although the original version was poorly reviewed by Wordsworth's contemporaries....

The poem is a sonnet , 24 lines long, consisting of four six-line stanzas. Each stanza is formed by a quatrain, then a couplet, to form a sestet and a ABABCC rhyme scheme. The fourth- and third-last lines were not composed by Wordsworth, but by his wife, Mary. Wordsworth considered them the best lines of the whole poem....

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Analyzing Metaphor In Literature: With Examples From William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" by Gerard Steen
A very technical account

 


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