William Wordsworth 1770-1850
English Romantic Poet from Cumbria in the North of England.
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
One of Britain’s most celebrated poets, William Wordsworth, was inspired by his own landscape. He lived in the Lake District in the far North West of England, an area known for it’s rugged features, dark lakes and wild weather. The annual appearance of the daffodils was something we might take for granted in other parts of the world but was a softening sight in that harsh region.
Wordworth was born in 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumbria, England. He sadly lost both his parents early in life, his mother when he was 8 and his father when he was 13.
After studying in Cambridge he travelled through France during the time of the revolution, inspired by the drive for political justice by the people. He had a daughter with a French woman, Annette Vallon, and was devastated to discover on his return to England in 1793 that England had declared war on France and he was unable to return.
‘I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud’ is perhaps one of the most well known poems in England. It describes the joy and pleasure that these delicate flowers brought to an otherwise harsh landscape.
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.
The final verse is my favourite. It descibes the sensation of drifting back to a moment, the smells, sights and feel of a moment long gone, that at the time you had no idea was significant. Only once it has passed and in a quiet moment you are transported back. ‘The inward eye’ is the ability to see and feel in your imagination or from memory.
Living abroad I identify with that last verse. I can be sitting quietly somewhere and something will take me back to my own landscape, a sound, a smell, a memory. It can be both beautiful and stab you in the heart all at the same time!
Some of the language in the poem is quite old fashioned and cannot be used in normal speech without sounding ridiculous! Here are two of those words:
O’er = an abreviation for ‘over’. ‘Oft’ = an abreviation for ‘Often’.
To Wander = To walk around, an aimless walking, looking at things along the way. Do NOT confuse with ‘To Wonder’ which sounds identical but means to think about or ponder.
Vales = Valleys
A Host = A crowd, group or gathering. Used in romantic or religious terms more often than in ordinary speech. eg. ‘A host of angels’.
Fluttering = moving gently and quickly, implies something delicate. A butterflies wings flutter, the heart can flutter.
Twinkle = To shine on and off. Usually talking about stars or small lights.
Milky Way = Our Galaxy of stars.
Margin = Border or edge.
A Bay = The edge of a lake or beach. A curved edge of a coastline or lake. The geological shape of a curve around water.
At a Glance = To see something in a moment, very quickly.
Tossing their heads = An image of something or someone throwing back their heads, usually implies confidence, pride or showing off! A magnificent horse will ‘toss his head’, a woman may ‘toss her head’ as she leaves!
Sprightly = Quick moving, light-footed, agile.
To Out-do = To do something better than someone else. eg. ‘She out-did her brother in the maths test’. ‘You’ve really out-done yourself this time!’ (You have done better or more spectacularly this time than you have ever done before!)
Glee = An abstract noun. Happiness, joy.
Gay = Happy, joyful. Used rarely now in this sense as it also means homosexual.
Jocund = Happy, light-hearted.
To gaze = More than To Look, to look for a long time and take in a scene, look and ponder. Sometimes it is possible to gaze for a long time but take in nothing, gaze but not see.
Couch = Sofa, settee.
Vacant = Empty-headed, not thinking at that moment.
Pensive = Thoughtful, contempletive mood. Taken from the french verb Penser, to think.
Bliss = Another slightly old-fashioned word meaning extreme happiness or pleasure.
Rugged landscape = Wild, untamed, rough landscape or features.
To take something for granted = an expression meaning you didn’t realise at the time how important it was.
Harsh = Hard, difficult, rough.
Drifting back = Going back in time in your memory, remembering something.