Also known by its first line, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, Wordsworth’s most famous poem is one that never fails to come to mind at this time of year. I was a Spring baby, and my father told me when I was still very young that the first daffodils were blooming the day he came to see me in the hospital. There were also lots of daffodils in the ‘fairy glen’ at the bottom of our garden where I loved to play in the Spring (which one one occasion prompted my desperate mother, tired of being fobbed off by doctors who didn’t believe just how serious her daughter’s hayfever was, to bundle me, eyes swollen and streaming, into the car and deposit me in front of the family G.P. with a pointed “do you believe me now?”).
The walk which inspired Wordsworth’s poem, originally written around 1804, was not in fact solitary but taken in the company of his beloved sister, Dorothy, who recorded it in her diary. Wordsworth’s wife, Mary, is credited with contributing the line ‘They flash upon the inward eye/Which is the gift of solitude’. It was first published in Poems in Two Volumes in 1805, and revised in 1815, and shows a number of characteristically Romantic traits, including strong natural imagery (the daffodils themselves, also references to the clouds, the stars, the water) and the personification of nature, a sensitivity to the emotional state of the poet, and a pervasive sense of connection between the two.
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.