A Third Alternative Interpretation
This is one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems. It is a piece that is a typical of the romantic period with a wealth of references to the natural world.
This is a poem in four stanzas. It follows a consistent rhyme pattern of ABABCC. It was common for Wordsworth to use rhyme in his work. In fact it’s an oft used device in many romantic poems. This device gives an ease and flow to the poem and a lilting feel which once again is common in romantic poetry as is the use of nature, a signature of Wordsworth’s.
About the Poet
Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote beautiful poetry filled with sweet imagery, usually based around the natural world. Often his poem contained slight somber undertones, as is the case in this poem as we will explore shortly. This, in my opinion, is due to the conflict In Wordsworth’s life and his battle with depression. Some scholars suggest that wordsworth’s relationship with his sister, Dorothy was far from plutonic. But Wordsworth did marry and lived with both his wife and sister. I believe this situation would have caused friction, the result of which is prevelant in so many of Wordsworth’s poems. Wordsworth lived through the French Revolution, which he at first supported and later rebuked. Wordsworth, along with close friend and fellow poet, Samuel Coleridge were pioneers of the romantic era of poetry and Wordsworth’s earlier romantic poems were widely derided as a result of this. He was also the poet laureate for queen Victoria for a period of seven years.
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.
In this stanza there are several key words which suggest the mood that Wordsworth is trying to invoke. He uses the verb wandering. This gives the feeling of a lack of direction. The fact he likens himself (the narrator) to a cloud, which one associates with rain, paint the picture of man that feels depressed. He later personifies the daffodils, describing them as a crowd. He paints a picture of the daffodils beauty by describing them as fluttering, a gentle and satisfying verb. He also mentions trees and lakes, using nature to suggest beauty, this was a common trait of the romantic era. I would question whether the daffodils were daffodils or a genuine group of people. It is claimed he based this poem on a walk he took with his family. Could the daffodils be his family? I think this is unlikely, although Wordsworth had a strong connection with his children.
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.
Here Wordsworth continue use to emphasise the beauty of the daffodils. Giving them an infinite feel by comparing them to the stars. He once again personifies them. Describing them as tossing their heads. Wordsworth commonly used this technique to intertwine the beauty of the natural world and the beauty of mankind.
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:
Here Wordsworth states that the waves the daffodils formed “out did” the waves beside them, presumably referring to the nearby lake. The next two lines are interesting. Taken at face value it suggests that Wordsworth is content (it’s also worth noting that by using the phrase “a poet” it is inferred that Wordsworth is speaking as the narrator.) but I think his choice of the word jocund is telling. The harsh vowel sound produced by the letter C gives this line a jarring effect that almost negates the positivity of the phrases. I take this to suggest an underlying sadness that is masked by this moment of breath-taking beauty. He then closes the stanza by saying that he had “little thought” about the “wealth the show had bought” his feelings are fleeting. The fact he describes it as a “show” suggests something that has a finish, which acts as a paradox with his previous description giving the flowers a feel of the infinite, this creates a slight tension. Yes, it was a beautiful scene. But Wordsworth isn’t lost in it.
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.
However, as we can see in this final stanza, Wordsworth admits to low feelings. He describes lying on his couch in a vacant or pensive mood, he uses the word solitude evoking a feel of aloneness. Wordsworth didn’t truly settle until much later in his life, travelling from place to place he often felt home sick and I think at the time the uprooting he must have felt being back in England would have played a part in his feelings of isolation. These are the hallmarks of a depression sufferer and would explain why he isn’t able to fully absorb the beauty he describes. Whilst he can acknowledge it, he can never truly be taken in by it. He uses the beautiful phrase about an inward eye, such a lovely way to describe his own imagination. It is clear here, in my opinion that Wordsworth uses nature as a crutch a tool to deal with his feelings. It’s almost escapism.
Although on the face of it a simplistic poem about a beautiful spring day. I think lurking beneath the surface of this poem lay an undertone. I think it tells the story of a man who was struggling to deal with the turmoil in his life and clung to fleeting moments of happiness to get him through hard times. Perhaps this is because of his confusing relationship with his sister, or as a response to what he witnessed during the French Revolution. Or maybe he was just struggling with depression. Whatever the cause I think it’s clear that Wordsworth sought solace in nature and whilst he didn’t always fully feel at ease in the natural world it’s clear that reflecting on it provided him with some peace when alone.