Romantic Thoughts in Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud“

Term Paper, 2009

17 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of content

1. Wordsworth and Romanticism
I wandered lonely as a cloud

2. Central meaning, content and structure of the poem

3. The image of the nature and the universe

4. Religious feelings, gender and the sublime

5. Conclusion


1. Wordsworth and Romanticism

William Wordsworth is known as one of the most influential English Romantic Poet.

Born in the year 1770 in Cockermouth, a beautiful landscape of the English Lake District, his whole life and work was characterized by the love of nature . Yet in his early ages he and his beloved sister Dorothy were taught important poetry of Shakespeare and Milton by their rarely present father. William was treated harsh by his relatives, when he had to stay at his mother’s home in Penrith as a teenager, but as a result he found comfort, tranquility and happiness in exploring the beauty of the nature on his own. In the first years of the 1790s he visited France and was impressed by the revolutionary force of the Republican movement. During his stay he fell in love with Annett Vallon, a French woman and got a daughter with her. Due to the developing British-French war, he had to leave France soon and saw Anett and their daughter seldom again, but always stayed in contact with them.

In 1793 Wordsworth wrote the first version of the so-called manifesto of English Romantic Criticism: the ‘Preface to Lyrical Ballads’ with “ experimental “ poems. Together with his friend, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he produced the first of four editions of ‘Lyrical Ballads’ in the year 1798. In this central Romantic work, he defines poetry as " the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility. " .

In 1802 William married his old schoolfriend Mary Hutchinson, who grew close to William’s sister Dorothy, with whom William spent nearly his whole life. William and Mary got 5 children. Until his death in 1950, Wordsworth worked e.g. on a three-part poem called ‘The Recluse’, but had not finished it. He also wrote an autobiographical ‘Poem to Coleridge’ , which is considered as his masterpiece, due to his widow, who had published it after his death as ‘The Prelude’.[1]

Today Wordsworth is considered as a groundbreaking influence on modern poetry, because he was one of the first, who saw the poet’s mind as a central subject of poetry and who wanted to write poetry in the understandable language of the ‘common man’.[2]

But to understand, why Wordsworth is acknowledged as a mainspring of Romantic Movement, you have to regard intently some characteristics of the Romanticism. I will outline the most important in the following passage.

Romanticism is a revolutionary reaction in arts to the endemic rationalism and the classic formalism of the Enlightenment. Romantics primary concentrate on the human psyche with its imagination, emotions and intuition, as well as the “ natural aspects of the world ”.[3] The works of art were dominated by sentimentality, melancholy but also a kind of simplicity.

The creative act should involve an almost magical, spontaneous, inspired imagination. Romantics were attracted to the simple people, Thomas Gannon calls them even ‘primitives’ in my source, i.e. women, children, the country folk and the settings were exotic or medieval. The reason for this attraction was the belief that these human beings and settings were not infected with the ‘disease’ of mathematical truth and scientific objectivity of the ‘Age of Reason’. Artists of the Romantic Movement were influenced by the thoughts of democracy and individual rigths of the French Revolution. For this reason, rules and habits of ‘producing’ literature were revolutionised. Rarely were regularity, rules or classical form-schemas the main aim of Romantic literatur, but the expression of feelings by a literary experimentation: Wordsworth and Shelley used e.g. blank verse many a time.[4]

Aside from that, the sense and conception of religion changed during the period of Romanticism in some poets’ minds. In Wordsworth’s works you can find typical roots of pantheism: neither was God seen as a superior being, which watches the world from above, nor did pantheists like him believe in the transcendence and person-like idea of God.

Instead, “ everything is part of an all-encompassing immanent abstract God “ and “ Universe, nature and God are equivalent ”.[5][6]

In Wordsworth’s poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’, you can find typical characteristics of this pantheistic and other romantic thoughts, too. I will expand this topic and the image of the ‘Universal Dance’ later in this work in more detail, but first I will examine the content, structure and stylistic devices of the poem, to be able to understand Wordsworth’s thoughts and intentions better.

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.

2. Central meaning, content and structure of the poem

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ , written in 1804 and revised published in 1815, is one of the most famous and most emotional poems of Wordsworth. It is believed that the poet could have been inspired by a walk with his sister Dorothy around the lake Ullswater in April 1802, where they saw a long belt of daffodils. Dorothy also wrote about this walk in the ‘The Gasmere Journal’, using similar words like ‘dancing’, ’tossing’ and ‘gay’. Maybe William wrote this poem at her suggestion.[7] Moreover the third from last and the fourth from last line of the poem were composed by Wordsworth’s wife and William called them the best lines of the whole poem.[8]

The title reveals a lot about the topic of the poem. The pronoun ‘I’ says that the “ subject is the poet ”, ‘wandered’ could explain, how the subject conceives the given circumstances of his slowly movement, ‘lonely’ “ indicates the solitude of the speaker ”, which is reinforced by the simile ‘as a cloud’.[9]

The plot of the poem seems quite simple. The speaker says that when he was wandering alone like a cloud, floating above hills and valleys, he experienced a huge field of ‘dancing and fluttering daffodils’ next to a lake with ‘sparkling waves’. But to the speaker’s mind, the movement of the lake is not as infatuating as the daffodils with their beauty. According to the poet, he could not help but be happy, because of the multitude of beautiful flowers. Although, no matter how long he stared blankly, in this moment he did absolutely not realize, how influencing this sublime moment will be on his mind. Later indeed, when the speaker sits on his couch feeling vacuous, lonely and musing, the memory flashes up in his inner eye, and the result of the reverie is that he is gay and pleased, thankful for this wonderful moment, he had been allowed to be part of.[10]


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Romantic Thoughts in Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud“
University of Erfurt  (Sprachwissenschaft)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Wordsworth, romanticism, poem
Quote paper
Victoria Tutschka (Author), 2009, Romantic Thoughts in Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud“, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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