Free online reading
The Comforting Power of an Experience of Nature On "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wordsworth
In his poem, Wordsworth gives the description of a poet making and assimilating an intense experience of nature.
The work is divided into four stanzas, each of which is made up of six lines. In each stanza the first four lines are in alternate rhyme (ABAB), while each fifth and sixth line make up a couplet (CC).
In the first stanza, the lyrical I is shown wandering in the open countryside. Suddenly he beholds a group of daffodils on the shore of a lake. The second stanza concentrates on
describing the sight of the daffodils. This description is continued in the first two lines of the third stanza. In line 15 we learn that the lyrical I is a poet. The remainder of the stanza concentrates on the immediate feelings set off in him by the daffodils. Finally, the poet's afterthoughts on his experience with the flowers are dealt with in the fourth stanza.
Initially, the speaker's mood is very sad. In his loneliness, he compares himself to a cloud in the first two lines by using a simile, the point of comparison being the distance from the living world that both have in common. This image is distinctly reminiscent of the common expression "to be in the clouds": while the cloud's distance is to be taken literally, the speaker is mentally out of touch with the world and with reality. The metaphorical use of "cloud" in another common idiomatic expression leads us to the possible cause that might have made the poet use the cloud-image here. On his walk the poet might have beheld a cloud in the sky directly above him, seeming like a herald of imminent disaster to him, making him feel like being "under a cloud", i.e. in a bad temper or under suspicion.
However, the image of "a cloud / That floats on high" (l.1/2) also contains the aspect of gentle and silent movement and thus adds deep peacefulness to the sad mood.
The quietness and solitude of the first two lines is interrupted in the third line, when the speaker "all at once" beholds a large group of daffodils. Their great number is stressed in lines three and four. In the fifth line the flowers are related to their surroundings: they grow next to a lake and under trees. Compared with this surrounding area, the daffodils appear smaller in size - but nevertheless they dominate the scene: the speaker's attention is drawn to them because of their exceptionally bright colour (they are "golden", l.4) and their great number.
Another striking feature of the daffodils is introduced in line six: they are "fluttering and dancing", which are again human activities. This image of the dancing daffodils means a change in movement and mood of the poem, which is expressed by formal means as well: while the whole of the poem is in regular iambic tetrameter ( xx xx xx xx ), the sixth line begins with a stressed syllable ( xx xx xx xx ) instead of an unstressed one. The change in mood is thus expressed by an unevenness in meter. The cloud's silent movement at the beginning of the poem and the motionlessness that we associate with the lake, a stretch of standing water, is contrasted here with the more dynamic movement of the dancing daffodils. In the second stanza the lyrical I carries on describing the sight of the daffodils by using another simile. The main image here is that of the flowers compared to stars. The point of comparison is the brightness (l.7 and 8) and high number (l.11) as well as the arrangement "in never-ending line" (l.9) of both. The connotations of "stars" (l.7) and "milky way" (l.8) are eternity, invariability, "continuity" (l.7) and an absence at least of hectic movement - the only movement mentioned here is a soft "twinkle" (l.8). The mood is therefore, like at the beginning of the poem, very calm and tranquil. However, a new aspect is introduced in the twelfth line, the last line of this stanza: the quiet and grave "continuity" and eternity of the stars is confronted here with the flowers' lively, human-like "sprightly dance" (l.12) - and correspondingly this line is again irregular in meter to support the image of the dancing daffodils. Like in the last line of the first stanza, the first instead of the second syllable is stressed
( xx xx xx xx instead of xx xx xx xx ).
The lyrical I introduces another image in the first two lines of the third stanza to describe the flowers' incredible happiness. They surpass even the "sparkling waves" of the nearby lake in gaiety.
Until line fifteen the speaker has only been describing the scene - since the description of his own state of mind as "lonely" in the very first line, the speaker has not made any further statements on his mood. Here he finally returns to the events and comments on the immediate effects that the sight of the daffodils have on his mood.
He now describes himself as "gay" (l.15) - his state of mind has apparently changed under the influence of the daffodils. He appears to be impressed and astonished by their sight: he "gazed - and gazed - but little thought" (l.17). Watching the flowers has triggered intense positive emotions in him.
But how did this happen? What brought about this change of his mood?
In line fifteen the lyrical I describes himself as "gay" (l.15) because of the "jocund company" (l.16) of the daffodils - in contrast to his initial solitariness he suddenly feels surrounded by living souls again. This is expressed by assigning almost human qualities to the flowers throughout the whole poem: they are described as a "fluttering and dancing" (l.6) "crowd" (l.3)"host" (l.4) or "company" (l.16), "tossing their heads in sprightly dance" (l.12). The change of mood of the speaker is indicated already in lines six and twelve by contrasting the different aspects of movement of the cloud and the daffodils and by means of the metrical unevenness there. At the end of the sixth line we learn that the flowers' dance is set off by a mild "breeze". Both the cloud and the daffodils cannot help being moved by this breeze, both are not able to move autonomously: the cloud is driven along and the flowers are shaken to and fro. The difference between both is that the cloud is, as it were, granted the privilege of changing its place while the flowers are condemned to stay in their place. But nevertheless, they appear to be cheerful, while the lyrical I, who compares himself to a cloud, is sad. We can interpret this image as a metaphor for life: we are subject to superior powers and are driven along or shaken by fate without really being able to make decisions on our own. It would probably be better to be like the daffodils: they are not given any intellectual faculties, symbolized by their restriction to one place. Unlike the cloud they are earthbound and thus not able to overlook larger parts of the world, that means, the larger correlations between life and death. And they're a lot happier than man, who has, represented by the cloud, broken away from earth - which means he has, enabled by reason, gained an insight into his fate at the expense of his happiness (a different work of world literature uses the metaphor of the expulsion from paradise to describe exactly this situation). There could be comfort in doing like the flowers and coming down to earth again, shaking off all the knowledge and insights - for the daffodils, this ignorance is bliss.
But why did Wordsworth choose the daffodil, a plant of the lily family? Does it have to be the daffodil of all flowers? It is important to know that daffodils have got a highly symbolical meaning: in Greek mythology they were associated particularly with death and the underworld. They were supposed to grow on the banks of the woeful river Acheron, over which the souls of the dead were ferried by Charon. The spirits of the dead were said to be particularly delighted with this flower, that was therefore planted on graves. We can apply this image on the speaker's situation and the imagery used in the poem: in mortal agony, feeling like a dead soul, the speaker beholds the daffodils on the shore of a lake (the river Acheron) that cheer him up again. Thus the flowers are not only a symbol of death here but also of new hope - they bear two contradictory meanings.
This ability to combine pairs of opposites harmoniously is also expressed in the second stanza, where the daffodils paradoxically evoke both the idea of motionlessness ("continuous", l.7) as well as the idea of lively movement ("sprightly dance", l.12) in the speaker's mind. This ability is an example to the speaker how to endure the contradictions of life.
But he doesn't immediately realize the lasting effect that this experience would have on him. Only in those moments that have exactly the same basic conditions as the moment when he saw the daffodils he becomes fully aware of the "wealth the show to [him] had brought" (l.18). In the fourth stanza the lyrical I talks about his thoughts in these recurring moments that are characterized by "solitude" (l.22) and lethargic motionlessness ("when on my couch I lie", l.19) - he is overcome by that same melancholy feeling and lacking in drive which marked the beginning of the poem. And when his mood is the same as in the moment he saw the daffodils, they would emerge again as well. This is emphasized by re-use of the rhyme of lines 2 and 4 ("hills" / "daffodils"), where the daffodils are mentioned for the first time, in the final couplet ("fills" / "daffodils", l.23 / 24).
And again they keep him company, again they are shown as personifications: they are again described as dancing in the last line of the stanza - this time the speaker even imagines himself as dancing with them. In contrast to the last lines of the first two stanzas, however, there is no irregularity in meter here. This is to express a basic difference between the situations: in the first three stanzas an actual experience in the material world is described, the speaker directly faces the flowers and sees their movement while in the last stanza he "meets" them in recollection, his perception of their movement is only imaginary. As there are no real flowers moving in the last line of the poem, the formal movement is missing here as well. The daffodils didn't only give comfort to the speaker in the specific moment that he saw them but also in all those situations that correspond to the initial situation of the poem - this is the "wealth" that the daffodils had brought to him.
- Quote paper
- Florian Janner (Author), 1999, The Comforting Power of an Experience of Nature - On "Daffodils" by William Wordsworth", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/97560