The daffodils that inspired Wordsworth

Wordsworth’s famous poem ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ is 200 years old this year. Writing in the Paris Review, Dan Piepenbring traces its history. It arose, he says, out of a walk Wordsworth took with his sister, Dorothy, in April 1802. Dorothy recorded the trip in her own journal, and her perspective helps bring the scene to life. Arriving at a section of woods, she and her brother encountered a bank of flowers:

“I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and above them; some rested their heads upon these stones, as on a pillow, for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers higher up; but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of that one busy highway.”

For Piepenbring, Dorothy's prose description of the scene outstrips the verse of her brother. The image of a “belt” of daffodils “about the breadth of a country turnpike road” gives a sense of rootedness that the poem, with its woolly clouds, lacks. On the other hand, as Piepengring acknowledges, it might just be that Dorothy's lesser known account of the scene feels fresher and more vibrant. Perhaps the poem is just too well-known.

Dan Piepenbring wrote about Wordsworth and Dorothy on the Paris Review blog on April 15th:

To listen to Seamus Perry reading 'I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud', and talking about the poem for Connell Guides, click here.

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