Friday, April 14, 2017

NPM: Wordsworth's daffodils

Had you pulled me aside when I was seventeen and asked me about English class, about what we'd been reading and which author I least enjoyed, I might have answered William Wordsworth. Long, dense, meditative pieces like Tintern Abbey and Intimations of Immortality had absolutely no chance at pulling my attention away from Final Fantasy IX, and lines like "trailing clouds of glory do we come/from God, who is our home" were anathema to to a kid whose entire wardrobe consisted of Marilyn Manson and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac T-shirts. But I did have enough patience to read and digest his lyric verse, and I found I liked him even less when he wrote stuff I could understand. He was too quaint, too twee in his sentiments, and even a little fruity. Daffodils, William? Who gets all goopy about flippin' daffodils? Take it back to Hallmark, you damn Care Bear.

Over the last six years—or so—I've changed my mind about Wordsworth.

My belated interest in the material (as contradistinct to the pixelated and texture mapped) probably had something to do with it, as did my two years in residence at the Quaker center, which was also an arboretum, and bordered by a protected forest. During March and April both the tended grounds and the unkept verges of the woods were gratuitous with daffodils, even though the gray trees hadn't even put out buds yet. I'm not sure I'd ever really noticed daffodils before then.

These days I get really excited about snowdrops blossoming in early March. Nobody else seems to share my enthusiasm.

I recognize now that Wordsworth's unattractiveness to contemporary readers has nothing to do with how he writes: he's much more accessible, much easier to understand than many of the canonical poets who came before and after him, and he very rarely compels one to reach for a dictionary. The disconnect isn't stylistic or linguistic: what we're looking at is a culture gap. The idea that something like the sight of wildflowers blooming in the springtime can inspire naked joy (and be a subject worth writing/reading about) is practically foreign to the modern mind.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)
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.


  1. Not to rain on your poetry-and-nature party, but when I started reading the included poem all I could think of was Rocky and Bullwinkle. Probably says something about how my pop culture diet has molded my appreciation of the arts.

    1. Actually, I was pretty stoked to click (well, copy/paste) the link. I've a very soft spot for Rocky & Bullwinkle.

      I was antipathetic towards poetry until I took a few college classes focusing on it, and didn't contract biophilia until after I stopped playing video games 2-4 hours a day. The poetry-and-nature thing doesn't enjoy much cultural capital these days. The contemporary tides don't carry many people towards it. Which is fine, I guess: who am I to dispute the wisdom of the crowd?