Updated: Apr 13, 2021
April is national poetry month! It's stating the obvious to say I love literature in general, but I think poetry might be my first love. There's just something amazing about making music that touches both mind and soul with mere words. Of course, novels have the capacity to touch mind and soul, too, and can be poetic. But poetry amazes me because so much is packed into a tiny space: rhythm and meter combined with syntax, word choice, and symbology--there's just so much in a few lines or stanzas. As famous American poet, Emily Dickinson said, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." That's the power of poetry.
I have many favorite poets and poems: Wendell Berry, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, Shakespeare, John Keats, and Mary Oliver--to name a few--and I could seriously post a favorite poem every day of my remaining life and probably never complete the list. But I want to talk about just one poem today that was composed by the 19th century English poet William Wordsworth. The poem is titled "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."
When I was in college, I studied the English Romantic Movement. I found this movement paired with the French Revolution a fascinating time in Western history. Wordsworth together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge could be said to the be the "fathers" of the Romantic movement in literature with their publication of The Lyrical Ballads (1795). And the Prologue to the 2nd edition changed the landscape of poetry forever. Fading now were the epic, high-falutin' poems about Greek and Roman gods. Rooted in the French Revolutionary cries of Liberté, égalité, fraternité, Wordsworth and Coleridge changed poetry by turning the focus to "the common" people and their experiences and language.
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" is certainly not Wordsworth's greatest, most profound work. But as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is the power of a poem embedded in the individual's mind and heart. This poem speaks to me because it reminds me of my beloved grandmother. Every time I read this poem, I'm called to the backwoods of a Kentucky holler where my grandparents lived in a trailer surrounded by trees and fields. Every spring her yard filled with the bright yellow heads of daffodils. I'd pick a handful for her on my way inside the trailer where she'd tempt me with homemade fried chicken, biscuits, jam, and caramel cake. I'd watch the hummingbirds (she loved birds) around the feeder outside the window as we put together a puzzle (she called it piecing a puzzle) or played Scrabble (she beat me every time). And her laugh. I think I miss that most.
So for me this poem is less about the meter and rhyme and artistic power and more about a fond memory, home, and celebrating the memory of a deeply beloved woman I aspire to be and who's with me only in spirit now.
Is someone in here cutting onions?
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
By William Wordsworth
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.
If you'd like to read more about Wordsworth and read more of his poetry, please visit this page.