Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Wordsworth's Daffodils

The opening verse of this poem must be one
 of the best known in the English language:-

"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 in 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
Outdid 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 the inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

The first line of the poem is not strictly accurate, because when Wordsworth saw the daffodils, he was not in fact alone, but walking with his sister, Dorothy. She recorded the incident in detail in her journal. The date was Thursday April 15th, 1802; a wet and windy day; and the two of them were walking along the north-western shore of Lake Ullswater, through Watermillock and under Gowbarrow Fell, when they saw the daffodils:-

"Under the boughs of the trees, wesaw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; an dthe rest tossed and reeled and danced, and it seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew over them and over the lake."

William and Dorothy Worsworth are clearly writing about the same incident, but Dorothy is giving an immediate description, whereas William, writing some time afterwards, is more directly concerned with the effect the memory of the daffodils have had on him.

The daffodils still flower on the same spot beside Ullswater every spring, as is shown in these photographs, taken by my father. They are wild daffodils, with much shorter stalks than the garden variety. These are prevented from growing near them for fear of cross-pollination, so that the Wordsworth legacy may be preserved.

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