William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are my 2 favourite English Romantic poets. I've been reminded of Wordsworth this springtime by the lavish displays of daffodils in park, orchard and garden; and by the yellow-and-green woodland carpets of the shyer, more retiring lesser celandine. Wordsworth wrote poems about both flowers, though his 3 poems on the celandine are perhaps less memorable than his justly famous and much quoted poem about the 10,000 daffodils dancing in the breeze: I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud. This is as perfect a poem as you might ever wish for. It's very familiar, I know - but just read it again, as if for the first time, without any clouding thoughts or prejudice, and I think you'll find it a pure delight:
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.
This was one of Wordsworth's poems (there were big chunks of other poems of his too) I had to learn by rote as a teenager at school in the 1960s. (I've written before about learning poems off by heart here.) I've loved his poetry ever since, even though you sometimes have to sift through reams of more uneven and pedestrian material to find the real thing. This can often be the case with prolific poets - for, even if they show a rare poetic genius, they can't be first-rate all the time. It's rather comforting to know that a genius is only human after all. But I digress.
Wordsworth penned some exquisite short poems (eg Song and Stepping Westward) and sonnets (eg The World Is Too much With Us and Composed Upon Westminster Bridge), and a variety of longer, more discursive poems which are nothing short of sublime (eg Ode and Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey). The best passages in his best poems remain unsurpassed by any poet - except Shakespeare (and no one can surpass Shakespeare). The magnificent, long, autobiographical poem The Prelude is his masterpiece, a poem I dip into for inspiration time and again.
You sense in many of his poems (eg The Solitary Reaper, The Ruined Cottage, The Old Cumberland Beggar) that Wordsworth identified strongly and sympathetically with pedlars, beggars, shepherds, poverty-stricken cottagers, and other solitaries and vagrants; I think he wrote somewhere that, if fate had turned out slightly differently, he could easily have been one of society's outsiders like them, poor in coin but not deprived in spirit, full of fortitude and a secret wisdom such as that shown by the leech-gatherer in the poem Resolution And Independence.
Finally, and returning again to I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud - if I had to point out one of Wordsworth's recurrent and major themes, it's encapsulated completely and unambiguously in this short, well known poem about daffodils. The theme concerns how you can have a direct, immediate, life-enhancing, joyful experience of nature (often when young and 'thoughtless'); and then how you might later recapture and relive the experience in comfortable solitude using one's imagination or 'inward eye'. This idea of the recollection and attempted recovery of past, quasi-mystical experiences (usually from one's childhood) is explored in many of Wordsworth's poems. But more of this in subsequent posts...
(Thanks to Riverdaze for being one of the inspirations behind this piece.)