William Wordsworth wrote many poems about nature as pleasant metaphor. Perhaps the best known is “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”. In this poem, the writer as he wanders finds a field full of daffodils beside a sparkling lake. There is tremendous movement in the vision he evokes, as the daffodils and the lake waves dance in the strong breeze. They impress him as dancing and gay, and gladden his heart. He later realizes that their value was even greater, in that he could think back on the sight in the future and they brighten his spirits, as his heart again “dances with the daffodils”.
We can imagine the beauty of the natural scene in color as we know from our own experience of a fine spring day: The blue sky with just a few lone wandering clouds, the silver glint of waves reflecting bright sun on the lake, the golden daffodils, the green grass and trees. Yet the poet was clearly more taken with the movement, which affected him like dance.
Wordsworth’s clouds can be seen as the gloomy beginning simile of his loneliness, and yet in Brewbaker and Keller (109), Keller thinks of Wordsworth’s clouds as brighter than her own gloomy ones, until at the end of her reaction poem her outlook also brightens. However, Wordsworth intends to evoke an emotion of at least loneliness in the beginning, and loneliness that is alleviated by spying the presence of all those ten thousand daffodils.
Of course Wordsworth evokes more than this one simple scene with this poem. It is picturesque, but more than a photograph (Hess, 283). While many try to put some great deep meaning into Wordsworth’s poetry, he himself says it should not be that difficult, the imagination should see the images and understand the feelings without exertion (Garber, 168). But it is richer than merely its images. There are what Steen calls implicit metaphors in addition to the explicit metaphors. Wordsworth speaks to a more universal experience of being in tune with the natural world around us. Most of us feel a sympathy with nature. Usually we feel its tranquility, a peacefulness, and occasionally a bit of a thrill as we conquer its challenges. We feel refreshed when we have a chance to head outdoors, and the more deeply we move outdoors, the better we like it.
In more modern times, we acknowledge the savagery of nature “red in tooth and claw”. We feel that just outside our perception are the predators and prey. Unless, of course, we wait in silence to watch them. But that resonates with our own natures too. No matter how civilized we think we are, we have the savage beast within us. Even the best of us are not particularly bothered by what is happening out there in nature. Positive or negative, our civilization has not truly separated us from nature.
But with Wordsworth’s “wandering cloud,” on this occasion, it is the lone object in nature that reflects the lone wanderer and is reflected by him. Reading Wordsworth and in sympathy with him, we feel above it all. We feel at peace, but also a bit sad. Until that colorful crowd of flowers in the breeze “springs” upon us. It seems that their color and their dance are woven together in their cheerfulness. Their number and expanse make us feel alone no more. Flowers are a brilliant burst that celebrate here for a little while, and then fade away and are gone. But they will burst forth again next year, and every year as long as the earth is here and the climate holds, not exactly the same but lasting still. Much like we do not last forever, but hopefully we create some beauty while we are here, and humanity marches forward beyond us.
Thus Wordsworth’s associations through the art of simile and metaphor evoke other associations that have us thinking of our existence here on earth, while at first blush seeming simply a celebration of and affinity with nature. This is Wordsworth’s genius. As Cooper (180) explains, there is “a vital unity pervading the great whole”. Sucksmith (155) says that poetry has not only its surface rhythm and content, but a purpose. Wordsworth’s purposes can be understood on multiple levels.
- Brewbaker, James, and Jenny Lynn Keller. “After Wordsworth”. The English Journal 94.6 (2005): 109. Web.
- Cooper, Lane. “Some Wordsworthian Similes”. The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 6.2 (1907): 179–89. Web.
- Garber, Frederick. “Wordsworth at the Universal Dance”. Studies in Romanticism 8.3 (1969): 168–82. Web.
- Hess, Scott. “William Wordsworth and Photographic Subjectivity”. Nineteenth-Century Literature 63.3 (2008): 283-320. Web.
- Steen, Gerard. “Analyzing Metaphor in Literature: With Examples from Willaim Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’”. Poetics Today 20.3 (1999): 499-522. Web.
- Sucksmith, Harvey Peter. “Orchestra and the Golden Flower: A Critical Interpretation of the Two Versions of Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’”. The Yearbook of English Studies 4 (1974): 149-58. Web.