Literary Criticism Comparison: Wordsworth’s Daffodils

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William Wordsworth wrote “Daffodils,” the quintessential lyric and song poem of the Romantic period, in 1804 and first published it in his Poems in Two Volumes in 1807 (Wordsworth, 351). In his reading of “Daffodils” in William Wordsworth, Geoffrey Durrant argues that the poem is “an account of the experience of poetic creation” (20). In other words, Durrant sees the poem as Wordsworth’s way of relating the experience of writing poetry by grounding that experience in something to which the reader can relate, i.e. remembering the beauty of daffodils. While I agree with some of his argument and many of his supporting statements, I would not go as far as to embrace his interpretation as a whole and instead interpret the poem on a more psychological level. Using daffodils as concrete symbols of other people’s happiness, Wordsworth’s speaker undergoes a change from someone who is alienated and lonely to someone who, while still alone, is no longer lonely.

The poem begins with “I wondered lonely as a cloud/That floats on high…” (Wordsworth, 385). For Durrant, these lines are representative of a feeling of aimlessness in which the speaker cannot fully relate to the outside world (20). I agree with his interpretation and give him credit for helping me understand this poem on a more psychological level. To me, Wordsworth’s mention of height is representative of space and emptiness which reinforces the idea that the speaker is in a mood that makes it impossible for him to feel connected to the world. I would not, however, go as far as to conclude that the speaker is depressed.

Durrant argues that seeing the daffodils as a crowd indicates “a sudden shift of attention and a sudden energy of mind” and goes on to interpret these words to refer to an “exhibit that is turned into a pattern…the order of an army like the host of angels in Paradise Lost” (Durrant, 20). Since I never read Paradise Lost, I cannot speak to this part of his interpretation. Instead, I am prone to interpret the “crowd” of daffodils as a crowd of people who are busy “fluttering and dancing” (Wordsworth, 385). Rather than a collection of flowers, the speaker sees the daffodils as a collection of people who are dancing because they are joyful and full of life. Since he admires this mass of happiness from afar, he is unable to truly connect to them on a personal level.

By bringing up ideas of “indifference and passivity,” Durrant’s initial remarks helped me understand the poem in an entirely new way and I now see little beyond what he called the poem’s “mood of detachment” (20). However, rather than agree with Durrant’s statement that Wordsworth used the word “golden” in order to organize the poem and give it “coherence and vividness,” I tend to see the choice of word as a reflection of the speaker’s mood (20). Wordsworth uses the word “golden” to describe the daffodils in order to give their “crowd” more strength (385). Golden is a much more powerful word than yellow because it is calm and soothing without the hostility of being bright. Durrant goes on to say that, as a poet, Wordsworth imposes the “brightness of his own imagination” “upon the disorderly facts of the world” in order to offer his readers not only the poem as a result but also “an account of” the poetic process as a whole (20). While I do agree with Durrant’s conclusion of this part in his analysis, I cannot go as far as to interpret the poem as a whole to be representative of the poetic process.

In the next part of his analysis, Durrant points out that Wordsworth does not spend much time describing the daffodils in detail and chooses to instead focus more on what their relationship to the natural world means to him (21). The daffodils are “Beside the lake, beneath the trees” and “They stretched in never-ending line” (Wordsworth, 385). Here Wordsworth is not speaking simply about the daffodils and their unique place in the world but rather of his speaker’s perception of them. Like all things, daffodils are products of their surroundings and their beauty is either enhanced or diminished depending on the environment. Since the speaker finds the daffodils within a landscape that showcases their beauty, the daffodils are able to capture and hold his interest. This would not be the case, however, had he spotted them instead in a garden. In a garden and in close proximity to other golden flowers, like yellow roses and daisies, the daffodils would not naturally stand out against the greenery and, as a result, their impact on their viewer would be diminished. Likewise, the speaker’s internal environment also contributes to his interpretation of the daffodils’ beauty. Wordsworth’s internal state allows him to experience these ordinary yellow flowers near a lake in such a way that he is inspired to create a poem that is anything but ordinary. Therefore, I would argue that Wordsworth does not spend much time describing the daffodils themselves but rather their power on the speaker in order to point out that their power has less to do with their unique attributes and more to do with the external and internal environment that allows those attributes to shine.

Durrant goes on to discuss the spatial location of the daffodils in comparison to the lake and trees. He notes the importance of the curve and calls it “the curve of necessity” which he in turn relates to “the very curve of the heavens” (21). He then concludes that Wordsworth ““shows the daffodils as part of a universal order, as growing where they do because of the natural law which dictates their existence” (21). I agree with his analysis and conclusion but I would like to expand this interpretation by relating it to what I mentioned before. In particular, while it is natural law that dictates the daffodils’ existence by allowing them to grow, it is man’s interpretation of their place in the natural order that draws attention to their happy dancing and the speaker’s own alienation. Durrant appears to agree because he points out that “in all creation man seems to be the only creature that is capable of feeling not home” (21). While I appreciate that we are in agreement regarding the speaker’s disconnect, I nevertheless have to point out that I do not agree with Durrant’s conclusion that men are the only creatures who are able to feel alienated from the natural world. Wild horses and burros still roam the high deserts of the American West. Who is to say that they, or their ancestors who were first let free, did not at one point feel alienated from their environment? No, perhaps it is not that man is the only creature capable of feeling disconnected from his environment but rather that man is the only creature capable of expressing this alienation in words.

Durrant continues his analysis by discussing other elements regarding the spatial organization of the poem. In particular, he interprets the fluttering of the daffodils as “a harmonious movement in which a pattern may be discerned” (Durant, 21). The pattern is not entirely discernible to me and I would instead like to stick to Durrant’s interpretation that speaks of the poet’s mind. The last stanza contains the lines, “And then my heart with pleasure fills/ And dances with daffodils” (385). Durrant interprets these lines as “the poet’s power” to not only organize the experience of writing poetry “so that it is coherent and delightful” but to also recall the experience at a future time (24). While I see what Durrant means, my interpretation relates less to the process of writing poetry and more to Durrant’s initial psychological assessment of the poem’s meaning. To me, the speaker lying on the couch “in pensive mood” and reliving his time with the daffodils means nearly what Wordsworth says, that the speaker is imagining the happiness he saw beneath those trees (386). As Durrant accurately points out, for the speaker “the experience is not lost but may be recovered when it is wanted” even though the memory and the imaginary daffodils (and the imaginary happiness) are not quite the real thing (24).

In conclusion, at the end of the poem, Wordsworth refers to the daffodils as a memory and states that they “flash upon the inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude” (386). Durrant interprets that this happens as a result of “the poetic process” that “makes the experience [of the daffodils] available again” (24). While I do not entirely agree with Durrant’s overall interpretation that the poem is about the process of writing poetry, given that premise his analysis is appropriate. I do however agree with his position that the speaker undergoes a change throughout the poem. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker appears alienated, as someone striving to experience the joy he sees before him. By the end of the poem, the speaker, though still alone, is no longer lonely. In the last stanza, the speaker is “in vacant or in pensive mood” until “they flash upon the inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude” (Wordsworth, 386). Prior to remembering the daffodils, the speaker is either at peace or lost in thought, but no longer lonely, and after he remembers the daffodils, the speaker is content. By noting the speaker’s ability to recollect the daffodils and be thankful for the time he has to do this, Wordsworth shows that the speaker’s solitude is blissful and that this kind of solitude is completely devoid of melancholy or alienation.

Work Cited

Durrant, Geoffrey. William Wordsworth. London: Cambridge U.P., 1969. Web. 14 June 2011. <http://books.google.com/books?id=fjo4AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA18&dq=wordsworth+%22the+daffodils%22+literary+criticism&hl=en&ei=7hr4TcXzIIjjiALcju39DA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

Wordsworth, William. “Daffodils.” The Penguin Book of Romantic Poetry. Ed. Jonathan and

Jessica Wordsworth. London: Penguin, 2003. 358-386. Print.

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One thought on “Literary Criticism Comparison: Wordsworth’s Daffodils

  1. ergbennett says:

    This is one of my favorite poems. I’m working on my own criticism of the piece, and your analysis was very helpful and informative. Thank you for sharing.

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