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The official Wordsworth Museum bills "I wander lonely as a cloud" as William Wordsworth’s "most famous poem about daffodils," which is a bit like referring to Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem about ravens. We kid. But seriously, Wordsworth did not write many poems about daffodils. This is, however, a very well-known poem, in part because it’s so darned cheery. In very plain language, it describes how the speaker’s loneliness is cured by a field of daffodils – you know, the yellow flowers with the center that looks a bit like a trumpet horn. Many people know this poem simply as "Daffodils," but the title is actually "I wandered lonely as a Cloud."
Wordsworth is a British poet who is associated with the Romantic movement of the early 19th century. He lived in the picturesque Lake District in England. The poem is based on an experience that he had with his sister and constant companion, Dorothy, on April 15, 1802. Fortunately for us, Dorothy kept a journal, and she wrote about the day that she and her brother unexpectedly came across a "crowd" of daffodils:
The wind was furious... the Lake was rough... When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up -- But as we went along there were more & yet more & at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw 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 & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. (source)
As the journal notes, it was a stormy day, which you’d never guess from reading the poem. She later writes that it rained on them, and they had to go home.
Wordsworth didn’t write this poem until 1804, and it was published in 1807 in Poems in Two Volumes. He revised the poem and published it again in his Collected Poems, which is the version most people read today. With its expressions of joy and unity with nature, the poem is destined to remain a classic. It is typical of Wordsworth’s revolutionary style of writing poetry in ordinary, everyday language.
"I wandered lonely as a Cloud" describes an experience you’ve probably had: you’re bummed out, maybe because of something that happened in a relationship or maybe because it’s a nasty day outside, and suddenly you see something that just makes you smile and feel good again. And that’s pretty much the main idea right there. You won’t find any earth-shattering revelations of truth. Wordsworth felt that the little moments in life could be the most profound. Apparently, many readers agree with him, because they have made this one of the most beloved poems of all time. We think its popularity has something to with how unabashedly joyful it is.
You don’t often find poems as happy as this one. Literature thrives on conflict. You may remember having had to sit through one of those English lectures where every story ever written is broken down into basic conflicts like, "Man vs. Man," "Man vs. Nature," and, our favorite, "Man vs. Himself." Cheesy and simplistic, yes, but with a kernel of truth. Poetry is no less conflict-ridden than your average story or novel. Many poems are about depression, sadness, loss, family trauma, death, etc. But all the conflict in "I wandered lonely as a Cloud" is contained in the word "lonely." After the second line, the poem is all flowers and dancing. There aren't even any hidden anxieties buried underneath. Just flowers. And dancing. Did we mention the dancing?
"I wandered lonely as a Cloud" is the perfect poem for a rainy day, and the image of dancing daffodils is a sure-fire cure for a mild case of the blues. Plus, it’s slightly hilarious. Those nodding, bobbing flowers remind us of two funny images: the Oompa Loompas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the incessantly cheery children from the "It’s a Small World" amusement ride at Disneyland. Take a gander at the poem, and tell us if you agree.
Many of Wordsworth’s most famous poems are available – free! – on the Poetry Foundation website.
The Wordsworth Trust
Learn all about Dove Cottage (where Wordsworth wrote "I wandered lonely as a Cloud," Wordsworth's friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and some of the major themes in Wordsworth's work.
William "The Interminable" Wordsworth
A funny biography of the poet.
Jeremy Irons Reads
The famous British actor reads "I wandered lonely as a Cloud."
This is not a joke: a guy dressed as a squirrel singing a rap version of "I wandered lonely as a Cloud." Courtesy of the good folks at the Cumbria tourist board.
Stream Audio Readings
Readings of several poems by Wordsworth, including the poem formerly known as "The Daffodils."
Another recording of "I wandered lonely as a Cloud."
The official "Wordsworth Daffodil Garden" in Grasmere, the poet's hometown.
The Lake District
The gorgeous Lake District in England, a Romantic poet’s paradise.
Dorothy Wordsworth’s Take
Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal entry describing the fateful day she and her brother came upon the daffodils.
Poetry for Young People: William Wordsworth
Poems like "I wandered lonely as a Cloud" are given color illustrations in this edition designed to appeal to a younger audience.
William Wordsworth: A Life, by Steven Gill
Unlike some of the later Romantic poets who died young, Wordsworth had a long and eventful life, full of gossip and intrigue.