THE response to last week’s piece on poetry was overwhelmingly large. Most of it, as expected, was complimentary and positive.
Only a couple of dozen people warned me to get off my high horse or they’d shoot me off it.
This kind of feedback has prompted me to return to the same theme this week, a decision reinforced by the fact that probably the best known poem in the English language was inspired by a current phenomenon – the arrival of the daffodil season.
I refer, of course, to William Wordsworth’s poem Daffodils, a piece that apparently started life as the single line: “Blooming heck that’s a shedload of yellow flowers.”
But Wordsworth had great ambitions for this poem which he felt needed considerably more working on.
“That’s not good enough, Dot,” he told his sister. “I want an iambic tetrameter at least four stanzas long from this experience.”
The experience to which he referred, probably in 1802, was a walk with his sister Dorothy round Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater.
The poem went through a few versions before appearing in 1815 in the version we know and love today.
‘I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vale and hill
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’
– is how the first stanza goes.
Wandering lonely as a cloud, as any meteorologist will tell you, is fanciful to say the least.
It shows a lack of knowledge or a brazen denial of the movement of clouds which can’t wander at all but are completely at the mercy of the movement of the upper airs.
In addition, my experience of clouds and probably yours is that they are hardly ever seen in isolation – there’s usually a whole huggin of them – and there is no evidence at all they are ever lonely.
It’s a little pedantic, I know, to suggest that clouds don’t float as such, since they are themselves made up of trillions of water droplets.
To imagine that a cloud wanders and is lonely is a word-trick called personification. He is attempting to offload his faux wandering and loneliness on an innocent cloud.
Wordsworth himself wasn’t lonely or indeed wandering, because he and sister Dorothy were deliberately on their way back to Grasmere when they spotted the daffodils.
A bit further down the poem we see that Wordsworth’s fallen into that abbreviation thing with ‘o’er’.
I suppose you can have a crowd or host of daffodils, but the metaphor won’t extend to mob or, say, a flock.
Crowd is bigger than host and thus he conveys a sense of the multitude of daffodils: ‘A crowd – no, blow me, just look round this corner – a veritable HOST!’
After this, the verse warms up. Golden daffodils, their precise location (beside the lake, beneath the trees) and their fluttering and dancing, are all perfectly-formed images in which we’ve been rejoicing for nearly two centuries.
Experts have pointed out that to be really iambic, Wordsworth’s ‘fluttering’ must be pronounced ‘flutt’ring’.
I’m going to let him off. He was, after all, Poet Laureate from 1843 to his death in 1850 and you don’t end up as one of those by not knowing your way around words.
And, compared to some of the numpties who call themselves poets these days, Wordsworth was a lyrical, if hopelessly Romantic, genius.
Given the subject matter of the column to your right don’t you think it’s odd that Wordsworth should be called Wordsworth?
And that his successor to the role of Poet Laureate, spookily, should have been called Bob Versemeister?
Sorry, that last bit appears to be wrong.