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Revisiting Wordsworth’s Poem ‘The Daffodils’

This post is a re-reading of Wordsworth's most celebrated poems, 'The Daffodils'. The author examines how the poem is an example of 'ecotherapy'.

This post is a re-reading of Wordsworth’s most celebrated poems, ‘The Daffodils’. The author examines how the poem is an example of ‘ecotherapy’.

 ‘Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self’ – May Sarton

Man-nature relation has always been an inspiration for creative minds. Exploring the relation as depicted in forms of works of art is equally inspiring. In the case of literature, the way different readers explore the work of art results in various approaches to literature. Here I make an attempt to explore man-nature relation from a therapeutic perspective.

The poem ‘Daffodils’ has been catching the imagination of people and bringing forth different interpretations based on their understanding since 1807, the year it was published by William Wordsworth. The gap between the time of the co-existence, or the actual lived experience shared with the daffodils, on the one hand and the publication of the poem is a clear indication that the experience had had its lingering effect in his mind, for so long that, he could recollect it so vividly and bring forth in words later. The gap between the lived experience and the poetic/creative experience belong to two sources, and therefore of two manifestations, as well. The two important words which sum up the essence of the poem are ‘lonely’ and ‘solitude’. The question is, what brings this transformation in the speaker?

I have attempted to interpret this poem as an instance of ‘ecotherapy’- the power of nature to give us ceaseless joy and heal our troubled mind. This article explores this relationship between human mind and nature, the necessity to explore happiness in the company of nature in this mechanical world.

Wordsworth contradicts the first half of his definition of poetry that ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity’, in one of his celebrated poems, ‘Daffodils’. Here, the poem ‘Daffodils’ is not ‘spontaneous’ overflow of feelings, which he experienced after his memorable encounter with daffodils. However, the origin of it, is taken from ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, which he shared with the external world much later.

To begin with, we have to explore the possibilities of the different meanings to the word, ‘lonely’. What does the word ‘lonely’ mean? It is a state of mind, in which you are sad or dull, but you are in search of external company to make you feel better. Though, this sadness may be due to some external factors, but powerful enough to keep you disturbed internally. In another sense, this state of mind doesn’t give you any peace and make you lose focus on anything. In short, this state of loneliness searches for the ‘right’ company. However, we don’t get that right company in the human world, as all of us engrossed in our own worldly affairs. In other ways, we are too busy to comfort others.

Here, the speaker compares his state of loneliness to a lonely cloud. This brings us to an image of a single cloud, away from its cluster. As a matter of fact, when the weather is turbulent and there is a heavy gush of wind, we find clouds run scattered. As we know, clustered clouds are heavy and they fetch rain. Whereas, a single cloud is directionless and light. Similarly, a lonely mind is also direction less and disoriented. Interestingly, we find a single cloud very high in the sky, as it is very light.

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So, the poet places this cloud very high over valleys and hills, far away from the world, like his pensive mind, which is not in touch with real world. Thus, the comparison is appropriate, when the speaker compares his loneliness to a single cloud. Similarly, the speaker too feels emotionally lonely and empty, desperate for the right company. Most importantly, the biographical details of the poem reveal that the poet had just lost his brother, when he encountered this experience with daffodils. Here, it is also significant to observe the presence of his sister, Dorothy when he had that memorable walk. So, the immediate question is, was Dorothy not close enough to share his loneliness? The answer is, there are certain moments in our life, we don’t feel connected with people around, however intimate they are. On the other hand, it becomes easier to connect with other beings in nature and feel better on our own. To be specific, what we want is silence, not clutter. In fact, we step out of the noise, to spend time alone in those moments. It might be contended that, only nature has the power to connect with that part of our mind, which wants to be left alone from human interference. Therefore, it is insignificant to know who is physically present with the speaker. What the speaker feels here, is his individual experience, based on his state of mind. Obviously, it can’t be a collective experience.

Perhaps, the next big question is, what draws the speaker to daffodils when he is in this pensive mood? Most of the times we ignore and are not attentive to our surroundings, when we are sad.  So, there must be something powerful and big enough to connect with daffodils. Here, we have to pay attention to words like; ‘golden’, ten thousand’, ‘fluttering and dancing’ and most importantly, ‘host’. So, what do these words mean in the context of the poem?

Firstly, the colour of the daffodils is mentioned as ‘gold’ which is extremely striking to the eyes. Then, the number of daffodils found is so huge like ‘ten thousand’, which is very hard to ignore visually. Also, there is an appealing and attractive action, a visual treat going on before his eyes like, ‘fluttering and dancing’ of daffodils, which is very difficult, not to pay attention to. Obviously, how can you ignore it, when nature is dancing before your eyes?  Most importantly, the daffodils are welcoming the ‘lonely’ speaker with open arms ( tossing their heads) like a good ‘host’ with glee. Generally, a good host will make you feel comfortable and transform your mood for the better. Thus, the speaker finds the right company he is seeking for. In other ways, daffodils are the ‘silent’ host that gives comfort to the disturbed mind of the speaker.

Many a times, we look for a ‘silent’ company to make us feel better, not ‘words’, which irritate us when we are not in the right mood.  To be more specific, what we need is, just a silent understanding of our feelings without any feedback through words. Thus, he gets absorbed with the beautiful experience and loses himself completely. So, he says, ‘I gazed-and gazed-but little thought’, what this experience means to him. Hence, we can’t accuse the speaker of not penning down this experience immediately. In another sense, certain experiences in our life, keep us engaged in thinking mode for a while, sometimes as long as many years like in the case of this poem, before we share it with the external world in the form of writing or some other form of communication. Moreover, all human experiences can’t and need not be shared immediately or shared at all.  To a great extent, it takes time for the experience to sink in. Thus, we have to wait for the right moment to express it.

Nevertheless, this beautiful encounter with daffodils fills his mind, so much so that he internalizes it, which becomes a permanent treasure for his future references thereafter. So, the speaker says, whenever he feels sad, the memory of his experience with daffodils flashes on his ‘inward eye’ which is a ‘bliss of solitude’. Solitude is a self-fulling state of happiness, in which you get your source of joy internally and you don’t feel the necessity of the external world to make you happy.

Thus, the essence of this poem is the transformation of speaker’s mood from loneliness to a bliss of solitude through the intervention and help of nature. It is called ‘ecotherapy’. It is a treatment to improve mental well being through outdoor activities in nature.  And nature has the therapeutic power to heal human mind and nothing else which is ‘man made’ can replace it. To be specific, here, nature includes all natural resources and life forms except man and his creations. Time and again, Wordsworth appears relevant in his call to go back to nature for inspiration and right living. The poem, ‘Daffodils’ is the best example to substantiate this power of nature in healing human mind.

Image Source: Pexels

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About the Author

Jyothi S

Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor of English, Tumkur University. Has been a teacher of English and also soft skills trainer, with special interest in writing poems, articles, short stories and translation both in Kannada and English. read more...

26 Posts | 39,756 Views

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