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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Daffodils

Springtime is when I reread poetry of William Wordsworth. It always starts with daffodils. We have more daffodils in our yard this year than last because my sister-in-law got seriously ill last fall and was in the hospital for three months; consequently, something had to be done with the big box of bulbs she had bought. Her neighbors planted as many as they could, and then I took the box home and put the rest in our yard. I would have put them in her yard, but I was already spending most of every day with her in the hospital, and I needed to spend what other time I had with my own family, so the daffodil and crocus bulbs are here, and she does get to enjoy them, because she comes every Friday to visit us. Anyway, after that little digression, the thing is, I look at all the daffodils and naturally think of this:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o’er dales and hills,
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.
Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the milky way,
they stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
a poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company.
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
in vacant or in pensive mood,
they flash upon that inward eye
which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
and dances with the daffodils.
(1804)

From there my thoughts turn to Grasmere and the summers with my friends and colleagues at the Wordsworth Summer Conference. Every morning Richard Wordsworth would collect everybody interested in walking before breakfast, and we would go around the lake, three miles, through litch-gates and over stiles, on gravel and sand, through bogs and along hillsides and a couple short stretches of road. I always wanted to simply listen and fill up on the heady conversations around me. There were no daffodils in July and August, but it was easy to imagine them crowding the shores under the trees along the more mountainous side of the lake.

One Sunday morning we went down to that side of the lake and sat upon rocks and logs, attending the Mass celebrated by Father Robert Barth (SJ). It was a beautiful morning and a beautifully spiritual service. If I weren't a Mormon I'd be a Catholic.

In the forenoons we discussed poetry in small tutorial groups. In the late afternoons we gathered for the reading of a scholarly paper by one of our colleagues. Our heads and hearts were full of the poetry of Wordsworth and the Romantics. Between those times we usually joined one of the three offered excursions, and most of the time we picked the most physically challenging one, trying to copy the exertions of the poet who was easily climbing around the steep crags, ghylls, becks, and fells of the Lake District until he was in his 70s.

I would love to go back, but in the springtime, and see the daffodils crowding along Grasmere Lake and Rydal Water. In the meantime, I look out my window at the daffodils in the garden and dream about past days.

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