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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Daffodils

Everywhere I look there are daffodils. Daffodils in the back yard. Daffodils in the front yard. Daffodils in the neighbors’ yards. Daffodils around the two college campuses. Daffodils next to the church. Daffodils in the field.

It is early for them where I live, but we have had an exceptionally mild winter, unlike people east of us.

On the telephone Sunday, my best friend starting quoting daffodil poetry to me. She reminded me that Now Is the Time for All Good Wordsworthian Scholars to Publish Something on His Daffodil Poem. You know the one:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales 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.

So here is the poem and its original 1802 manuscript. The notes say that Dorothy, the poet’s sister, contributed the idea of the dancing daffodils for a poem after a walk one day when they saw a veritible golden road of them along Grasmere Lake. The poet’s wife, Mary, contributed what he later said were the best two lines of the poem: “They flash upon that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude,” thus tying this poem’s theme to the great poem he had just published that everyone simply calls “Tintern Abbey” and its idea of the spots of time that give one something beautiful to think about when the experience itself is in the past.

In the Tintern Abbey poem, Wordsworth said about his memories of his time there,
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration . . . .
He also owed to these thoughts and memories an ability to make of himself a better man:
. . . such, perhaps,
As may have had no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.
And even a sort of prophet, or a transcendent seer:
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lighten'd:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
But being rather frivolous, I rather like the way Oscar Wilde expressed the idea of having a fund of Useful Thoughts with which to occupy the mind in The Importance of Being Earnest: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Nowadays if you get on the train you see people with paperbacks and a lot with electronic devices with which to occupy the mind. Scarcely a Deep Thought anywhere with which to “see into the life of things.”

I wonder if there are any people on earth left who sit and simply think of daffodils. I have a vase stuffed full of silk daffodils that I can, if I want, sit and contemplate in the deadest times of the year. But I don’t. At those times, I am more likely to dream pictures of snowy landscapes and maybe poinsettias.

Poinsettias do not lend themselves to poetry.

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