How is the theme of loneliness developed in William Wordsworth's poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"?

Expert Answers
chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There’s a difference between feeling lonely and being alone. Ask any introvert who prefers the latter! I believe Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is a personal and transformative one; and that the theme of loneliness – if it is present at all -- shows up only at the beginning. The narrator is walking by himself. Sure, he claims he is “lonely as a cloud.” But are clouds lonely? Don’t they often vary their forms and mingle in and out with other clouds? I think he’s referring to their aimless manner of movement, rather than a perceived alone-ness.  He sees the daffodils and is overwhelmed by their beauty and animation, as they dance with the wind. And from this moment on, whenever he’s at home and feeling especially listless or thoughtful (“vacant” or “pensive”), he can remember the glorious field of daffodils and make himself smile and be happy again. His is a use of “guided imagery,” before such a term or technique even existed. This poem is a positive, uplifting one. To those who have alternative interpretations, I ask: What if the narrator had been with a companion or a group of people when they came upon the daffodils? Would the experience have been as personal and as impactful? Would it be one he would gladly call up again later? I think the answers to the last two would be no. This experience is powerful because it was seen and felt on an individual basis, in solitude.

elb03 | Student

The fact that the word 'I' and no other pronouns apart from 'they' to describe the daffodils is used in the poem suggests that the first person is on their own- there is no-one else with them. Just this simple pronoun announces the theme of loneliness in William Wordsworth's poem.

The very first sentence also introduces the theme of loneliness: 'I wandered lonely as a cloud.' Here this simile reminds us of how empty a sky is, and therefore how empty the person is. There is a part of them that is not fulfilled- this is having a companion. The fact that it is an obscure simile; a person is compared to a cloud; draws attention tho the sentence and emphasises the theme of loneliness.

The sentence 'For oft when on my couch I lie' also suggests lonleiness. It shows that the poet is regularly lying on their couch. This perhaps suggests that, often, they have got nothing better to do- nowhere to go, no-one to go out and see, and that they are usually just alone on their couch.

The poem altogether and what it is about suggests loneliness. The poet spends most of their time just with the daffodils- it is like the daffodils are the poet's only true friends, and that most of the poet's time is spent in the 'jocund company' of the daffodils. He is lonely and so seeks company in flowers and plants as he perhaps does not have many friends of his own.

The poet does not seem to gain much pleasure from his normal daily activities- seeing the daffodils dance seems like the highlight of his day:

'And then my heart with pleasure fills

And dances with the daffodils.'

He perhaps finds joy in the simplest of things such as flowers as he cannot find hapiness in his day-to-day life. This suggests he does not have many friends, as friends would make him very happy, and then the daffodils would be an insignificant pleasure compared to the company of friends. The poet tries to find joy out of nature as he cannot seem to find it elsewhere- he is lonely.