What is Wordsworth's tone in "I wandered lonely as a cloud"?

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The tone of a poem is the attitude the speaker seems to be taking toward his subject. Much as in conversation, a poem's tone can be reflective, interrogatory, angry, defiant—there are many other adjectives we could use to describe tone. It can be difficult to establish exactly where tone ends...

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The tone of a poem is the attitude the speaker seems to be taking toward his subject. Much as in conversation, a poem's tone can be reflective, interrogatory, angry, defiant—there are many other adjectives we could use to describe tone. It can be difficult to establish exactly where tone ends and mood begins, but a good guideline is that the tone is all in the author's language choice and attitude, how he feels about what he is describing, while mood is rather what we, as a reader, feel when we read the piece. In some texts, the mood and tone will be very similar; in others, this is not the case.

In this poem, the speaker is describing daffodils, and the tone he takes toward them can be interpreted from his choice of descriptive words. Before he saw the daffodils, he was "lonely as a cloud," but then the daffodils appeared—"sprightly," "continuous," a "host" of them like a host of angels. The speaker's tone toward these daffodils, which have so brightened his day, is grateful, almost awed: he cannot help but "be gay" at the sight. Notably, the speaker observes that he did not realize what "wealth" this sight brought to him at the time. It was only in retrospect that he recognized how often this vision would "flash" across his mind in quiet moments and thereafter cause his heart to "dance with the daffodils." The speaker's tone, then, toward this revelation is certainly one of gratitude, and also one of awe and pleasure at the beauty of nature.

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However difficult the term “tone” can be, we can begin at the last stanza, where Wordsworth tells us he remembers the incident:

“In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye”

As we read his description of the daffodils, we understand that he is not simply describing the moment, but giving the reader a vision of the mood, the feeling of the host of daffodils, together with the clouds, and most importantly, the waves. The emotions this natural event gave the poet are reflected in his choice of such words as “sprightly,” “spree,” “jocund,” and “bliss.” The tone of the poem also comes from the Romantic sense that our individuality, while valuable, is part of a “host” of Nature, by the myriads of stars, of the “never-ending line” of flowers, of multitude. (In “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” Wordsworth describes poetry as “a moment of passionate intensity, recollected in tranquility.”) So, one can say the “tone” of the poem is pensive contentment of a fondly and passionately remembered moment in his life.

 

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