Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem’s themes are clearly indebted to William Wordsworth. He first established the pattern of describing a natural scene or object (rock, stream, tree, flower), often interwoven with reminiscences of his own childhood, to lead up to and authorize a moral insight. Wordsworth believed that poems should express genuine feeling in actual—not artificially elevated—language.

Lowell follows Wordsworth’s general themes closely. The reader might wonder why the poet values the dandelion so highly. The first answer is its power to liberate his imagination, exhibited in the imagined but still natural, pastoral landscape of stanza 4. If the poem ended here, then the theme would be that of the poet’s imagination as both the source of his sensitivity to nature and its reward; ordinary people lose the child’s imaginative power, but the poet keeps it alive.

The fifth stanza, however, introduces a fresh theme. The dandelion stimulates poetic imagination, but it also brings memories of earliest childhood. The description of children in the first stanza anticipated this theme, but here it becomes personal. The poet recalls a time of organic unity with nature.

Does this turn lead to the moral reflections that follow, or do they simply intrude? When Lowell published this poem in a book, he printed only the first five and the ninth stanzas. He apparently felt that the moralizing was excessive. In stanza 6, the dandelion suggests the value...

(The entire section is 545 words.)