I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud Summary

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wordsworth is an 1807 poem about the speaker's indelible encounter with a field of beautiful daffodils.

  • While wandering in solitude, the speaker comes across a bounty of daffodils by the side of a lake.
  • The daffodils seem as numerous as the stars in the sky, and they dance in the breeze.
  • Later, in recollection, the speaker summons forth in his imagination the delightful image of the daffodils. 

Summary

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Last Updated on May 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 594

Introduction

Originally published in his collection Poems, In Two Volumes in 1807, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth is an iconic work of English Romantic poetry. Wordsworth composed the poem after he came across a “crowd” of daffodils along the shore of a lake while on a walk with his sister, Dorothy, near his home in the Lake District of England. In expounding upon his emotional response to this memory, Wordsworth emphasizes nature’s eternal influence on human souls. He thus illustrates how this image of the dancing daffodils provides a source of nurturance and delight in later reflection and solitude.

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Summary

In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker explains that he feels “lonely as a cloud” as he wanders through a landscape. When he unexpectedly encounters an enchanting cluster of golden daffodils encompassing the shore of a lake, the speaker feels an emotional shift and focuses his attention on this sight. He portrays the daffodils as “fluttering and dancing” underneath the trees as the wind passes through.

The second stanza expands upon the magnificence of the dancing daffodils. The speaker creates a metaphor that compares the bright flowers to the shining stars in the sky. The daffodils stretch along the shore of the lake in a seemingly endless line, resembling the brilliance and vastness of the Milky Way galaxy. Like the continuous belt of luminous stars that twinkle cheerfully against the night’s darkness, the daffodils sway in the breeze with the same energy and carefree cheer, “tossing their heads in sprightly dance.” He explains that, to his eye, there appears to be ten thousand daffodils lining the water.

In the third stanza, the speaker compares the daffodil’s dance with the dancing of the “sparkling waves” on the surface of the lake. He notes that the daffodils dance with a glee and boundless vitality that the waves do not possess. Upon making this observation, the speaker then reflects upon how these sensory experiences—such as observing the natural world’s visual splendors—offers a source of immediate joy. In the lines “A poet could not but be gay / In such jocund company,” he expresses that, as a poet, this visual experience provides him with immense inspiration. He then reiterates that spending time with the gleefully dancing daffodils can bring a feeling of deepened connection to the natural world, and he contemplates “what wealth” this visual experience brings him. When he first gazes incredulously at the beautiful dandelions, the speaker does not initially consider how this memory will be valuable to him in the future—both as a source of inspiration for his poetry, and for his spiritual well-being.

The final stanza reflects upon the lasting value of his experience. The speaker explains that when he is in a “vacant” or “pensive mood”—which is often the case—he is able to revisit this memory. He thus learns that, by summoning this resplendent vision of the dancing daffodils, he can sustain his experiences of nature after the fact. Furthermore, the speaker describes how, when the daffodils “flash upon that inward eye,” he feels “the bliss of solitude,” meaning that, even when he is alone, this mental image—which permanently exists in his mind—reminds him that he is intimately connected to the natural world. Therefore, he learns to embrace these moments of solitude. In the final lines, the speaker emphasizes that, whenever he remembers the jovial, carefree dance of the daffodils, his heart fills with pleasure, and through the powers of his imagination, he can join the daffodils as they dance.

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Themes