I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud Analysis
by William Wordsworth

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I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud Analysis

  • "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" exemplifies the work of the Lake Poets and the English Romantic poets more generally. It takes as its subject the sublime landscapes of the Lake District, and its sensibility—attentive to external beauty and inward imagination—is quintessentially Romantic.
  • Wordsworth helped to shape the modern lyric poem. In "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" one can find Wordsworth's interest in how the subjective mind processes and personalizes experience, an interest that is central to the lyric mode.

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Analysis

In the two centuries since its 1807 publication, William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” remains one of the most celebrated works in English literature. Wordsworth, a central figure of the Early Romantic movement, believed that poetry should be an introspective practice. In this poem, he endeavors to distill his emotional response to a personally transformative experience: discovering thousands of daffodils dancing along a lakeshore. Wordsworth is perhaps the central figure of the Lake Poets, a group of Lake District writers that also includes Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. The natural landscape of the region was a bountiful source of inspiration for them. Wordsworth wrote “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” after a walk with his sister in the woods near his home.

In contrast to eighteenth-century English poetry—which was characterized by strict adherence to classical forms and metrical verse—Wordsworth’s poems instead seek to portray, in his words, “the real language of men.” Because of his distaste for overly formal poetic diction, his poems favor a more spontaneous and naturalistic idiom. Like many of Wordsworth’s poems, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” is a lyric poem. He uses the first-person perspective to cultivate philosophical insights into mental and emotional states, and the poem’s melodious sounds echo the speaker’s contemplative tone as he ponders the significance of this memory.

Wordsworth employs an ABABCC rhyme scheme, and the poem is in iambic tetrameter. With this sonic pattern, each line consists of roughly eight syllables, and each unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable; this gives the poem a natural lyrical progression and a song-like cadence. He plays with syntax while maintaining the poem’s lively rhythm, such as in the lines “Ten thousand saw I at a glance,” “And then my heart with pleasure fills,” and “For oft when on my couch I lie.” By restructuring these lines to end with verbs, Wordsworth exemplifies his approach to poetic language: each line flows into the next with exuberant momentum while the speaker navigates his thoughts and feelings.

At the heart of this poem is the jubilant image of the dancing daffodils, and Wordsworth employs poignant imagery to communicate the significance that this memory has had on his psychological well-being. His personification of the flowers as dancers, “tossing their heads” and cheerfully “fluttering” in the breeze, contrasts with the speaker’s self-portrayal in the titular opening line, in which he likens himself to a cloud. This straightforward simile, while painting a picture of his natural surroundings, also introduces his exploration of the connection between external environment and interior state. The speaker compares himself to a cloud drifting unmoored from Earth. When he then observes the “crowd” of golden daffodils animating the landscape, he becomes reinvigorated. The dancing daffodils—in their effervescent natural beauty and delightful energy—seem to represent freedom of the spirit, reminding the speaker of nature’s eternal majesty.

Wordsworth exemplifies the concept of the sublime—as in, the extraordinary phenomenon that occurs when one’s spirit becomes consumed by nature’s extraordinary power—with his metaphor of the daffodils as stars. Wordsworth was influenced by Edmund Burke’s 1757 essay on the idea of the...

(The entire section is 1,586 words.)