The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” resulted from an experience of William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy while on a walking tour of the Ullswater region in April, 1802. Dorothy wrote of it at length in her journal; when the poet began to compose the present poem two years later, his wife Mary Hutchinson Wordsworth contributed what are now lines 21-22, which William correctly identified as the best two in the poem. While rearranging his works for an 1815 publication, Wordsworth added the second stanza. As it presently stands, this poem is reputed to be the most anthologized poem in the world.

The “I” of the poem is explicitly a poet (line 15); the implied “you” is therefore explicitly a reader of a poem. Such clear roles doubtless add to the poem’s illusion of simplicity.

The final stanza confers poetic meaning upon the experience of the previous three descriptive and narrative stanzas. In his famous preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800), Wordsworth said that poetry results from “emotion recollected in tranquillity,” and in the fourth stanza the poet, in tranquillity, recollects an earlier experience and sees more deeply into it. Suddenly the poem’s simplicity is complicated by the addition of an explicit program: Wordsworth is exemplifying his contention that the events and emotions of the first three stanzas must recur in an altered mode of existence, neither in nature nor in history but in...

(The entire section is 455 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem contains four six-line stanzas of iambic tetrameter, rhyming ababcc. The usual metrical substitutions (trochee or anapest for iamb) are very sparingly used. Wind characterized the original experience. Dorothy Wordsworth made it a strong unifying motif of her journal entry. It endured while her brother deleted and altered other particulars, and it continues to unify the reader’s experience of the poem.

The wind enhances almost every visual aspect of this highly visual poem. The visual words that imply movement—“fluttering,” “dancing,” “shine,” and “sparkling”—all imply the motion imparted by the wind. The Milky Way stars even “twinkle” because of the instability of the upper air. The one visual image that suggests no motion, “golden,” perhaps devalues literal material wealth in favor of the aesthetic wealth of the last eight lines.

The wind also occasions the poem’s powerful kinesthetic images—images of the tactile sensation of one’s own motion or empathy with another’s. The first three forms of a key word—“dancing,” “dance,” and “danced”—literally name the wind’s past effects, and the fourth, “dances,” names the continuing effect of remembering the past wind; “flash” does the same. Even more important, the wind unites the many individual flowers, waves, or stars by making them perform together some single action; they are not a multitude of separate and isolated...

(The entire section is 434 words.)