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.)