I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

by William Wordsworth

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What is the hyperbole in "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"?

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Instances of hyperbole abound in William Wordsworth's central lyric poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," published in 1807. A hyperbole is an exaggeration, an expanded statement meant to be understood as figurative rather than literal. Wordsworth often used hyperbole to broaden his poems' emotional impact and help the reader feel what he felt during these scenes. Hyperboles are distinct from similes and metaphors in that they operate by unreasonable comparison or magnitude instead of analogy.

The most glaring example of hyperbole in this poem is the persona's statement regarding the number of daffodils: "They stretched in never-ending line...Ten thousand saw I at a glance, / Tossing their heads in sprightly dance" (9-12). The poet of course could not have known the number of flowers that stood before him, especially since he only saw them "at a glance." Also, the line of daffodils could not have been really "never-ending" (9). These statements are then not meant to relate the actual number of daffodils that the poet witnessed but, instead, the overwhelming effect of the expansive meadow of flowers.

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Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration for effect. Examples of this literary device appear in “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” when the narrator describes the number of daffodils he saw that day. The flowers filled an entire field. They were “continuous,” they “stretched in a never-ending line,” and he thought he saw “Ten thousand” of them at a single glance. Some could say that these are terms of hyperbole because it would be impossible to find a field of 10,000 daffodils in real life. At least through these words, Wordsworth paints an image in the reader’s mind of what such a place would look like. Whether or not the actual field he saw that inspired this poem held this many flowers doesn’t matter. And who could make the time to count them, anyway?

Some may also consider the daffodils’ “dance” as a use of hyperbole, too. I suggest that it is instead anthropomorphic – assigning a human characteristic to something that is not human. Obviously, flowers cannot dance in the way that we humans can. But in a stiff wind, the tumbler-shaped heads of daffodils will bounce up and down and all around, in nodding fashion. An entire field of them may indeed give the impression that they are dancing with one another, even though their stems will still hold them firmly in one place, in the ground.

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