I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth

Start Your Free Trial

Download I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

One can conjecture that the earthbound melancholy of the poet’s pensive mood (line 20) is transformed into its opposite, the sensual, cheerful sanguine humor which is associated with the element air. As fire and choler are the opposites of water and the phlegmatic humor, so air and the sanguine humor are the opposites of earth and melancholy. Since air (wind) and water (waves) are so prominent in the poem, one finds oneself with another Garden of Eden built of the same two elements that John Milton used to build his doomed Eden in Paradise Lost (1667, 1674). It is no accident that five lines near the start of the 1805 version of Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1850), written within a few months of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” subtly echo the final five lines of Milton’s Paradise Lost. At the end of Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve leave the Garden of Eden with the world “all before them”; providence is their guide as they take their “solitary way.” In The Prelude, Wordsworth writes that the “earth is all before me”; even if his guide is only “a wandering cloud,” he says, “I cannot miss my way.”

Wordsworth plainly anoints himself as the new Adam; two Eves, Dorothy and Mary, saunter with him into the new postlapsarian world of Romanticism. Not the Judaeo-Christian providence but Nature—or more precisely, the wind, as the holiest spirit remaining—will bring the poet who abandons himself to it to his daffodils, his destiny, for their sprightly (spirited, inspired) dance. During hours of apparently aimless sauntering, the wind will lead him away from melancholy into the sensual and sanguine Eden of a post-Christian, nearly pantheistic cosmos.

The reader might suspect “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” to be guilty of the “pathetic fallacy”—of attributing human emotions to subhuman things. Wordsworth’s pantheistic Nature, however, is poles apart from the totally demythologized nature of late nineteenth century naturalism, which has no traits of consciousness. Instead, it is an all-inclusive cosmic entity of which the attributes of any of its parts may be affirmed.

David Hartley, an influential British psychologist and philosopher in the eighteenth century, had a major impact on Wordsworth. In Hartley’s psychology (empirical associationalism), sensory...

(The entire section is 554 words.)