What Wealth the Show to Me Had Brought: Simple Beauty in Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”
by Crystal Hurd
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
~ by William Wordsworth
John Keats, a contemporary of William Wordsworth, once wrote that, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:/Its lovliness increases; it will never/Pass into nothingness; but still will keep/A bower quiet for us, and a sleep /Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing”.
Any time that I encounter beauty – through a verse of poetry, an inspiring image, or by observing nature – I try to capture it. There’s a part of me that wants to freeze it in my memory, to create something tangible so I can have a “souvenir” of sorts. I really can’t tell you why I possess such a compulsion. Is it because life itself is fleeting and I want to hold on to these moments? Perhaps. These things are like my mental butterfly net; I desire to harness a part of that beauty so I can examine it and marvel at it, while deepening my appreciation for it.
Or maybe so I can return, like a tired pilgrim, back to the beauty of that moment. That way, when the circumstances become darker and bleak clouds fill the sky, I can recall those images, those words and be pacified. Not every moment can arrest your attention so these verbal and visual keepsakes are a sacred reminder that hints of goodness still exist, that beauty is not choked out by modern complexities.
I’m sure that was how Wordsworth felt. Did you know that Wordsworth single-handedly prevented the railroad from coming through his beloved village in the Lake District? He rarely went to London because he was so disgusted with the tyrannical smokestacks which cluttered the horizon and poisoned the citizens. Two years ago, I visited the Lake District, and understood so well why this landscape was his premiere muse. I found myself trying to take pictures in every direction. I wanted so desperately to capture this moment in time, to revel with the sweet air in my lungs, to escape the urbanities of daily life. When I close my eyes, I can still see the meadows that stretched out from the street. I see the old innkeeper sweeping contentedly in his apron who generously gave us directions to Dove Cottage (Wordsworth’s home). I hear (and envision) the sheep bleating loudly from behind a crude fence. Sometimes when I have a nice, tall stack of essays to mark, I return to that emerald valley in my mind’s eye…and smile. It’s a short little vacation for my overworked brain.
And here, we see the parallel to Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”. Note that he begins the poem with the simile, “I wandered lonely as a cloud”. This could be a recollection of a short journey he took, “wandering” through the district admiring nature’s beauty, but I also interpret this as a mental wandering, perhaps an image (or memory) conjured up while he was preoccupied in the garden or involved in his daily business. The wind blows and the daffodils “dance” (personified by Wordsworth). Although the lake current is disturbed by this breeze, the daffodils outshine the waves (fancy that!). In that moment, Wordsworth doesn’t take much stock of the image (“I gazed–and gazed–but little thought/What wealth the show to me had brought”). Later, when Wordsworth is reclining on his couch, miles away from that spot, he summons it back to memory (his “inward eye”) and finds a deep solitude and pleasure.
The words of Wordsworth and Keats bear much relevance today. Only through our memory can we return to a particular time and place. There is a strong possibility I may never return to the Lake District. But it stays with me. Nature’s awe-inspiring dance is still vivid in my mind. Its loveliness will never wither. The gentle sway of the blooms, in the perpetual spring of my mind, continues indefinitely filling my days with visions of serenity and my sleep “full of sweet dreams”.