What strikes me about William Wordsworth upon rereading “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is his stunning lack of apology for solitude. The title and first line contain a word – “lonely” – that in today’s highly peopled and networked culture is stigmatized. Yet there is nothing in this poem’s context that makes one pity the poet. There is no sense of despair or worry or regret that often accompanies the contemporary reading of that word.
Instead, there is an airy sense of openness and possibility, wonder and freedom. That is what I take, anyway, from Wordsworth’s description of feeling like a cloud floating over the landscape. Coupled with the light and almost bouncy rhythm and meter of the lines, there is nothing sad to see here, folks, just beauty, and the joy of unexpected company – “a crowd, / a host of golden daffodils.”
And yet this crowd cannot talk with the poet, or connect him with other friends or listen to his take on the latest gossip on Facebook. No, they just dance, a dance repeated in numerous ways in every verse. How strange. Not another human soul in sight, yet this poem is filled to bursting with a sense of celebratory dance. First fluttering, then sprightly, then as if competing with the waves in gleefulness, then finally in memory, the daffodils dance with the poet’s heart.
It is in this final dance that we come to the truth of the matter. Alone on the couch – not the ideal 21st century picture – is where we find the poet, again without a hint of regret, discovering the “bliss of solitude.” It is in this solitary bliss where he fully enters into what that first experience gave: a doorway into a dance.
Only by allowing for these moments of lonely wandering can we come upon such a “jocund company.” These daffodils, they are too respectful to intrude on existing company. Yet by wandering lonely, we will find ourselves, suddenly, without expectation, not alone. And in the bliss of solitude we will find a golden crowd, dancing with our hearts, once again.