The Connection Between the Natural Scene and the Speaker’s State of Mind in William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”
William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is a lyric poem, which deals with the speaker’s state of mind. The description of the process, which the speaker goes through, is represented by a natural scene where the speaker, plants and the surroundings become united. The poem is written in a figurative language, combining images, similes and words that denote mood, atmosphere and colors to reflect the changes in the speaker’s position. These changes are physical, psychological and emotional. In this essay I will discuss the connection between the natural scene and the speaker’s state of mind by analyzing the imagery and figurative language of the poem.
The poem begins with a simile, which the speaker uses to describe his process of wondering or thinking as the aimless, free, metaphysical wandering of a cloud in its celestial route above earth: “I wandered lonely as a cloud”(l.1). The speaker has no intention or purpose in his actions; he lets the muse, or the wind, carry him off to where it might lead him. Just like the cloud, earthly rules or occurrences do not bound him. However, despite the freedom and the absence of some kinds of attachments or obligations, the speaker finds himself lonely and secluded. It might suggest that he does not feel connected to the human physical, earthly world and so chooses to be identified with a cloud, which floats above, uninvolved in what happens down below, a passive spectator. This state changes when he surprisingly notices many daffodils by the lake: “All at once I saw a crowd / A host, of golden daffodils;”(l.3-4). To emphasize the numerous flowers he uses two words one after another, “crowd” and “a host”. There is a contradiction between the position of the speaker and the daffodils: he is all by himself while they outnumber him, he is above and they are down below (beneath the trees). The speaker personifies the daffodils and describes their movement in the wind as an act of “fluttering” and “dancing”. The atmosphere in this scene is very calm, peaceful and harmonious. The wind bridges the worlds of the speaker as a cloud in the sky and the daffodils, which move in the light breeze.
In the second stanza the speaker uses another simile to compare the golden daffodils with the shine of stars. Now, the earthly daffodils are identified with something of the speaker’s own metaphorical world (celestial universe). The speaker elevates and positions them above himself, as the stars on the Milky Way, and thus brings them closer to him. The speaker attributes the daffodils an aspect of endlessness, infinite quality they have, which has no limits: he describes them as “continuous”(l.7), “stretched in never-ending line”(l.9). They are uncountable, like the stars in heaven. The speaker repeats the description of his encounter with the daffodils like he did in the first stanza, when trying to do something almost impossible as catching ten thousand daffodils with a single “glance”(l.11). The speaker is impressed by the number of the flowers and their movements in the wind, “tossing their heads in sprightly dance”(l.12). The speaker uses another personification, which expresses the vividness and vitality of the flowers as part of nature and as a group, which operates together.
In the third stanza the speaker expresses his emotions openly and directly as he leaves the lonely cloud for the company of the cheerful company of the daffodils, which were able to surpass even the waves by their happy dancing (l.13-14).
The speaker feels he belongs to something, he states his purpose or destination as a poet– the maker of the literary piece, which commemorates the magnificence of the daffodils: “A poet could not but be gay / In such a jocund company”(l. 15-16). This is a turning point in the speaker’s status as presented in the beginning of the poem. While in the beginning he clouded his true identity and expressed his lack of companionship when “wandering” about with his thought, now he declares himself of being a “poet”, who enjoys the “company” of the daffodils. His astonishment from the sight before him is obvious: “I gazed–and gazed–but little thought / What wealth the show to me has brought”(l.17-18). The act of gazing at the daffodils is very long and constant. The speaker is transfixed upon them, not thinking about what riches this sight might bring him. The flowers alone are in the focus of his attention. The speaker abandons the initial aimless, wandering for the sight of daffodils.
In the fourth and last stanza of the poem the speaker describes his state of mind from another point of view. He translates the natural scene and the process described by the imagery of the cloud, daffodils, celestial beings (“breeze”, “stars”, “Milky Way”) into terms more familiar with our own, human world. He describes himself lying on a couch as a regular habit when he gets into a kind of daydreaming, reflecting random thoughts. While in this state when he is in solitude the daffodils penetrate his “inward eye”(l.21), or the inner world created in his mind, where their sight fills him with happiness. The same natural scene that is described in the first stanza is a part of his inner world and the joy, which takes the place of the emotions of loneliness in the end. The speaker ends his poem with a joint dance of the daffodils and himself.
The nature scene, use of imagery and figurative language in the poem all have a very important function in our understanding of the speaker’s state of mind and the change he goes through along the way. In the beginning the speaker compares himself to a lonely cloud, wandering pointlessly above nature and earth. Then, when he notices the daffodils he is aware of their “golden”, “sparkling” presence and their gentle, elegant dance-like movement with the wind. He tries to bring himself closer to the daffodils by describing them in the terms of the celestial world, “stars”(l.7). Afterwards he is drawn into their own world (and ours, as well) when he gazes at them and identify himself as the poet and the creator of the literary piece. His pointless thoughts now have a meaning, a purpose. Then, in the end, after joining the company of the flowers, which though delicate and small managed to overcome even the mightiest dance of the waves, he returns to the earthly world and his couch.
I assume that the speaker initially had some difficulty, expressed in his choice to become a “cloud”. Then, when looking at the bright daffodils, where their color might also stand for a symbol of hope or a beam of light in the surrounding dark void, their vivid movement and ability to withstand the mighty dance of the waves, inspires him. And then, finally, he is encouraged to return and confront his loneliness with the memory of the numerous daffodils he remembers and cherishes in his mind.
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