REVISING: WORDSWORTH

revising the poem: wordsworthPoints Illustrated

Finding a poems' optimal tone and size.

The Daffodils: 1802 Version

William Wordsworth's The Daffodils was modelled on an entry in his wife's prose Journal of 1802, and she also contributed what her husband considered the best two lines of the poem: They flash upon the inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude. The first version of 1804/07 was as follows:

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 dancing daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such laughing 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.

Republished in 1815, the poem had two changes and an extra stanza:

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
Outdid 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.

Both changes were immense improvements. Replacing dancing with golden avoided a repetition and gave the flowers a pollen-heavy splendour. And such a jocund company has a pleasing fulness of sound missing from such laughing company.

The added stanza brought amplitude to the poem we see the daffodils in their wider setting though twinkle is not quite the right word (milky way stars may glimmer but not twinkle, though we could charitably suppose the milky way referred to the backdrop, not the stars themselves).

In general, however, poems have their optimal tone and size, and Wordsworth in a simple revision found both.

Notes and References

1. A. F. Scott, The Poet's Craft: A Course in the Critical Appreciation of Poetry (CUP, 1957), 55-58.
2. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) I wandered lonely as a cloud. Poem Hunter. http://www.poemhunter.com.

 

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