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Poets and Plants: Wordsworth's "Daffodils"

By Amber Royer (dandylyon85April 17, 2013

Many poets include botanical imagery in their works. One of my favorite poets, William Wordsworth, a romantic poet who lived from the late 1700s to the mid 1800s), allowed botany and nature to play a large part in his work. One of his poem stars one of my favorite flowers the humble daffodil.

Gardening picture 

Wordsworth was born in Northern England, in an area generally considered very picturesque (the Lake District).  In even his earliest work, his love of the natural world is reflected.  Wordsworth's work is rife with pastoral scenes and nature images, and he seems to ground his emotions in specific places he has been and things he has observed, be it a walking tour in the Alps, or simply walking along the banks of the "Cam" (Which appears to refer to  part of a river that runs through Cambridge, though he, in his preface to the poem, admits to taking poetic liberties by changing the river to the Thames and placing himself in a boat).  In short, he seems to have done a lot of walking.

One of his most famous "walking" poems presents a solitary sojourn towards an ordinary lake set into a landscape possessing ordinary trees.  (Again, artistic license has been taken, as his sister Dorothy was actually present for the momentous sighting of the belt of daffodils, the date of which has been pinpointed to April 15, 1802.  She even wrote about the event in her journal.) While the official name of the poem is, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," many people know it simply as "Daffodils."  He recounts,



"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"

It strikes a cord in many plant lovers because the surprise of natural beauty seen when coming around a corner or reaching a hilltop can really stick with you.  Wordsworth concludes his poem with the observation,

"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.



It is interesting that this sense of passing time and recollection is included, because word's definition of poetry states, ""the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."  So, perhaps more of us gardeners are poets than we realize.

One of the reasons I am so fond of "I Wandered Lonely as A Cloud," is because, to me, daffodils are the ultimate sign of spring.  You start seeing them in late February, as a golden promise that the cold weather is going to soon be over.  Daffodils hit the height of their beauty during March, and as I write this during April, the green plants with mostly withered flower heads leaving me relying on my mind's eye - and my camera's eye - to remember the beauty of the daffodils.



Daffodils are part of the narcissus family.  They are bulbs, which means that if you want your own "sea" of golden daffodils," or even just a small smattering of blooms, you need to plan ahead.  If you have a friend who needs to thin an existing daffodil bed, make sure they wait until the foliage withers before digging you out some bulbs, or else the daffodil flowering will be inhibited the next year.  Otherwise, order the bulbs over the summer from a reputable dealer.  Store the bulbs somewhere cool with good ventilation until the ground cools (between September and November, depending on where you live), then plant them in a well-drained sunny spot. 



While you wait for spring to see the blooms, spend a little time in nature, making your own memories of unexpected natural beauty.  It might even spark an image strong enough to write your own poem.

  About Amber Royer  
Amber RoyerAs a librarian turned freelancer, Amber likes to research the history and botany behind the modern garden. Her true plantly love is the herb garden. Follow her on Google.

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