Saturday, March 30, 2013

Daffodils, Wordsworth, and Writing

"And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils." --William Wordsworth

Our daffodils bloomed this last week and soon after another March snow fell. I thought the poor blossoms were done for. And yet today temperatures rose, the sun shone brightly, and the daffodils perked up. There's hope for them after all!

In the same week, I came across a poem written by William Wordsworth in which daffodils are featured (published in An Introduction to Poetry, by X.J. Kennedy):

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That flats 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.

A lovely poem in its own right, by a noted and enduring poet (don't you just love the name Words-worth?), but it was the author's discussion on the way the poem came about that interested me most. Some highlights:

"In a celebrated definition, Wordsworth called poetry 'the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings...recollected in tranquility.' Although in this poem Wordsworth's emotions may have overflowed spontaneously, they were captured on paper only by an expense of effort over a period of years...

"Between the first printing of the poem in 1807 and the version of 1815 given here, Wordsworth made several deliberate improvements. He changed dancing to golden in line 4, Along to Beside in line 5, Ten thousand to Fluttering and in line 6, laughing to jocund in line 16, and added a whole stanza (the second)...

(also) "...It is likely that the experience of daffodil-watching was not entirely his to begin with, but was derived in part from the recollections his sister Dorothy Wordsworth had set down in her journal of April 15, 1802, two years earlier: '...When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park we saw a few daffodils close to the we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful...some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind...they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing...'

"Notice that Wordsworth's poem echoes a few of his sister's very words. Weaving poetry out of their mutual memories, Wordsworth has offered the experience as if altogether his own...(not that he) is a plagiarist but that, like any other good poet, he has transformed ordinary life into art.

"A necessary process of interpreting, shaping, and ordering had to intervene between the experience of looking at daffodils and the finished poem."

Whew. Insights for writers abound in this discussion. Did you notice:

1. Though a lot of writing is spontaneous, it also takes time to make it shine, sometimes years.

2. Revision is key to the best version you can muster.

3. Writers are open to inspiration from a wide-range of sources, often from those closest to us.

4. Writing is the craft of weaving ideas into our own words, transforming ordinary life into art.

5. Between the initial idea and the finished piece, a writer interprets, shapes and orders those things she's writing about. 

I love how all of this came together, inspired by a cheery little daffodil. What has inspired your writing recently?


  1. A few books I read have inspired my writing recently.

  2. I love the points you made. What's inspired my writing lately? A pastor's Easter Sunday message, where he talked about our sins, and Jesus's atonement for them. I started thinking about the 10 commandments, and how each one would make for great conflict in a novel. (!)

  3. That photo! It's a perfect summary of spring.

    Spring in general inspires me. I come alive.

  4. Great stuff, Kenda! I appreciate your thoughts. Never thought about his name, but I agree - so fitting!

    Have a wonderful week! :)

  5. Rachna--hope you're enjoying those books. I'm into a couple of writing books at the moment, too, and they are giving much food for thought :-)

    Cathy--Love where you've gotten your recent inspiration!

    Barbara--Thanks :-) And I'm with you, spring carries with it lots of inspiration.

    Wishing you all a super spring. Enjoy!

  6. And Karen--Thanks for stopping by :-) As for the name, I hadn't thought much about "Words-worth" either until I came across this insight into the writing of the poem. Kind of interesting isn't it--I wonder if his name inspired him to become a writer? Hmmmm....

  7. Your daffodil is beautiful. My favorite part of the poem is this:

    but they out-did the sparkling waves in glee;


  8. Hello, Kenda. While trying to verify a quote re: revision, from Richard Peck, my googling led me to your blog and I had a great time reading. (Yes, it can take years to make our writing shine- It took me 10 years of writing and thinking and revising and submitting to get my book published!)
    Augusta Scattergood
    PS: You have a lot of info, inspiration, and a lot of wisdom here.

  9. Thanks, Kimberly. Enjoyed learning what line in the poem touched you...

    And, Augusta, so glad you dropped in! Thanks. Nice to meet you and congratulations on the publication of your book. That's very encouraging to those of us still on the journey :-)

  10. For me, it's frequently interacting with my grandchildren. They have such good IDEAS!

  11. Oh, Peggy, wouldn't it be fun to share grandchildren stories? Mine inspire me, too!