Romantic poetry was strongly fascinated by feelings and the power of imagination. This inclination was mainly initiated by William Wordsworth who sought to change the face of poetry and the way his neoclassic predecessors perceived poetry. Wordsworth famously asserted his revolutionary views in the Preface to the second edition of the poetry collection called the Lyrical Ballads which was published in 1802. His ideas and aims mainly concerned the realms of language and subject within poetry. He rejected the neoclassical theory of poetry for its use of both upper-class subjects and unnatural poetic diction (Abrams 213). Although romantic poetry opposed the idea of rationalizing nature or approaching it in a scientific way, Wordsworth very much respected the law of nature and he did not seek to falsify it in his poems (Durrant 5). Nevertheless, he regarded the human mind as a tool, capable of achieving independence within the natural law; however not to refute it, but certainly able to transform it. William Wordsworth thoroughly asserted his ideas on subject and language of romantic poetry in his critical essay the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. Thus subjects and principles proclaimed in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads were henceforth reoccurring and omnipresent in Wordsworth’s work. This essay aims to illustrate that his poem “I Wandered lonely as a Cloud” embodies the revolutionary theory of poetry asserted in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. Moreover, it aims to show the intertextuality between the two compositions regarding highly romantic themes like nature, the simplification of language and the function of feelings.
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The first thing that strikes the reader, while reading the poem “I Wandered lonely as a Cloud”, is the choice of nature as a dominant subject and its exact description. The fact that William Wordsworth, like so many other romantic poets, utilized nature in his poems is likely to be originated in the contempt of the use of both elevated subjects and language. He thoroughly condemns the fact that the language of popular poetry during his time was full of “gaudiness”  and exaggerated, “inane”  diction. In the 1802 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, he therefore argues that poetry should deal with materials from “common life”  in “a [â€¦] language really used by men” . Wordsworth’s revolutionary ideas stood in direct contrast to the predominant neoclassic notion that serious language should only be applied while dealing with noble or aristocratic subjects (Abrams 213). Subsequently, Wordsworth strongly espoused the notion of “purifying language”  in order to bring the joy of poetry to people who lead a more “rural life”  and do not understand the sublime terms used in neoclassic poetry. In light of this concept, it becomes more obvious why Wordsworth used nature as a main subject in his work, as he did in “I Wandered lonely as a Cloud”. The main reason is likely to be that people who lead a rural life tend to be closer to nature than the aristocratic part of the society who lives in the city. The detailed, yet simple description of the daffodils and the landscape surrounding them, in other words the immediate and direct feelings transmitted through nature, are probably better conceivable to rural people who are very much in touch with nature. It becomes therefore apparent that “I Wandered lonely as a Cloud” is not solely a nature poem or a mere depiction of landscape, but that nature functions as some sort of “stimulus for a poet” (Abrams 214) in order to think and experience an “influx”  of feelings.
William Wordsworth’s idea of the spontaneous nature of feelings and the calm recollection of such is distinctly visible throughout the poem “I Wandered lonely as a Cloud”. In order to comprehend and grasp Wordsworth’s complex perceptions of how feelings are to be experienced and processed, it is inevitable to first look at some excerpts from the Preface of 1802, in which William Wordsworth asserts his view on the subject of feelings, tranquility and indeed imagination:
I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried out. (1)
Although Wordsworth describes a real poet’s feelings as “spontaneous” and “powerful”, he makes it very clear that a calm recollection of the original impressions or emotions is desirable. The feelings which enter a poet’s work are thus kindred to the immediate and original version of the feelings and cannot be regarded as “uncontrolled or raw emotions” (Sucksmith 150) anymore. Furthermore, Wordsworth describes a poet as someone who adapts an excessive “habit of meditation”  and is therefore capable both of mastering the overflow of feelings and later connecting feelings with thoughts. In a further chapter of his 1802 Preface, Wordsworth praises the “state of enjoyment”  a poet can reach by experiencing poetry in this way.
The theory of poetic creation described above becomes very overt by dividing Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” into two parts. Lines 1 to 17 clearly depict the “spontaneous overflow” which the speaker, a poet himself, experiences while wandering along the lakeside in state of “loneliness and passivity” (Durrant 20). However, lines 17 and 18 of the poem signal a change in the poet’s perception of his experience. While “I gazed – and gazed” (line 17) describes the “initial and unreflective perception” (Sucksmith 151) of the daffodils, it is the remaining part of line 17 and its succeeding stanza which indicate the “meditative reflection on that perception” (Sucksmith 151) by saying “but little thought / What wealth the show to me had brought” (lines 17-18). This last stanza thus illustrates both the calm recollection of the initial experience and the poet’s joy while contemplating and remembering these images and feelings in tranquility. This process of calm recollection can be seen in lines 19 to 21: “For oft, when on my couch I lie / In vacant or in pensive mood, / they flash upon that inward eye”.
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The powerful “state of enjoyment”  caused by poetry and triggered by the initial and raw experience, as well as its later contemplation is, as described above, strongly accentuated in Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. It is also a reoccurring theme especially in the third stanza of the poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”. The speaker’s elevated emotional state becomes apparent in lines 14 to 16: “Out did the sparkling waves in glee: / A poet could not be but gay, / In such a jocund company”. In the last stanza, therefore in the period of recollection, the speaker still feels this joy, although it is a different kind of joy. It can be described as a more grounded, reflected and certainly less exuberant form of joy. The last three lines of the poem, lines 22 to 24, illustrate this different form of delight: “Which is the bliss of solitude; / And then my heart with pleasure fills, / And dances with the daffodils”. As has been illustrated by the comparison of excerpts of the 1802 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads concerning the processing of feelings and emotions and the respective passages of the poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, William Wordsworth’s notion of “poetic composition” (Sucksmith 152) is highly visible and palpable in the aforementioned poem.
In conclusion, I would like to stress how William Wordsworth’s 1807 poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” beautifully incorporates the many subtleties and visions concerning poetry that were asserted in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. In order to fully understand “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, it is thus of great importance to know how Wordsworth sought poets to perceive and process feelings or which language is best to use in poetry. By interpreting the poem in light of Wordsworth’s, at that time, revolutionary views, the strong dependence and connection of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” to the Preface becomes evident.
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