Wordsworth Daffodils Essays

This is a gorgeous essay on criticism, on the provenance of a poem, and on Wordsworth (and his sister) — also a wonderful re-visioning of a poem that sometimes is difficult to see because it has, yes, become oh so familiar.As my doubly plural title indicates, I’ll be wandering beyond the received text of one of the most familiar poems in the literary canon, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”—Wordsworth’s best-known poem, though demoted by some to “that damned thing about daffodils.” Since its initial publication, in 1807, the poem has been parodied and admired, despised and exalted.In addition, his own long title —“Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour”—gives us the precise circumstances of the poem’s composition.

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For “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” gives us, writ small, the theme—“the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…recollected in tranquility”—of such indisputably major poems as “Tintern Abbey,” the opening Book of Wordsworth’s autobiographical epic, The Prelude, and the great “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.”The mixed reception of the Daffodils poem is not an anomaly.

Wordsworth’s road to recognition was a rocky one, and even after he had “arrived,” he was still subjected to withering criticism.

For her, a poem is essentially an autonomous artifact, a work of art to be experienced in and of itself.

And it is to be experienced, she says (323, 329-31) in two somewhat different but equally indispensable ways: temporally (unfolding itself in time, with a beginning, middle, and end) and spatially (viewed from a distance as a space full of elements set in relation to each other).

Vendler is, of course, aware of authorial and historical contexts: who the author is, when he or she wrote, and under what circumstances.

But in examining and writing about a poem, she is primarily engaged by the interrelated elements within the particular text itself—its words, families of words, sentences, sounds (alliteration and assonance), rhyme and rhythm, etc. ” so many of us have said over the years, responding to one or another of her brilliant close readings: explications which clarify almost everything.As one can see from what she has to say about many of the poems in her book, not least “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” this focus on close reading is immensely illuminating. ’ It makes readers see aspects of the poem they may not have noticed themselves, in their more cursory reading of the poem, but now see clearly because you have showed them those things” (336). I said “almost everything” by design—as Browning’s Duke says in “My Last Duchess”—because, in her emphasis on the internal dynamics of the individual poem, Vendler omits most external factors.Praising “a good paper,” the sort she wants students to write, Vendler says such a paper “leaves your readers, when they come back to the poem, feeling ‘Oh, yes! She’s perfectly aware of the contexts beyond the poem.chapter, “Writing about Poems,” to Wordsworth’s daffodils poem.As an intrinsic critic, Helen Vendler preaches and practices close reading, or explication.No one who has read it can ever forget the opening of Francis Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review reception of Wordsworth’s long-awaited epic poem, The Excursion.When it finally appeared, in 1814, Jeffrey famously dead-panned, “This will never do.” It’s hard for us to know whether to laugh or to cry; Wordsworth did neither.Quoting another friend well known to Lady Beaumont, he insisted that a “great and original” poet “must create the taste by which he is to be relished; he must teach the art by which he is to be seen.” century, and, after a brief decline in the earlier twentieth century, reemerged in our own time as a monumental figure—widely, if not universally, considered the major poet to have written in English between Milton and Yeats.The friend Wordsworth quoted to Lady Beaumont was, of course, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who inspired, and was inspired by, Wordsworth and who, as a critic, did more than any other single figure to advance the case for Wordsworth as a major poet.But a poet has the right to choose his own subject matter and theme; in “Tintern Abbey,” his focus is on his psychological-imaginative engagement with the landscape.2 Vendler begins her discussion of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” by printing the poem in its final version, accompanied by an imaginary student’s running commentary, noting the poem’s four-beat meter and ababcc rhyme scheme, and raising questions.


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