Suffolk Humanists

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William Wordsworth

Posted by Margaret on Saturday, Apr 24, 2004

William WordsworthThe English poet William Wordsworth began and ended his life in April. He was born on April 17th 1770, and died on April 23rd 1850. In 1843 he was made poet laureate.

Wordsworth is associated with the English Lake District, where he began and ended his life. A lot of his work celebrates the beauty of Nature and the English countryside. The Wordsworth poem I know best is the one about daffodils, which many of my generation were expected to learn by heart at school – “I wandered lonely as a cloud…” and so on. The poem was inspired by Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy, who recorded her impressions of the daffodils in her journal in April 1802.

The trouble with poems like Wordsworth’s Daffodils, and some well-known bits of Shakespeare, is that they’ve become devalued through being force-fed to generations of schoolchildren who didn’t understand them, but recited them in a da-de-dah sort of sing-song voice. Then there’s the bit about lying on his couch, “in vacant or in pensive mood”, which sounds a bit soppy. P G Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster might have been inclined to call anyone who lay about on couches, dreaming about daffodils, “a drooper”, which is how he described Madeleine Basset; “one of those soppy girls riddled from head to foot with whimsy”. So lots of other people, who don’t have much time for poetry, might also be inclined to dismiss Wordsworth’s Daffodils as not their cup of tea. Which is a pity, because if you actually read the whole poem, and think about it, it says something about the value of calmly reflecting on the memory of something beautiful when you’re tired or fed up. How often do you make the time to be alone with your thoughts, and think about something soothing? Or are you one of those people who feels guilty about seeking a bit of peace and quiet, and not doing anything “useful”?

Wordsworth wrote, “Ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance”. That’s a bit different from having a small bunch stuck in a vase, which soon droop like Madeleine Basset. The flowers he saw were a bright splash of yellow, blowing in the wind, against the background of green hills and grey water. I think I’d have remembered them too.

So I’m grateful to William Wordsworth for that poem, amongst others. If you haven’t read any poetry lately, give it a go.

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