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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.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.
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.
And his inclusion of the date, “July 13, 1798,” one day short of Bastille Day, the anniversary of the outbreak nine years earlier, of the French Revolution, is intriguing since the poem itself says nothing about politics, an absence which is itself not without interest.
Today, though it can still produce an occasional groan, it is generally ranked among Wordsworth’s small triumphs, one of his self-described “simple songs for thinking hearts.” That simplicity is complicated by the fact that, while we rightly consider it one of Wordsworth’s “signature” poems, it bears the signature of more than one Wordsworth; indeed, of more than two.
Yet it remains quintessentially “Wordsworthian,” both intrinsically and thematically.
There was a time, prior to the advent of the modern pioneers of close reading, the so-called “New Critics” of the 1940s and ‘50s, when it was perfectly acceptable for college professors, supposedly discussing with their students such a poem as (to choose an example once cited by the critic Richard Fogle in demonstrating old critical shortcomings) Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” to say little or nothing about how the poem actually “worked.” Instead, they would lecture about the “occasion” of the poem (the tour made by Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy); about the intense personal and literary relationship between the Wordsworths and Coleridge; and about the political context in which the poem was written (the era of the French Revolution, of which Wordsworth and Coleridge were initially ardent enthusiasts).
And then, as class-time was running out, the professor would conclude by saying something like: “as for the poem itself—ah, beautiful, is it not!
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.
Helen Vendler " data-medium-file="https://i0com/numerocinqmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/helenvendler.jpg? fit=300,195" data-large-file="https://i0com/numerocinqmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/helenvendler.jpg? fit=540,351" class=" wp-image-52430 " style="border: 1px solid black;" src="https://i0com/numerocinqmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/helenvendler.jpg?
resize=402,262" alt="helenvendler" width="402" height="262" srcset="https://i0com/numerocinqmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/helenvendler.jpg? w=670 670w, https://i0com/numerocinqmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/helenvendler.jpg? resize=150,97 150w, https://i0com/numerocinqmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/helenvendler.jpg? resize=300,195 300w" sizes="(max-width: 402px) 100vw, 402px" data-recalc-dims="1" / 1 As it happens, the critic and teacher generally recognized as the most acute living exponent and practitioner of intrinsic criticism, Helen Vendler, writes at length about “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” in the third edition of her superb text for college students, Poems, Poets, Poetry.