Charles North's Commentary on William Wordsworth's "The Daffodils"
I'm a great fan of Dorothy Wordsworth's journals, which are lovely in themselves and in addition provided source material for some of her famous brother William's poetry -- most famously, his "daffodils" poem that begins, "I wandered lonely as a cloud." Here is the excerpt from Dorothy's journal entry for April 15, 1802, which inspired her brother's poem:
And here is the "daffodils" poem:
Some years ago it occurred to me to write a humorous -- I hope! -- homage to Dorothy that would suggest both my admiration for her and the fact that her brother receives a lot more attention than she does. "For Dorothy Wordsworth" is a prose poem, which actually takes off from another famous British poet whose first name happens to be William: William Butler Yeats. Whereas "I wandered lonely as a cloud" had its origin in Dorothy's nature journal, my prose poem pretends that Yeats's very serious and complicated poem "Sailing to Byzantium" originated in some mundane and irrelevant -- to say the least! -- journal entry written by someone else. That both poets have the same first name was what first gave me the idea for the somewhat wacky connection.
Of course that can't make much sense to a reader who isn't familiar with "Sailing to Byzantium," which is one of Yeats's major works and one of the great twentieth-century poems in English. It is by no means a happy poem. Facing old age, dissatisfied and embittered by a lifetime's personal and political struggles -- notably on behalf of his beloved Ireland -- Yeats used the idea and image of the ancient city of Byzantium (which was later rebuilt as Constantinople and is now Istanbul) to stand for everything his and his country's life had not been: an eternal paradise with art at its center, free of the drives, conflicts, and sheer changeableness of everyday living. It's a very moving poem that reflects Yeats's frustrations together with his profound wish for some lasting peace and satisfaction.
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