Winter is a pain in my neck. The cold starts out as a shiver, and turns into an acute ache – arthritis maybe? Strangely enough, I can never remember what injury might have started my hatred of winter. I just know that it hurts, and like a whipped dog I am constantly trying to avoid the pain. I spend long winters holed up in the house, relying on sunshine beaming through the window as my connection to nature. It is a poor substitute.
When I was a child, my connection to nature was more automatic. My mother forced me to go play outside, even when it was cold. I remember one winter in particular when I was six. I was building a snow fort with my older sister. The snow was damp and slightly sticky – just perfect for rolling into balls. We worked together on the fort for a few hours, lifting the crudely constructed pieces up and patting them together. Eventually my sister got cold and abandoned our mission. I have always been a stubborn creature, so I was determined that I could finish it by myself. I continued to pack snow together until my mittens finally soaked through and the cold started to seep into my fingers. Frustrated, I decided to lie down in the half finished snow fort and look at the clouds for a while.
The sun beamed down on me, warming my face and…I jerked awake. I was probably only asleep for minutes, but it felt like days. I sat upright and realized that I couldn’t feel my feet. Every time I moved it felt like I was walking on a bed of nails. I walked up the three flights of stairs to our apartment slowly, mechanically. It was all I could do to keep moving as my useless stumps tried to plunge me to my doom. I wiped the now-fluid snot off my raw nose with one wet mittened hand and held tightly to the banister with the other.
My mother met me at the door. She watched me shiver once, and decided that I needed a hot bath. As I was pulling off the endless layers, I caught my face in the mirror just long enough to register that my lips were the same color as grape Otter Pops. I smiled and then jumped into the tub, splashing water all over the rug (I was never one to dip my toes in first). The heat jolted through me; my feet burned like flames and were almost the same color.
Despite the cold, I was back outside the next day working on the snow fort and enjoying the brief moments of sunshine. I played in the finished fort every day until I came home from school and it was reduced to a pile of gray slush. Sometimes I long for the deep connection to nature that I used to have before responsibility and the aches and pains of adulthood got in the way. When I was a child nature was a gift and a joy, not a thing to be endured. In his poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” Wordsworth is presenting nature as exactly that – a gift – particularly a squandered one.
Wordsworth starts out the poem by removing himself from the equation briefly. He throws nature out into the forefront and makes the audience take notice:
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze. (Wordsworth, 351)
Clouds, Vales, Hills, Lake and Daffodils are capitalized in order to show their importance. They are the main characters in this poem, the person. He furthers this image by using the words crowd and host, which assigns human characteristics to things that are normally thought of as a non-entity. Wordsworth is simply the watchful father painting the scene, and making your eye highlight on the objects of most importance. As a naturalist, he believes that Nature is life affirming as well as sustaining. It is of utmost importance.
Wordsworth further plays with the image of the Daffodils in his lyrical style: “The waves beside them danced, but they/ Outdid the sparkling waves in glee:–“(351). He wants you to take notice of his beautiful happy Daffodils and feel the pull to dance along with them. These powerful images make it impossible to idly peruse the poem and then go about your life. Instead, the poem inspires joy and the urge to go running through a field of flowers like a child. This is the point – Wordsworth wants to show that happiness can be found in a return to the childlike wonder of nature.
The poem gets a bit philosophical and introspective in the second and third stanzas. Wordsworth says:
I gaz’d – and gaz’d – but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude, (351).
He is looking back on this experience wandering outdoors and realizing how much enjoyment he got out of it. It is as if he didn’t realize until that moment how important nature is to his happiness and well being. He is only able to discover it in retrospect. Wordsworth is saying that a connection to nature can cure a “pensive” mood. Even the memory of experiencing it’s beauty is good for the soul.
The poem ends with, “And then my heart with pleasure fills,/ And dances with the Daffodils (Wordsworth 351). Wordsworth is not saying that his heart literally jumps out of his chest and dances about. Instead he is saying that while he is thinking about these beautiful Daffodils, he has a moment of pure joy. This kind of passion is not something he is able to keep to himself, he wants everyone to experience it. Nature inspires Wordsworth, and he hopes to inspire others to re-discover their lost connection to it through this poem.
I discovered this hidden meaning in Wordsworth while I was sitting in the house in front of a glowing Ipad screen. The irony was blaring. A million happy memories from childhood came flooding back of summers spent barefoot running through the neighborhood, and water skippers caught in ponds. It took a long dead poet to show me the error of my ways. Wordsworth describes the Daffodils in a way that makes their fragrance hang in the air in the middle of winter. He inspired me to grab coats and kids and head outside to run – pain be damned.