I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud: Imagery & Themes

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  • 0:01 William Wordsworth and…
  • 0:48 First Stanza
  • 2:23 Second Stanza
  • 3:35 Third & Fourth Stanzas
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Davis

Richard teaches college writing and has a master's degree in creative writing.

'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' is one of William Wordsworth's most memorable poems. What makes it memorable, though? In this lesson, we'll analyze the poem stanza by stanza, gaining a deeper understanding of its imagery and thematic power.

William Wordsworth and Romanticism

Before we dive into our discussion of 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,' let's get to know the poet William Wordsworth. In 1798, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Wordsworth published a collection titled Lyrical Ballads, launching the Romantic movement in English literature. Romantic literature is emotionally expressive or lyrical and centered around humanity's relationship with the natural world.

'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' first appeared in 1807 in a collection titled Poems in Two Volumes. In 1815, Wordsworth published a revised version of the poem. For this lesson, we will examine the revised version, as it contains more precise language and an additional stanza.

The First Stanza

Now, let's begin our analysis of the poem, keeping our eyes open to any imagery and themes we encounter. Although the term 'imagery' contains the word 'image,' it doesn't just refer to language that makes a picture in the reader's mind. To put it simply, imagery is language that stimulates the senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, or even touch) in some way. Also, when we're looking for themes in poetry, we're just looking for the thoughts, feelings, and ideas that hold poems together.

Let's start with the first stanza:

'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 golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.'

Almost immediately, we are given a wealth of imagery. We can see the 'vales and hills' through which the speaker wanders, as well as the 'host' of daffodils that cover the landscape. We can feel the breeze that makes the flowers move, and, if you're familiar with the scent of daffodils, we may even smell the flowers.

As far as theme goes, the words that jump out right away are 'lonely' and 'crowd.' In the first line, we learn that the speaker is drifting in a (figurative) cloud of solitude. Yet, when he encounters the beauty of the natural world, he is anything but lonely. The 'crowd' of daffodils certainly seems to be having a good time, and the speaker can't help but participate in that joy, as we'll see in the coming stanzas.

The Second Stanza

Now, onto the second stanza, which was added to the revised edition of the poem in 1815:

'Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.'

Much like the first stanza, the second stanza is driven by imagery. It builds upon the idea of the daffodils as a 'crowd,' comparing the field of flowers to the stars in the night sky. In fact, as the words 'continuous' and 'never-ending' suggest, we get the sense that there seems to be an 'infinite' number of daffodils in the 'crowd.' This feeling of infinity is enhanced by the statement 'Ten thousand saw I at a glance,' which implies that there are many, many more flowers outside the speaker's field of vision.

What about theme, then? Once again, we see the poem's speaker moving away from loneliness into a sense of community. In this stanza, however, the stakes are even higher. The speaker is no longer simply aware of the daffodils' movement. He is aware of the vastness of the natural world, seeing how even small golden flowers can imitate the flow of the stars.

The Third and Fourth Stanzas

Because the third and fourth stanzas of the poem work together closely, let's look at both of them at once:

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