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A History of Daffodils

Image: Adapted from Canva Pro

At last, spring is here, the meteorological version, at least. For anyone wanting to continue in winter, astronomical spring arrives in the northern hemisphere, with the Spring Solstice on the 20th  of March 2023, leaving three more weeks of winter bliss.

One of the things I am looking forward to in the coming months is seeing waves of daffodils appearing in gardens and grass verges. The flower is sometimes referred to as, ‘Spring’s Trumpet,’ heralding the arrival of a season filled with new life and hope.

The Daffodil was the focus of one of the most famous poems in the English language, Daffodils, by the Romantic poet, William Wordsworth. This poem has carried numerous titles during its history; The Daffodils, Daffodils, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. Wordsworth never gave the poem a title (not uncommon for poetry during his lifetime). Various titles were added by publishers, to identify the poem, in the numerous publications where it appeared.

Daffodils was one of the first poems I learned by heart. I have always had a close affinity to the poem, which is why seeing the flower brings back happy memories.

A Walk Around Ullswater Lake

The origins of Wordsworth’s classic can be traced back to the 15th of April 1802. On that day he was walking with his sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, around Ullswater Lake, in the Lake District. Dorothy, his diarist, took notes as they walked, and recorded his thoughts and observations. In her diary entry for that day, she describes the Thursday as, ‘a threatening misty morning…the wind was furious. She added,

“When we were in the woods beyond Gowborrow Park we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side…But as we went along there was more and more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful.”

Dorothy Wordsworth

From these notes, William Wordsworth went on to write the poem, sometime between 1804 and 1807. The first version of Daffodils, published in 1807, contained only three verses. The original notes of his early drafts show the first line of the poem was written as, ‘I wandered like a lonely’. This was crossed out and replaced with the immortal line, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud.’

When, Daffodils, appeared in Wordsworth’s poetry collection, Poems in Two Volumes, the poem, and the collection, was savagely criticized by fellow poets, including, Lord Byron, who described the language in the poems as, ‘not simple, but puerile.’ Even his close friend, Samuel Coleridge, said the poetry contained, ‘mental bombast.’  

In the following years, Wordsworth made more amendments to Daffodils until the final four-verse version, we know today, was published in 1815.

Time and criticism have caused minimal damage to his classic . In a poll conducted by The Bookworm, in 1995, to discover the UK’s favourite poem, Daffodils was voted the UK’s fifth favourite poem of all time and has become one the best-known verses in the English language.

I often think of Wordsworth’s Daffodils when writing and use its history as a source of motivation and determination. Who knows where our words will end up in years to come? Today’s criticism may be a spur to a future of greater things.

Never Mind The Sonnets

Daffodils is one of the poems featured on my radio show, Never Mind The Sonnets, which airs tonight at 22.00 BST on Northern Quarter Radio. Don’t worry if you can’t listen live as the show is repeated over the following two weeks. Go to my Never Mind The Sonnets page to see the schedule. The show will be available on catch-up early next week. You can click here to hear previous shows.

If you have never heard Wordsworth’s classic poem, I have included a video below for your enjoyment.

Does Spring hold any special memories for you? Please share them in the comments section, I would love to hear what they are.

Enjoy the first weekend in spring.

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