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.

16 thoughts on “A History of Daffodils

  1. I’ve never heard of the concept of meteorological seasons until the past six months or so. All coming from British or Australian bloggers. I’m not sure that title is much in use in the US. Although most people I Know probably consider December a winter month.

    1. I think it’s another weird British invention, Jeff. Weather people created a meteorological calendar so they could compare seasons, like for like, to establish weather patterns. I prefer going with the solstice method. Nature is more trustworthy, don’t you think?

  2. What an interesting history of the poem. Love what you note that criticism might spur future greatness. And great to know about your radio show. Thanks for that pointer!

    1. A pleasure, Wynne. I enjoy finding the back stories to some of these classic pieces of literature. They show even the greatest of writers went through the same trials and tribulations we experience as writers.

    1. And a happy spring to you, Brenda. March always has the possibility of snow and we are going to get freezing temperatures again. No doubt followed by a March heatwave 😂. The joys of British weather. Have a good weekend.

  3. Love the perspective and history Davy. Plants and flowers run from me. They know a killer when they see one. When I think of daffodils, though, I always think of my mother and her love of spring and getting outside in her garden. She doesn’t garden much anymore but as a kid I would watch her go outside in the early evening and not come inside until it was dark. It was her playtime!

    1. Thanks Brian, and I am pleased the post brought back those happy memories. My wife has the golden touch in our garden. I just sweep and dig the holes. I am in the same killer category as yourself when it comes to gardening. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      1. I believe you mentioned working in the past in law enforcement. Should I be worried about being a plant/flower killer? Should I expect a visit soon from the police/local sheriff after my latest plant debacle? Ha, ha. My wife told me that now that she’s back to work (her arm) and I work from home, she expects me to water her plants. She didn’t like when I let out a big laugh!!!!

      2. You have a good memory, Brian, which is a major trait of many plant killers 😂😂. You can buy things that water your plants automatically these days. Just in case, I have dropped a line to your local sheriff’s office. You never know 😎. Have a good Sunday.

  4. So lovely – and I learned so much! Thank you, Davy. His sister, Dorothy’s description of a ‘long belt’ of daffodils so perfectly describes a natural array that we see around our neighborhood in the spring. As if they were never planted but sprinkled beneath trees. Thanks, too, for sharing about your radio show. What a talent you are! 😊

    1. Thank you for those kind words, Victoria, they are most appreciated. I love the picture you have painted of the daffodils in your neighborhood. You are right about how they appear to be sprinkled. They show up in the strangest of places. Have a great weekend.

  5. Several years to perfect a poem – very inspiring. It is a beautiful one, a lovely tribute to daffodils. I wish I had a sister who would take down notes for me. Lol. Make writing life much easier. I hope the spring brings much warmth and inspiration. Enjoy the days ahead, Davy. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Terveen, I am glad you enjoyed the poem and the story behind it. Dorothy Wordsworth was an interesting writer. Her journals and diaries give another insight into the works of her brother, William. There has always been suggestions that she contributed to many of his famous poems. Have a good Sunday.

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