'I wandered lonely as a Cloud'

The story behind the creation of William Wordsworth's most famous poem, also known as 'Daffodils'.

Wordsworth Grasmere

Daffodils by Ullswater (2007) by Wordsworth GrasmereWordsworth Grasmere

15 April 1802

On a stormy day in April 1802, brother and sister William and Dorothy Wordsworth were surprised by the beauty of a long stretch of wild daffodils along the shores of Ullswater in the Lake District, Cumbria.

It was a threatening misty morning', extract from Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal (19th Century) by Dorothy WordsworthWordsworth Grasmere

Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere journal, 15 April 1802

Dorothy later described the encounter in her journal. 
Dorothy's Grasmere journal, written at Dove Cottage between 1800 and 1803, has been published and is considered to be a great literary work. It is included in the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register. 

'Daffodils'

After describing the day's 'furious' wind  and a variety of flowers sighted on their walk, Dorothy writes: 'When we were in the woods beyond Gow-barrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side'.

'more & yet more'

Dorothy continues, writing that as she and William 'went along there were more & yet more' daffodils along the shore. 

& at last', extract from Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal (19th Century) by Dorothy WordsworthWordsworth Grasmere

'A long belt'

On the following page, Dorothy describes their discovery of 'a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road.'

'I never saw daffodils...' Reading of extract from Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere journal
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'I never saw daffodils so beautiful'

'I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the Lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway.’    

First two stanzas of 'I wandered lonely as a Cloud' by William Wordsworth, first edition (1807) by William WordsworthWordsworth Grasmere

1804-1807

Two years later, William wrote his poem. It was published in his 1807 Poems, in Two Volumes, as seen here. It is thought that he returned to Dorothy's journal entry in the writing of the poem.

The poem reimagines the experience that William shared with Dorothy in 1802: both describe 'dancing' and 'laughing' daffodils. However, in the poem, William walks alone – 'lonely as a Cloud'. 

First three stanzas of 'I wandered lonely as a Cloud' by William Wordsworth, revised version (1815) by William WordsworthWordsworth Grasmere

1815

Wordsworth republished the poem in 1815. This new version includes  revisions and an additional verse, and is the one most popularly known today. 

1815

In the revised version, the daffodils are ‘golden' rather than 'dancing'.

1815

The extra verse is added here. 

1815

The daffodils are also now 'jocund' rather than 'laughing'. 

Final stanza of 'I wandered lonely as a Cloud' by William Wordsworth, revised version (1815) by William WordsworthWordsworth Grasmere

1815


In notes made later, Wordsworth acknowledged Mary, his wife, for her contribution of ‘the best lines’: 

'They flash upon that inward eye 
Which is the bliss of solitude' 

Wild Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) (2012) by Wordsworth GrasmereWordsworth Grasmere

Now one of the most famous poems in the English language, 'I wandered lonely as a Cloud' is known all over the world.  

Daffodils by Ullswater (2007) by Wordsworth GrasmereWordsworth Grasmere

'I wandered lonely as a Cloud' by William Wordsworth
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