Dorothy's daffodils

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. SO reads the first verse of William Wordsworth's famous poem, ``The Daffodils,'' one of the best-loved, most-memorized, and most-frequently-quoted poems in the English language. It is so vivid that you can almost see the poet wandering by himself among the daffodils and writing his impressions on the spot. It may, therefore, come as a surprise to many to learn that Wordsworth was not alone, that he did not write his poem there (or even as soon as he got home), and that his daffodils today lie under a tarmac road, along which I often drive.

Wordsworth was with his sister Dorothy when he saw the daffodils at Gowbarrow, halfway along the shores of Ullswater in the English Lake District, on April 15, 1802. He did not write his poem until two years later, when he largely relied on Dorothy's description of the daffodils, which she had written down straightaway.

She wrote in her journal on that spring day: ``I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.''

When William came to write his poem in 1804, he made use of much of her imagery, as in ``Tossing their heads in sprightly dance'' and ``A poet could not but be gay,/In such jocund company.'' His poem is very much a poetic version of her prose.

But it was not just one poem, for there were two versions, and the popular one first published in 1815 is not the original. In the first (1804) version, Wordsworth wrote ``dancing daffodils,'' and only later did they become ``golden daffodils.'' At first he had his company ``laughing,'' and only afterward were they ``jocund.'' Also, he added a verse, which became the second of the four verses in the final version.

In a new anthology of Lake District poetry, the two versions of ``The Daffodils'' have been put side by side for the first time, so people can compare them easily. You, too, can now dazzle your friends, when they mention the ``Daffodils'' poem, by asking, ``Which `Daffodils'?''

The question has more often been asked about the daffodils themselves, for the ones William and Dorothy saw are not the large daffodils so popular today but small wild ones. These can still be seen along the shores of Ullswater, but not at the point where they saw them. Dorothy was more accurate than she realized when she described them as being ``about the breadth of a country turnpike road,'' for a tarmac road has since covered the spot where they were.

However, not far away, to the south of Gowbarrow and the Dockray Road junction, wild daffodils of the type that inspired the Wordsworths can still be seen between the road and the lake. There may no longer be ``Ten thousand . . . at a glance,'' but many still dance beneath the trees, awaiting the appreciation of modern poets and romantics.

When I saw them, I certainly ``never saw daffodils so beautiful,'' for the lakeshore setting was just as idyllic as Dorothy and William described it, and with all their poetic associations the daffodils there definitely danced and laughed for me in a way that was special and rare. What a privilege, thought I, to be part of such a paradise!

Now, as I contemplate those daffodils, I know something of what Wordsworth experienced when he wrote, two years after first seeing them, this final verse: 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; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils. Andrew Wilson

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