Always Stop to Smell the Roses
Rachel Daly

Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, "And all the loveliest things there be come simply, so it seems to me." This aphorism clearly accents the meaning of William Wordsworth’s poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." In his work, the speaker reminisces about a past experience in which he saw a beautiful multitude of daffodils swaying in the breeze. As he recollects this scene, the speaker gradually realizes the true beauty he had found that day. Often, some of the simplest things in life go unnoticed and untouched, when, in reality, they are the most precious. Consequently, it is not until after these extraordinary things are gone forever that their significance is truly understood. Through careful choice of similes, personification, and diction, William Wordsworth clearly expresses that it is the simple things in life, such as Nature, that is so important.

One element Wordsworth incorporates in his poem to signify the necessity of simplicity in one’s life is the simile. The speaker begins his recollection with the emptiness he holds inside as he "wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o’er vales and hills" (Wordsworth 1-2). This simile symbolizes the speaker’s yearning for something more fulfilling as he wanders through life. Often, clouds become separated from the rest and are left to wander aimlessly through the sky until they find more clouds to fulfill their emptiness. Wordsworth chooses a cloud to echo the speaker’s state because, like a cloud, the speaker perhaps feels separated from everything in life and is simply floating through the patches of daffodils without a destination or purpose in hopes that someday he will discover fulfillment. Yet, it is in these patches of daffodils and simplicity that the speaker can find purpose and happiness. Wordsworth’s choice of an object from Nature to compare to the speaker is ironic because it is the very aspects of such things as Nature that Wordsworth suggests that the reader grasp onto for strength and peace. It is the serene atmosphere of Nature that gives the soul strength and allows one to reflect on life and gain inner harmony. By not acknowledging this gift at the time, the speaker now deeply regrets his blindness, but is thankful that he at least has the memory of this breathtaking experience. Also, Perkins notes that during his interaction with the beautiful scene, the speaker (as the cloud) is the only object unaffected by the breeze as expressed in the poem (194). This acknowledgment echoes the speaker’s ignorance to the radiance and beauty of the scene at that time and displays the importance of never taking such sweet and delightful things for granted. Later, the speaker expresses how the daffodils are "Continuous as the stars that shine / And twinkle on the Milky Way" (Wordsworth 10-11) because of the sparkling abundance he sees. Through another distinct simile, Wordsworth illuminates the importance of the appreciation of the simple things in life by comparing the mere daffodils to the vast stars in the heavens. Once again by relating to another part of Nature, Wordsworth cleverly highlights the significance of Nature and other such simple things in that they are much more affecting than one usually expects. According to Brennan, associating the shining profusion of stars with the flowers evokes a certain cause of sublimity: magnificence (141). Wordsworth clearly uses this sublime magnificence to illustrate that simplicity, such as in ordinary daffodils, is just as grand and fulfilling as something profound as the stars. With powerful and creative similes, Wordsworth brilliantly enforces the importance of absorbing every aspect of life, especially the simple things.

In order to accentuate the emphasis of absorbing even the seemingly insignificant occurrences of life, Wordsworth ingeniously incorporates personification into "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." As he gets his first glimpse of the daffodils, the speaker recollects that they were "Fluttering and dancing in the breeze" (Wordsworth 6) as if they were celebrating some joyous occasion. As he thoughtfully reminisces, the daffodils enchant the speaker with their carefree spirit and happy dance. By personifying the daffodils, Wordsworth brings the flowers up to a level of humanity, therefore, causing the speaker to see truly that such small and simple things could be extremely beneficial to his future happiness. Moreover, the speaker recalls how the flowers stretched in never-ending line (Wordsworth 9) while "Tossing their heads in sprightly dance" (Wordsworth 12). The way Wordsworth humanizes the daffodils not only brings to life their intensity and radiance but also brings to life the speaker’s realization that all that he is lacking has always been right in front of him at his fingertips. He has been missing the experience of life with all the emotion, tenderness, and passion that band it together. So with his discovery after contemplating the daffodils, the speaker is no longer alone and is able at last to join them, to perceive in them those passions and volitions which in his loneliness he had temporarily lost (Ferry 10). Even the "waves beside [the daffodils had] danced," but the speaker expresses nothing could ever surpass the flowers (Wordsworth 13). Masterfully, Wordsworth shows the alluring power of something majestic and tranquil and emphasizes how vital it is to allow one’s heart to discover and to appreciate the simple things in life, especially Nature’s quiet and subtle gifts. Hence, Wordsworth expresses this importance perfectly as the speaker’s "heart with pleasure fills, / And dances with the daffodils" (23-24). The speaker finally realizes that the simplest of things give his soul life and happiness. Furthermore, it is not at first glance of the breathtaking scene but upon later recollecting the characteristics of Nature in the scene that the speaker realizes the importance of his experience. The speaker’s late realization cautions the reader especially to absorb the tiniest of things because they are often filled with even greater pleasure. Through powerful personification, Wordsworth displays the loveliness of simplicity and the significance in choosing to appreciate those small, precious moments of life.

Another way Wordsworth chooses to symbolize the rewarding inner benefits of the simple aspects of life is through clear and precise diction. Many often argue that Wordsworth "employs very little of what is called poetic diction, [. . .] therefore, stripping poetry at once of half her plumage, and condemning her to skim along the vale and never dive into the depths of the sublime" (American Review 389). Further, they criticize Wordsworth’s usage of common, everyday language that "may be read by the simplest swain without difficulty" (Academic Review 389). However, "poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," urges William Wordsworth, and "such a language, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who [. . .] indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression" (Wordsworth, "Preface" 388). It is tremendously ironic that so many criticize Wordsworth’s simplicity in his poetry, such as in "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," because it is from this simplicity that the reader may truly recognize, as the speaker does, that the most important things in life to cling to are often those of simplicity and beauty. Some of the simplistic diction Wordsworth uses to illustrate this significance describes the daffodils. As he recreates the encounter in his mind, the speaker compares the daffodils to a "crowd" and a "host" (Wordsworth 3-4), therefore signifying not only the huge multitude before him, but foreshadowing the alluring effect they will have upon him afterwards. Furthermore, Wordsworth adds the touch of "golden" (4) to the speaker’s reflection of the daffodils to accentuate the almost perfect, irresistible beauty of the flowers. Ferry explains that the "golden" highlight in the daffodils represents the material gold the speaker thinks he needs in order to fulfill his emptiness (11). However, it is not until after the golden scene is gone that the speaker realizes what "wealth" (Wordsworth 18) he has been given by that simple scene (Ferry 11). The speaker receives the priceless gift of peace and joy. In the daffodils, he finds a place that he may always retreat to for happiness and comfort. As Wordsworth displays the daffodils’ charm and beauty, he also emphasizes their population with such words as "Continuous" (7), "never-ending" (9), and "Ten thousand" (11). These strong, detailed descriptions symbolize the lasting impact the daffodils have on the speaker despite his ignorance to them at the time. Finally, Wordsworth’s perfect description of the speaker’s "reflective and restorative memory" (Salvesen 75), that "inward eye" (21), brilliantly announces the speaker’s deep sentiment for the majestic and tranquil scene he had witnessed. The speaker realizes his "bliss of solitude" (Wordsworth 22) is the simple, small things in life, and finally his "heart with pleasure fills, / And dances with the daffodils" (Wordsworth 23-24). His slow realization emphasizes how easy it is to look over such simplicity, but stresses much more the importance of recognizing rather than ignoring it. Thus, with Wordsworth’s moving diction the importance of holding the small things in life dear to one’s heart is clearly expressed.

In his poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," William Wordsworth uses illuminating figurative elements, such as similes, personification, and diction, to stress how absolutely important the simple things in life truly are. All too often, the way the sun sheds its rays upon a flower’s petals, or the beautiful way the breeze touches the ripples in a stream goes unnoticed, untouched, and unappreciated. People become so overwhelmed in their busy schedules and routines that they forget to stop and smell the roses. Like Wordsworth’s speaker, many begin to think that the happiness and satisfaction they need in life is through such things as material wealth, success, or social rank. Ironically, the path to happiness and fulfillment is right before them in every breath they take. Wordsworth expresses through his powerful figurative devices to see the warmth, the beauty, and the life of such simple things as daffodils before they are gone forever, as opposed to only "their habit of growing in clumps, their color, and their characteristic movement when stirred by the wind" (Pottle 6). Wordsworth communicates through his work the importance of getting the most out of life, of being passionate and sentimental about past experiences, and most importantly, absorbing every single drop of life one meets, especially that of the simple, small things. After all, as Rose Kennedy once said, "Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments."

Works Cited

          Brennan, Matthew C. "Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’" Explicator 57 
                (1999): 140-143.

          Ferry, David. The Limits of Mortality: An Essay on Wordsworth’s Major Poems. Middletown,
                CT: Wesleyan, 1959.

          "Lyrical Ballads." Academic Review and Literary Journal 2 (1802): 118-119. Rpt. in
                Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism.
Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Cherie E.
                Abbey. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986. 389.

           Perkins, David. Wordsworth and the Poetry of Sincerity. Cambridge: Belknap, 1964.

           Pottle, Frederick A. "They Eye and the Object in the Poetry of Wordsworth."
                Wordsworth: Centenary Studies Presented at Cornell and Princeton Universities by Douglas
                Bush and Others
(1951): 23-42. Rpt. in <>.

           Salvesen, Christopher. The Landscape of Memory: A Study of Wordsworth’s Poetry. Lincoln:
                 U of Nebraska P, 1965.

           Wordsworth, William. "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." The Bedford Introduction to
                 Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing.
5th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston:
                 Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 1127.

           —. "Preface." Lyrical Ballads. By William Wordsworth. 1957. 111-133. Rpt. in
                 Nineteenth-Century Criticism.
Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Cherie D. Abbey.
                 Detroit: Gale Research, 1986. 388-389.

Rachel Daly, at the time of this writing a junior majoring in Early Childhood Education, is the author of "Stop and Smell the Roses." It was written for Dr. Barbara Murray’s ENGL 1102 class during Spring 2001 semester.