Dancing with the Daffodils

Many years ago, before I fell ill, I lived near a college in the centre of town. The campus was built at the top of a hill and the main road ran along the bottom. Between the two was a steep, grassy slope, that was lined with trees. It brought a welcome splash of colour to the middle of the town and every day as I passed, I’d watch the hillside change from vibrant green in summer, to muddy brown in autumn and frosty white in winter.

Unseen beneath the soil for most of the year, lay hundreds of dormant daffodil bulbs just waiting for spring. Their number seemed to increase each successive year, spreading further and further across the grass and it amazed me to think that many of the people passing by were oblivious to the beauty I knew to be hidden there. Every year, as February turned to March, I would smile in anticipation that in a matter of weeks, the hillside would burst to life with flowers that nodded their heads in the sun.

Of all the places in town I can no longer go now I’m chronically ill, those daffodils are the sight that I long for the most. I never quite appreciated how much joy those flowers brought until they were long since gone from my sight. But every spring, as the days grow longer and the weather turns, I find that often, when I’m alone, the image of those flowers flashes in my mind and I sit and watch the memories dance.

A few weeks ago, work finally began on a long-awaited bypass that will cut across the fields behind my house. Last week, as I watched yellow-clad workmen battle gale-force winds to mark out the route, I was struck how much those clumps of far-off figures reminded me of daffodils swaying in the breeze. The splashes of vivid colour against the green grass of the field brought to mind a poem:

“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;”*

Now, I have a confession to make, because although ‘Daffodils’ by Wordsworth was voted in a BBC poll as being the nation’s fifth favourite poem, I have never really liked it. They must be some of the most quoted lines in English literature, but hearing the opening stanza repeatedly as a child, I never understood what all the fuss was about.

So a guy goes for a walk and sees some pretty flowers. Not content to just tell his family when he gets home like any normal person would, he immortalises his day in a poem to be inflicted on generations of uninterested school-children for decades to come.

It wasn’t so much that there was anything wrong with the poem; it’s just there were dozens of other poems I felt to be far more profound and deserving of admiration.

And then a few weeks ago, the local home-library service delivered me a book of ‘poems to learn by heart’ and sure enough, ‘Daffodils’ was one of them. I was about to skip past it to the next poem, when I noticed it was several verses longer than I’d imagined it to be; I’d heard the opening stanza many hundreds of times, but had never actually read it all the way to the end.

So this time I did. And there turns out to be much more to ‘Daffodils’ than I gave Wordsworth credit for. It isn’t just a poem about a bloke who sees some flowers when he’s out for a walk, it’s describes how it’s only with hidsight that we appreciate the true value of our experiences; a sentiment I identify very strongly with since becoming housebound.

On the day of his walk, Wordsworth “gazed and gazed” at those flowers, “but little thought what wealth the show to [him] had brought”*. Only much later, when the flowers had long since gone from his sight, did he truly appreciated the joy they had brought him, just as it took myself being housebound to realise the joy the flowers had brought to me.

I often imagine some far off day, when I’ll walk that main road with the flowers in bloom and see their yellow faces dance in the sun. I sometimes wish friends in that part of town might post photos of the flowers on Facebook one spring,  but I know that their photos could ever be as vivid as the flowers in my mind.

As I sit on the sofa alone, watching yellow-clad workers stand in clumps in the fields, I smile at the memories that flash into my mind, while the words of William Wordsworth help keep me company.

 “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.”*


*[All italicised words are quotes from ‘Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth]

This entry was posted in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Dancing with the Daffodils

  1. quiall says:

    I tried, I really tried to send you a picture of daffodils in a field with trees. It didn’t work. It would make a lovely screen saver.

    • Thank you for the thought anyway. I discovered last year that if I sit with my face pressed against the livingroom window to look out at just the right angle there is a little clump of daffodils at the base of a nearby tree just visible from my flat so I shall be looking out for those again this year.

  2. Miss P says:

    I lived in a city growing up & used to love walking the 15 mins to the river which was quiet & beautiful & I loved seeing the sun reflect on the river & it gave the gravel path a warm glow. It isn’t accessible by car & I really miss it now that I can’t walk very far & I look forward to the day that I can walk along the river again. I have a soft-spot for Daffodils as they tend to mark the start of spring & that’s such a lovely time of year (& my birthday too!). I may add a bunch of Daffodils to my shopping basket next time I do an online grocery shop. Thanks for your post. x =) x

    • What a good idea – a may have to order a bunch with my own shopping as well. Your river walk sounds beautiful. I live within sight of a canal (the path to which is sadly not wheelchair accessible) and on sunny days I often picture myself walking along the tow path, watching the boats and seeing the sun glint on the water.

  3. E. Milo says:

    Damn, Sarah, you are such a good writer. Beautiful post, beautifully constructed, beautiful sentiment. Thank you. 🙂

    • Thank you so much. I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in reading me ramble about poetry but sometimes a post just wants to be written.

      • E. Milo says:

        It wasn’t just a ramble, though! It was a gorgeously constructed, poignant essay and the quote at the end choked me up. I, too, dream of seeing certain things again (mostly the ocean, Dublin streets, my nieces and nephews), but you avoided sentimentality by staying so simple- flowers. One day! Have hope!

  4. Pepper says:

    Excellent post. Did you catch that you are experiencing the “bliss of solitude” in being homebound. You are actually living this poem, quite literally too! What a blessing that is – not just hearing the words but living them!

    • That was what really struck me about the poem. Sometimes my solitude doesn’t feel much of a blessing as it is due to unfortunate circumstance rather than choice. It is good to be reminded that even negative things can have a good side if we choose to let them. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Chris says:

    What a great post… Sometimes it’s hard to remember the beauty that’s out there when being house-bound, I’ve found I have lost a lot of admiration for so much of what’s out there… But how can you admire what you don’t see anymore!!! It’s so nice for you to remember these Daffodils, something most people wouldn’t even take a second glance at… i really enjoyed reading this…

    • I agree that it is easy to lose admiration for things that cease to be part of your world when life becomes limited through illness. When I was at my sickest, unable even to have the curtains open to enjoy the view, I completely lost any connection with the outside world and forgot about many ‘normal’ things like flowers or seasons that other people took for granted. I am slowly trying to get that connection back and rediscover some of the memories and experiences I lost. Thank you for commenting.

  6. Claire says:

    Thank you for a lovely article!

  7. That poem was inflicted on me in my schooldays too and I’ve never thought too highly of it, maybe I’ll have to give it another chance now! Beautiful post. 🙂

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