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]