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What Inspired Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, What his Most Famous Poem is Really Called & how you can Catch a Glimpse of the Famous Flowers for Yourself

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05 October 2018 08:55

Revealed: the Inspiration Behind Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, its Real Name & Where you can see Them

‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ is William Wordsworth’s most famous poem and the actual title of what is often referred to simply as ‘daffodils’. Although daffodils do feature heavily in the poem, that’s not what it’s called. It’s a bit like referring to ‘Jaws’ as ‘shark’.

As obvious as it may sound, the poem was inspired by some daffodils Wordsworth encountered on a walk with his sister, Dorothy. The now-immortalised walk took place in 1802 around lake Ullswater near Penrith in Cumbria’s Eden Valley, on the way back from Pooley Bridge to Grasmere.

When they got to Glencoyne Bay, the Wordsworth siblings encountered a huge swathe of wild daffodils in the woodland by the shore. They seemed to dance in the breeze. The pair found it remarkable that so many daffodils were congregated in one place seemingly not planted by man, they imagined the flowers’ bulbs had been washed ashore in an act of beautiful serendipity.

Seeing this stirred something in Wordsworth and prompted him penning the poem.  

Fancy seeing Wordsworth’s Lake District daffodils for yourself?

Whether you want to try and capture some of the inspiration that led to one of the nation’s favourite and most enduring poems or just want to see what all the fuss is about, getting to the famous site is relatively straightforward.

Glencoyne Bay is along the most westerly side of Ullswater, its central point is just over 1 mile north of Glenridding up the A592, and just under 2 miles southeast from Aira Force waterfall following the same road. From Pooley Bridge, the middle of Glencoyne Bay is just under 7 miles to the east, also following the A592. Travelling from Penrith or elsewhere, our handy guide on getting from Penrith to Ullswater should cover all bases.

The best time to visit Glencoyne Bay, if you want to see the daffodils that moved Wordsworth to poetry, is during Spring. The time between February and May is best, though we wouldn’t discourage you from visiting outside those months, however, the daffodils may be less prominent or not there at all. Luckily, there’s a lot more to the area than just daffodils.

If you get bored of looking wistfully at flowers, hoping for some silvery words to come to mind, then there are other things you can do around Glencoyne Bay.

As mentioned already, Glencoyne Bay is a part of Ullswater. Some things you can do to occupy yourself around Glencoyne Bay include:

  • Aira Force Waterfall - just up the road from Wordsworth’s daffodils, climbing up to the top of the waterfall itself will reveal more views of Victorian-landscaped Gowbarrow Park and the daffodils below. The waterfall itself isn’t bad either.
  • Ride on the Ullswater Steamers - nearby Glenridding and Aira Force both serve as boarding points for the Ullswater Steamers where you can travel to a number of different points around Ullswater and get exhilarating views of the surrounding fells from the water.
  • Take a dip - if you’re an experienced enough swimmer, Glencoyne Bay is an ideal place for a spot of wild swimming. Just be sure to watch out for the steamers and other boats.
  • Have a picnic - weather permitting, Glencoyne Bay is filled with idyllic picnic spots where you can take in enchanting views of Ullswater and the surrounding scenery.

If there’s anything you think we’ve missed that you enjoy doing around Glencoyne Bay, please let us know.

Who was William Wordsworth?

Finding out why he wrote ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ is all well and good, but was he just a one hit wonder?

Quite the contrary.

William Wordsworth was a British poet that’s still revered to this day. Born in 1770 in Cockermouth, just outside his beloved Lake District. He was, in part, responsible for kickstarting the Romantic movement in English literature.

Wordsworth left Cumbria to study at Cambridge University, and subsequently travelled the UK and Europe for 12 years. After returning to Cumbria in 1799 he, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and other contemporaries, made up a group known as the Lake Poets. The Lake Poets, as you might expect, were a group of poets in the early 19th century who lived in and drew inspiration from the English Lake District.

On his return to Cumbria, Wordsworth took up residence in Dove Cottage, Grasmere, which is still a popular tourist attraction to this day. He continued to write poetry throughout his life, poring over huge 14-book poem ‘The Prelude’ which was released posthumously in 1853 and is generally considered to be his opus. In 1843, he was named Poet Laureate and held the distinction until his death.

What does ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ mean?

We’re sure you all know the poem, but just in case some of the lines are eluding you, here’s a refresher:

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.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

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.

So, as mentioned earlier on in the post, Wordsworth was inspired to write the poem after coming across a surprising number of daffodils in woodland near the shore of Ullswater on the way back to his Grasmere home with his sister. But clearly, this made him think of more than just the daffodils. Otherwise, the poem might have been much shorter and less well-remembered, something like:

On a walk with Dorothy today,
we saw some daffodils
near Glencoyne Bay.

Boring, isn’t it? You won’t remember that tomorrow never mind in 200 odd years.

Luckily, the daffodils were a stimulus for further thought for Wordsworth, and he was able to look beyond the yellow flowers to find more meaning.

Written during Britain’s industrial revolution, the poem serves as something of a reminder that humanity is a part of nature and not an opposing force.

Wordsworth makes this clear from the very opening stanza, where he compares himself to a completely unaware and integrated part of nature, a cloud.

He, in turn, gives sentience to the daffodils, personifying them by describing them as a ‘crowd’ and ‘dancing, terms which are usually reserved for people or at least animals. By doing this he closes the manmade gap between humans and nature, switching their places momentarily.

In the last stanza, when Wordsworth writes:

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.

He is fondly remembering the daffodils that compelled him so on his walk, finding pleasure and comfort in nature. Finding pleasure and comfort in nature is something we can wholeheartedly get behind at Absolute Escapes, that sentiment captured so simply and elegantly by Wordsworth over 200 years ago is why we love Ullswater, the Lake District and Cumbria, and why so many people visit every year.

Ready to make a daffodil pilgrimage?

Absolute Escapes has a number of picturesque, self-catering holiday cottages near Ullswater, have a look and see which takes your fancy.

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