Wordsworth's Daffodils Reconsidered
By Julian Scutts
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" Viewed in Various Perspectives
Frederick Pottle's article "The Eye and the Object in the Poetry of Wordsworth". serves as a starting platform for discussion. This critic focuses on the differences between the poet's account of his lake-side walk and Dorothy Wordsworth's description of the original event which inspired this poem; he concludes that the poem owes nothing of aesthetic value to the real life event by which it was instigated. This view can be challenged as the poem's tension and effects rely on an opposition between awareness of the physical world on one hand and on the other, the realm of the mind in general and the realm of the poetic imagination in particular. Pottle compares the description of daffodils to an earlier treatment of this theme by Herrick and recalls the ancient legend of Narcissus and its mythical association with the flower. The present article also takes account of A. E. Housman's "Lent Lily" with its foundation in folklore influenced by Christian belief. Thus the theme of the poem suggests a possible intermingling of Classical and Christian allusions. The privileged location of the "wandered" (cf. the Wanderer in The Excursion) is consonant with the prominent use of the word "Wanderer" in Goethe's poetry, for Goethe exercised a great influence on Coleridge and, less conspicuously, on Wordsworth. However "wandered" also recalls uses of the word "to wander" in Milton's Paradise Lost, a work which served Wordsworth a source of inspiration for The Prelude. The word "wandered" in concert with the poem in which it is so prominently set, marks therefore the convergence of traditional and contemporaneous influences in keeping with Ferdinand de Saussure's distinction between the synchronic and diachronic axes of language. The article applies, in suitably modified form, the mode of exegesis at four levels employed by Dante when interpreting the Biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt as the most basic of all allegories, a mode which could also be adapted generally to the interpretation of literary texts, particularly those that describe an excursion or journey. The sustained metaphor of a pilgrimage is explicit in the case of The Prelude, as M.H. Abrams and others have established. In "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" it is implicit only in the structure and verbal configurations of the poem itself.
Frederick Pottle's Reflections on "I wandered Lonely as a Cloud"
One difference between a gardener's comments on daffodils over the neighbour's fence and Wordsworth's description of these flowers in "I wandered lonely as a cloud" resides in the fact that the poem is part of a literary tradition and therefore invites comparison with other poems addressed to the same theme. Frederick A. Pottle considers this poem in the light of tradition in an article entitled "The Eye and the Object in the Poetry of Wordsworth". He notes with reference to "I wandered lonely as a cloud": 1
Ever since 1807, when Wordsworth published this poem, daffodils have danced and laughed, but there is nothing inevitable about it. The Greek myth of Narcissus is not exactly hilarious; and even Herrick, when he looked at daffodils saw something far from jocund.
Even after 1807 a reference to daffodils in poetry may still retain an element of solemnity admixed with religious mysticism, as the final strophe of A. E. Housman's "The Lent Lily" makes clear:
Bring baskets now, and sally
Upon the spring's array,
And bear from hill and valley
The daffodil away
That dies on Easter day.
The daffodils described in "I wandered lonely as a cloud", whatever their mythical and traditional associations, recall a real event in Wordsworth's life and personal experience. Pottle ponders whether a recognition of this fact can contribute to an evaluation of Wordsworth's poem, thus broaching one of the most contentious issues in literary criticism: What is the relationship between poetry and "external" factors in the domains of a poet's biography and historical setting? Wishing to clarify the nature of this relationship, Pottle cites the entry in Dorothy's Journal telling of the occasion when she and her brother suddenly came across the daffodils, the abiding impression of which is captured in "I wandered lonely as a cloud". Pottle attaches great importance to divergences between the description of the daffodils recorded in the Journal and Wordsworth's poetic vision of the flowers, for these, according to Pottle, enable a critic to ascertain the scope of the imagination's particular sphere of operation in treating material drawn from sense data and experienced events.
Pottle notes two highly significant divergences between Dorothy's and her brother's descriptions of daffodils in "I wandered lonely as a cloud". First, the poem conveys the point of view of a solitary speaker beside a lake. The discrepancy between the descriptions of daffodils in poem and Journal entails a polarity between the "solitariness" of the speaker and the "sociability" imputed to the crowd of daffodils, endowed as they are both in poem and Journal with the human attributes of joy and the ability to laugh and dance. A further discrepancy between poem and Journal concerns implications of word choice. While in Dorothy's account there is a reference to a "wind" that animated the scene she described, the poem assigns vital power to a "breeze". Dorothy's Journal leaves no doubt that the April day on which she and her brother were impressed by the sight of daffodils was overcast and far from spring-like in any positive sense.
Despite certain misgivings about Wordsworth's choice of the word "breeze", Pottle concedes that the mildness it implies is fully consistent with the positive, indeed triumphant, mood engendered by the poem. According to Pottle the "simple" joy evinced by the daffodils reveals the workings of the imagination as it transmutes raw experience and the emotions it arouses into one "simple emotion". Adducing evidence from "The Leech Gatherer" and other poems, Pottle argues that Wordsworth's imagery rarely incorporates an exact record of particular memories. Indeed, he calls into question whether the poem owes any intrinsic quality to the memory of an actual incident. For him the poem is essentially the product of the simplifying and unifying operation of the imagination, and as such poses "a very simple poem".
Is "I wandered lonely as a cloud" as simple as Pottle suggests? I find grounds for the view that the poem is far from simple in any unqualified sense. For reasons I shall now adduce, one may trace a certain ambiguity in the "simple" joy attributed to the daffodil encountered by the speaker during his walk besides a lake.
Pottle himself establishes that the poem contains a juxtaposition of contrasting elements in noting the polarity of "solitariness" and "sociability". With reference to a similarity in the appearance of the daffodils and the nebulous aspect of the Milky Way, Pottle intimates a further contrast or polarity associating the earthbound and the celestial or, on the temporal plane, day and night. Our sense of the poem's complexity may be much enhanced if we reflect on the effects produced by the set of contrasts that inform the poem. Let us consider these interlocking contrasts in greater detail. An antithetic relationship between the earthbound wanderer and the cloud to which he compares his motion poses the first intimation of the opposition between the earthly and celestial.
The "cloud" establishes a reference to things of nebulous appearance, and hence a classification that subsequently embraces the visual effects of the daffodils, specks of light reflected by the lake, and the Milky Way. The strophe containing the reference to the Milky Way poses a later addition to the poem's original three strophes. However, this addition reinforces a contrast implicit in the poem as it originally stood, a contrast rooted in the distinction between two modes of consciousness, that of the mind exposed to the intrusion of sensations from the external world, and that of the mind creating its own images in dreams and dreamlike conditions. In other words, we are dealing here with modes of interaction between the conscious and unconscious. The wanderer experiences two visions of daffodils, those seen in a natural environment, and those perceived by his mind in "pensive mood".
Only the daffodils independently created in the poet's mind should fully express "pure joy" according to the logic of Pottle's arguments, as only they have undergone the full process of ingestion effected by the simplifying and unifying power of the imagination. If this is not the case, why should the speaker distinguish between the vision of daffodils perceived by the inward eye and the daffodils which the speaker saw when out walking? A number of Wordsworth's works contain lines implying that immediate visual perception entail a sense of discomfort at a time before the mind is able to assimilate new sense impressions. Even in "I wandered" Wordsworth's choice of words suggests that the speaker suffers the intrusion of an invincible, albeit joyful, invasion appearing as a "host" in the (military) formation of ten thousand. While an element of threat is at most implied in "I wandered lonely as a cloud", the military connotation of "host" in biblical English is fully explicit in the opening of another of Wordsworth's poems, "To the Clouds":
Army of Clouds! Ye winged Host in troops.
Frederick Pottle's discussion of "I wandered lonely as a cloud" reveals a high degree of sensitivity to the implication of particular words found in the poem, notably "breeze", "dance" and "daffodil" with the latter's power of evoking the myth of Narcissus. It is in some ways odd that Pottle makes no reference to the verb "wandered" despite its strategic position in the first line of the poem. We noted earlier the near invisibility of verbs in comparison to substantives. A linguist might explain this phenomenon as the result of the verb's diffuse influence on the stream of discourse. Be that as it may, in the process of considering the occurrence of "wandered" in the light of its position, meaning and structural function, I now hope to complement and amplify Pottle's arguments and insights respecting "I wandered lonely as a cloud". Taking a leaf from Dante's four-level approach to interpreting a text, let us consider the word at four levels of significance, namely
First, what does "wandered" mean in the light of its immediately recognisable context?
Second, how does the word function as an element in the poem viewed as an aesthetic construct?
Third, what is the word's significance as an index of Wordsworth's development both as a private individual and a poet?
·Fourth, how does the word relate to poetic tradition and the "allegorical" aspect of the poem?
In the following four sections (1-4), these questions will be addressed in the order given above.
Romantic poets occasionally chose the verb "to wander" in statements which made disparaging reference to the works of their contemporaries, though they themselves accorded the word high significance in their own works. In Don Juan there is a reference to Juan as a youth who "wandered by glassy brooks, / Thinking unutterable things". These words, found in the 19th Stanza of the first Canto, are followed in the next stanza by a reference to Wordsworth:
He, Juan (and not Wordsworth), so pursued
His self-communion with his own high soul.
I can imagine that Byron, when writing these lines, had "I wandered lonely as a cloud" in mind, as they point to two essential aspects of "wandering" in that poem: namely physical movement and the heightened state of consciousness that attends such movement. Some proponents of literary theory see poetry as the product of a purely mental process, which leads them to deny with the zeal of the ancient Gnostics any living and reciprocal ties between poetry and physical, historical or biographical reality, but if we ignore or belittle the physical nature of the motion referred to in the poem, we will make little sense of the essential contrast that lies at the heart of the poem, namely that which emerges when we compare the effects of physical perception with the power of the mind to produce its own images autonomously.
For all his mockery of Wordsworth "wandering," Byron's use of the verb "to wander" betrays his concern with the same fundamental relationship between the inner world of thought and imagination and the outer world that intrudes into a traveller's consciousness through the channel of sensory perception. As the poetry of both Byron and Wordsworth shows, the experience of unexpected sights or other sensations could induce feelings of vulnerability, which in turn prompted the quest for a countervailing influence, some process of the mind capable of ingesting elements of extraneous origin. The experience of physical motion and travel, as we know, will always tend to enhance a person's awareness of the exterior environment. This normal enhancement was heightened further in the Romantic Period. As. M. Bahktin has pointed out, the poetry of Byron was subject to the process of "novelisation". 2 The novel is that genre which in its nature thwarts any attempt to impose a hierarchical structure upon it, even when influencing that most traditional of genres, poetry. The typical proclivity of Wordsworth and Byron to grasp some apparently unimportant object or incident and invest this with universal significance finds a precedent in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Les Reveries du Promeneur Solitaire and Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, in both cases the author's final work. It would seem from this that we are dealing here with a General literary rather than a purely poetical phenomenon in Romantic verse and its immediate precursor, the literature of sensibility.
We may understand "wandering" in terms of structure and principles of organisation that govern the development of the poem. Set at the beginning of the poem, the words "I wandered" function as a leitmotif introducing both the poem's theme i.e. subject matter, and the "wandering" process that emerges from a study of the poem's aesthetic achievements as revealed in its images in their immediate verbal environment. In the German poetry of the same period this leitmotif is announced officially in the titles of celebrated poems. One of these lends itself to comparison with "I wandered lonely as a cloud" with particular regard to the implications of the initial position of words referring to "wandering": Wilhelm Müller's poem "Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust" ("Wandering is the Miller's Joy") - a poem that will be considered at the end of this chapter. According to its immediately comprehensible meaning, "Wandern" refers to the act of roaming in a rural setting, just as "wandered" does in Wordsworth's poem. However, from the first line on, it gains ever wider references and associations with movements in objects and natural phenomena exemplified by the turning of millstones and the flowing stream that causes their turning, with the final effect that "wandering" emerges as the vital principle in all nature. This widening of associations is reinforced by a Repetition of "Wandern" (formally justified by the use of a Refrain).
In "I wandered lonely as a cloud" the verb "to wander" also accumulates ever wider meaning, but not as a result of any verbal repetition. Its widening of meaning is produced by the poet's use of similes with all their effects and structural repercussions. In the first Simile (located in the words "as a cloud"), the speaker likens himself to a cloud, as he and this object are both solitary and in motion. We may infer from this comparison that just as the cloud is moved by a "breeze", some correspondent breeze impels the speaker's wandering. This breeze then assumes the aspect of a universal dynamic principle of the mind and poetic imagination. Hence the parallel between the daffodils "fluttering in the breeze" and the poet's heart, which "dances with the daffodils".
The second simile in the poem compares the appearance of the daffodils encountered by the speaker to the stars of the Milky Way. How - in view of the fact that the stanza containing this simile was added to the original poem of three stanzas - can this poem pose an integral element of the entire poem? The objection I anticipate is surmountable if the simile can be shown to enhance and develop motifs and characteristics of the poem in its original form. The reference to the Milky Way adds strength to the motif established by words evoking the image of nebulosity: (cf. "cloud," "host" and dancing "waves"). The reference to the stars of night points to a duality, already implicit in the original poem, that inheres in the contrast of daylight vision and the images produced by the mind at times of repose. Though the speaker does not sleep when experiencing the vision of daffodils that flash before his inner mind, his state of consciousness resembles that of the dreamer. The motif of the "night-wanderer" can be found in both English and German poetic traditions. We recall the words of Puck in A Midsummer-Night's Dream. "I am that merry wanderer of the night".
Let us now return to Frederick Pottle's assertion that "I wandered lonely" is "a very simple poem". It may appear to be very simple. The similes it contains apparently conform to the typical use of language in non-literary usage, yet, at a deeper level they imply contrasts and antitheses rooted in the unconscious and the imagination. Similarly, the reference to" a poet" in the third strophe might be taken as a commonly encountered expression like "If only an artist could paint this landscape". At a deeper level, however, it points to Wordsworth's fundamental concern with the operation and nature of the poet's imagination.
From the following lines in The Borderers (1795) it is apparent that the associations of the verb "to wander" were not always positive and evocative of joy:
No prayers, no tears, but hear my doom in silence
I will go forth a wanderer on the earth,
A shadowy thing, and as I wander on
No human ear shall ever hear my voice
As contradictory as the verb's associations with death and joy in the exercise of the imagination may seem, its range of significance does manifest a certain logic (a matter that will be looked into at a later stage in thus study). In Wordsworth's case the positive or negative valorisation of the verb "to wander" corresponds to the general state of mind in which he found himself at different stages of his life and artistic development.
At the time of his writing The Borderers, he was still experiencing a dark night of the soul precipitated by his disillusionment with the course of the French Revolution. At that time he was subject to the influence of Friederich Schiller's Die Räuber (the Robbers), a drama that portrays a world torn apart by the titanic fury of those exercising the wrong kind of freedom. The play reflects the spirit of Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress), through which both Goethe and Schiller passed in the early phase of literary development. In Goethe's highly influential novel Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) Werther's reference to himself as a "Wanderer" ominously points forward to his social isolation and ultimate death.
"I wandered lonely as a cloud" marks the apogee of Wordsworth's poetic achievement. At the time of its composition Wordsworth had overcome the weaknesses of his early works and the lugubrious mentality that they evince. In the same period we find no anticipation of the diminution in poetic powers and final atrophy of the imagination that later overcame Wordsworth. "I wandered lonely as a cloud" marks the attainment of a balance and harmony of mind wrested from the tension between daytime awareness and the influences of subconscious proclivities. The attainment of this harmony involves the ingestion of images originating in the involuntary reception of what is perceived by the senses. The equilibrium we perceive in poem was preceded by - perhaps predicated on - a period when Wordsworth became familiar with contemporary German literature and philosophy, this having been mediated to him by T. S. Coleridge. According to Jonathan Wordsworth, the poet was deeply impressed by a translation of Goethe's poetic dialogue entitled "Der Wanderer", which he read no later than 1798. 3 Professor L. A. Willoughby notes in his article "The Image of the 'Wanderer' and the 'Hut' in Goethe's Poetry" 4 that "Der Wanderer" (1771), though posing one of Goethe's earliest treatments of the "Wanderer" image, attests to his ability to objectify the image without suppressing every trace of his individual personality.
It has been noted earlier in this discussion that Frederick Pottle contrasts the elegiac undertones of Herrick's description of daffodils with the triumphant and joyful emotions evoked by Wordsworth's description of these flowers. Daffodils recall a tradition that includes the story of Narcissus in Greek mythology. We have also seen that Housman intertwines the Greek classical myth with Christian folklore in his image of the daffodil that dies on Easter Day (in common usage daffodils are called "Osterglocken" ("Easter Bells") in countries where German is spoken). I will argue in this section that the very use of the verb "to wander" likewise implies and reflects a confluence of biblical and classical traditions. I also hope to establish that the word is coloured - to use a term that is much favoured by the Russian Formalist linguist and critic J. Tynjanov 5 - by a contemporary influence stemming from Goethe and a diachronically mediated influence stemming from Milton, that poet who consciously merged classical and biblical or Hebraic elements in his Epic poetry. A close analysis of certain passages in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained shows that the verb "to wander" is contextually associated to both the classical motif of the "wandering" Muse and to the biblical motif of the wanderings of Israel described in the book of Exodus and the cognate period of Christ's wandering in the Judean wilderness, events commemorated by the festivals of Passover and Lent. This nexus of associations is implicit in the opening lines of Paradise Lost, in which the collocation of the words "Muse" and "Horeb" (Sinai) knit together references to the Muse, the Holy Spirit and the immediate sequel of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt (commemorated by the Jewish Festival of Pentecost).6 In Paradise Regained Milton mirrors the traditional view, upheld by Dante and inscribed in the Church calendar at Lent, that the wanderings of Israel allegorically represent the earthly life and ministry of Christ, the forty days of temptation recalling the forty years of Israel's wandering in the wilderness of Sinai (The title of Housman's "The Lent Lily" conflates the associated symbolism of Lent, Easter and daffodils). Alluding to a passage in Paradise Regained, Keats taps the same traditional sources when uniting the theme of vernal renewal and that of a pilgrimage leading through a wilderness:
And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness -
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with glee.
Endymion 1, 58-61.
Here is an echo of Milton's line "And Eden raised m the wilderness" in Paradise Regained (1,7).The association of spring's renewal and pilgrimage occurs a little later in Endymion in an allusion to the evocation of spring in the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales.
We now consider a further instance of Milton's influence on a work by a Romantic poet, and one that is directly relevant to a discussion of "I wandered lonely as a cloud". Again we consider a poetic evocation of spring combined with an allusion to the story of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. The opening lines of the first book of Wordsworth's The Prelude refer to a flight from "a house of bondage" and a "wandering cloud" that should guide the poet on his future journey. Here we discover obvious allusions to the flight from Egypt in the Bible and the pillar of cloud guiding the Israelites by day. 7
To understand the deep significance of "the gentle breeze", at the beginning of The Prelude we should consider these words in the light of Milton's dedication to the Holy Muse that inspired Moses at Mount Horeb (we note the intertwining of both biblical and classical strands) at an analogous position in Paradise Lost.
The verbal triad that consists of "breeze," "wandering" and "cloud" finds a parallel in the words "wandered", "breeze" and "cloud" in "I wandered lonely as a cloud". We often note in criticism that verbal patterns recur and suggest underlying modes of thought influenced by the operations of the unconscious. Here we may recall that Wordsworth composed "I wandered lonely as a cloud" during a period of active preparation for the Prelude of 1805. While The Prelude contains a specific reference to passages in Milton's works, "I wandered lonely as a cloud" contains no literary allusions at all. Here, the very order of words in the poem implies antitheses that accord with a mythical-religious frame of comprehension. To make this assumption is to be no bolder that Frederick Pottle when he discusses the myth of Narcissus in connection with Wordsworth's description of daffodils in "I wandered lonely as a cloud". Indeed, in their profound implications "the daffodil" in Housman's "Lent Lily" and the daffodil in folklore share an affinity with the implications of "to wander" in poetic tradition, for the flower and the verb pose the meeting-point of classical and biblical traditions. The event which prompted the writing of "I wandered lonely as a cloud" occurred on the eve of Good Friday (Good Friday fell on 16th April, 1802), yet a further reason to suppose that the sight of daffodils described in the poem was bound up with the thought of Easter in Wordsworth's mind.
If we were to follow Housman's lead and place an ostensibly religious construction on the daffodils in "I wandered lonely", I think we should emphasise their triumphant, perhaps "Pentecostal," aspect in view of the all-pervasive influence of the breeze and the almost flame-like appearance of the flowers. This is not to say that we should place the poem in the tradition of religious mystical poetry, for, as this discussion of "wandering" has indicated, words mark an intersection of traditional and contemporary influences. In the case of "I wandered lonely as a cloud" the traditional influence is predominantly Miltonic, the contemporary German. Subject to this dual influence Wordsworth combined traditional religious insight with the then modern insights of psychological and aesthetic philosophy. The motif of "pilgrimage" is explicit in The Prelude and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, while it is but suggested in "I wandered lonely as a cloud". 8
Conclusions: A Reconciliation of Stasis and Motion
The poem might also be understood as a quest to overcome the rift between the worlds of inner and outward reality announced in the Cartesian cogito ergo sum, and its traumatic after-effect so palpably reflected in "The Rime of the Ancient Marine". It is noteworthy that the word "breeze" signifies the vital powers of the imagination in both "I wandered lonely" and Coleridge's ballad "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", however different these poems are in theme. In Coleridge's narrative a "breeze" fills the sails of the mariner's doomed ship only when he perceives sea serpents moving by the light of the moon. Like Wordsworth's dancing daffodils the serpents combine beauty and motion, both of which attributes were seen as virtuous in their own right by the poets of the age. In fact, these virtues exercise a mutual benefit. Beauty alone might, as the legend of Narcissus suggests, bring entrapment and a death-like stasis. Motion without some corrective might lead to frenzy and self-dissipation. It is "the breeze" which makes the daffodils in Wordsworth's celebrated poem "dance". In poetic tradition "dancing" is not always positive in connotation. We need only think of the Dance of Death. However, in Wordsworth's poem "dancing" motion counteracts the stasis implied by the daffodil's mythical import. This image implies therefore a balance of beauty and motion. While it is evident that Romantic poems lie outside the category of "religious poetry", I find no reason to accept view that they possess no religious message, as Hartman and others argue. Here, it is relevant to consider the basic implication of poetic "wandering" as a quest to reconcile apparently irreconcilable opposites and antitheses, a quest based on the assumption that at a higher level than that at which such opposites appear irreconcilable, harmony and reconciliation can be achieved. "Wandering" defies the strict separation of internal truth and external reality. "The way" described in poems about wandering, is part of the life of individual experience. How one can come to any different conclusion when consider "wandering" in works of Milton, Goethe and Wordsworth - and for Keats, "truth" and "life" are indivisible in "beauty"
1 Frederick A. Pottle, "The Eye and the Object in the Poetry of Wordsworth" in Romanticism and Consciousness, ed. Harold Bloom (New York, 1970), pp. 273-287. Originally in Yale Review. Vol. (Autumn 1951).
2 M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist (Austin Tx., 1981).
3 Jonathan Wordsworth, The Music of Humanity, (New York and Evanston, 1969).
4 . L. A. Willoughby, "The Image of the 'Wanderer' and the 'Hut' in Goethe's Poetry", Etudes Germaniques, 1951, 3, Autumn 1951.
5 Jurij Tynjanov, "The Meaning of the Word in Verse", Translated into English by M. E. Suino, Readings in Russian Poetics, ed. Ladislav Matejka and Krystina Pomorska, (Ann Arbor, 1978).
6 The Festival of Weeks (Hebr.: Shavuot) or Pentecost marks the end of the counting of "omer" (cuttings of harvest crops in the spring harvest), and became linked by tradition with the Giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Philo of Alexandria closely associated this event with a manifestation of divine inspiration symbolised by the finger of fire that inscribed the tablets of the Law. The Christian sequel to Pentecost reflects the Christian belief that the Holy Spirit supersedes the literal stipulations of the Law.
7 Both in Il Convivio (The Banquet) and The Letter to Can Grande della Scala, Dante referred to the "allegorical" level of the story of the biblical exodus at which Dante discerned a prophecy concerning Christ's life and work of redemption..
8 M.H. Abrams notes: "like a number of works by his contemporaries, Wordsworth's "poem on my own poetical education" converts the wayfaring Christian of the Augustinian spiritual journey into the self-formative Romantic educational journey. "The Design of The Prelude: Wordsworth's Long Journey Home", in The Prelude 1799, 1605, 1850 William Wordsworth, ed. By Jonathan Wordsworth, M:H: Abrams and Stephen Gill, A Critical Norton Edition, Toronto 1979, p.585. Richard J. Onorato note with reference to "from a house / of bondage", words in the sixth and seventh lines of "Book First", The Prelude of 1805
"As in the Christian allegorical reading of the historical books of the Bible, "coming from a house of bondage" (The Exodus) is to be understood as a metaphor for the soul finding its freedom. (In Purgatorio, Dante has the souls crossing from mortal life to the Mountain of Purgatory singing 'In exitu Israel de Egyptu') Wordsworth is being deliberately Biblical here, his spirit willing to follow 'a wandering cloud', confident of its way."
"The Prelude: Metaphors of Beginning and Where They Lead" in The Prelude 1799, 1805, 1850 William Wordsworth, p. 615.
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