An experience of helpless laughter … one of the most memorable in that category, ever?
Blame a doggerelist’s contributions to a discussion of William Wordsworth’s best-known poem in a 2007 thread on The Guardian’s books blog, one with no shortage of literary scholars weighing in. It comes to mind every spring — with heartache. We miss the doggerelist, @cynicalsteve — a scientist with a fine Cambridge pedigree and excellent taste in literature; a dearly cherished, cherishing, invisible, net friend snatched before his time by the Reaper.
The tone for the most impish reactions in that comments section was set by an irreverent post by Sam Jordison:
Terrible poet – great museum
Wordsworth’s appalling ‘Daffodils’ seems to me a terrible advertisement for the Lakes. But the Grasmere museum is just terrific.
Before we reproduce a few choice extracts – not necessarily in the right chronological order: please quote this thread whenever you have to suffer yet another blinkered enemy of commenters claiming that virtually all web comments are the work of evil trolls.
Finally, research is supporting those of us insisting for about a decade that comment sections are often friendly and enlightening places. The New York Times reported last month that
Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, a psychology professor at Skidmore College […] and her co-authors Aneta K. Molenda and Charlotte R. Cramer analyzed comments from three sources (The New York Times, the Discover magazine science blog and a Facebook group for science buffs) … They found some encouraging signs: Positive comments were more common than negative ones.
And here’s proof … although anyone appalled by English schoolboy wit gone off-leash will please stop reading after the second comment by @freepoland:
cynicalsteve 25 Apr 2007 1:35
I thought it was only me that thought the daffodil poem was a piece of third rate doggerel. It’s main drawback is the schoolboy-like monotonous rhythm of the piece – “I WANdered LONEly AS a CLOUD…”
Anyhow, it’s much improved in the real schoolboy version:
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high oer hill and dale When all at once I saw a pub And went in for a pint of ale.
liberaldogooder 25 Apr 2007 2:22
Seems just a little unfair to slag off a great writer by more or less sole reference to perceptions of their most popular work, which by its nature isn’t normally going to be their most challenging. (with Wordsworth ‘The Preludes’ already been mentioned, but then you have ‘Immortality’, ‘Tintern Abbey’, ‘The Leech Gatherer’, etc, where tons of stuff are going on under the hood). By these standards Dickens is a writer of sentimental childrens’ tales, Chaucer a teller of dirty stories and TS Eliot a dyed-in-the-wool registered cat fetishist.
But having said that it’s a great way to cause controversy – I think you should put up a thread entitled ‘Shakespeare was shit’, and then we can play ‘The Ride of the Valkryes’, as the ranters come down on you like a wolf on the fold.
Henuttawy 25 Apr 2007 4:08
Well I blame anthologies for endlessly re-printing “Daffodils”. It appears so often, we are led to think that it’s great verse. But I personally think it comes so perilously near to doggerel that I wonder if Wordsworth was actually being a bit tongue-in-cheek when he wrote it.
Still, I wouldn’t say that he’s the best of the Romantics anyway – not by a long, long way. Keats was much better. And Byron, of course.
freepoland 25 Apr 2007 4:16
Nobody has improved on J.K.Stephen’s commentary on Wordsworth:
Two voices are there: one is of the deep; It learns the storm-cloud’s thunderous melody, Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea, Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep: And one is of an old half-witted sheep Which bleats articulate monotony, And indicates that two and one are three, That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep And, Wordsworth, both are thine. […]
israelvisitor 25 Apr 2007 4:20
I like “Daffodils”; I even knew it by heart once. Not maybe one to be put to a class of ten-year-old boys, though, who would instinctively vie to be the most openly unimpressed by it.
The rhyme of “gay” with “company” could quite easily be seen as bold and innovative, for what it’s worth.
The wild daffodils beside Ullswater – were they the ones that inspired Wordsworth? – certainly impressed me, when I saw them in 1980: they are not your garden King Alfreds, but delicate little wild ones that do flutter in the breeze, and are present in seemingly illimitable numbers along the shore. (In this way they contrast with WW’s solitude – and I am sure that even in the pluvial Lake District, solitary clouds are to be seen.)
No, I don’t think “Daffodils” is a crap poem. I think it’s nice. But I’m aware that many would say that means the same thing…
freepoland 25 Apr 2007 5:39
… Wordsworth and money were a curious combination. Raisley Calvert’s legacy enabled him to live out an idyll at Dove Cottage, where it is usually said he did his best work. Later, he took Lord Lonsdale’s shilling and the post of controller of Stamps for Westmorland. Poets shouldnt be wealthy. His career trajectory was rather modern, and his ideals probably suffered, but it is difficult to locate a socialist poet in the period 1800-1850. Ideals were a good deal more cerebral than fifty years later. Above, I suggested he was not perhaps worthy of the title of 3rd best poet, but at least he had a crack at the epic, and The Prelude has some good things in it. A useful comparison is with Tennyson, whose command of the technicalities of language were as good as WW’s, but who reads Idylls of the King now? Undergraduates are still subjected to the Prelude, and usually come out with something worthwhile. My favourite is Michael, and if you stroll up Helvellyn out of Grasmere and sit down there to read it, you get a real feel for what Wordsworth thought of as the rustic life and its disappointments.
cynicalsteve 26 Apr 2007 4:51
I wandered, desperate for a piss Whilst walking by the Canyon Grand Dare I let fly o’er the abyss? Or should I use a rubber band….