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Is This The Worst Poem Ever Written In English?

Cornwall_Daffodils

I like daffodils, a great country flower that is now just starting to appear in my part of the world, but fear that I may eventually grow to hate them. TWICE today in the car–on the way to and from Albany to be on Joe Donahue's Roundtable Show on WAMC–I was forced to listen to Garrison Keillor reading this:

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.

Etc., etc.  God, who can stand any more?  Are you kidding me: "Ten thousand saw I at a glance/tossing their heads in sprightly dance."  Has there ever been a more nauseating couplet?  I'm sorry, if you have no ear, you are not a great poet.

As a college student, I was force-fed Wordsworth and am still not over the choking sensation.  OK, two of the Lucy poems are bearable.  Other than that, I heartily aspire never to hear another word again.

Photo credit Mark Robinson

Posted by on April 15, 2011 at 8:48 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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35 responses to “Is This The Worst Poem Ever Written In English?”

  1. rosmar says:

    Watching The Namesake might make you have a little soft spot for this poem.

  2. Amanda says:

    I don’t think Wordsworth can hold a candle to William McGonagall, who is widely recognised as one of the worlds worst poets. The Tay Bridge Disaster is usually considered the best ‘worst’ example of his work.

  3. “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a pseudosporochnalean cladoxylopsid . . . tree.” by Robert Titus, Kaatskill Life, Winter 2007-2008.
    But this was written by a geologist, not a poet.

  4. Deerlily says:

    Hmm – I’m old enough to remember Bullwinkle Moose reciting a fractured version of this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv1L-8f2erg

  5. Susan says:

    wow- when you rant, you really rant! you go!

  6. tibs says:

    The only lines I like are:

    “A host of golden daffodils;
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

    That I can picture vivadly. The rest is too much Victorian Schmaltz.

  7. Michele Owens says:

    Deerlily, thanks SO MUCH! That made my day.

  8. Jo says:

    I guess that’s why people have blogs.

  9. Laura Bell says:

    Oh. But I love Wordsworth. Many of the other Victorian poets too. Sure there’s a glut of flowery phrasing, and more verbal gymnastics than should be legal … But it’s part of the charm. I mean it IS poetry, after all. Straightforward wording is for technical manuals.

  10. Marte says:

    I like Wordsworth, too. “The world is too much with us” is a wonderful poem. This example is not one of his best, granted,

  11. Katie says:

    Oh, now. With all that flower staring, do you really mean that the meanest flower that blows doesn’t give you Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears?

  12. John says:

    It could be worse ( not much ! ) it could be a couplet on crocus, followed by a haiku on hydrangea !

    Now if it were a dirge on dandelions (wine) – well then as Dr. Seuss might say – well then I really would not mind … I really do like dandelion wins Sam I Am….

  13. Kaviani says:

    I’m so happy I’m not the only one bemused and infuriated by sappy writing like this. It really does sound like 7th grade work.

    Punch whoever forced you to listen to it. You have my full support.

  14. Nancy says:

    I like the poem, and Wordsworth in general for that matter. Will keep reading your blog anyway, though:-)

  15. As Garden Rant’s unofficial poet laureate (I just named myself that, fyi, on my business cards) the main problem is the tight iambic tetrameter with hardly any substitutions (just a few anapests), and the hard masculine rhymes. It’s not the best example of received form in a poem, and not up to the author’s usual standards. But let’s face it, even poets have to market themselves in this way, as do radio shows pandering to springtime.

  16. Michele Owens says:

    Benjamin, we needed the college prof to weigh in! You’re right, it’s not just the sentiment that drives me crazy, it’s the meter.

    That restatement in the first stanza, “a crowd/ A host of golden daffodils,” aargh…now I need a drink.

  17. It scans very nicely to Hernando’s Hideaway, which makes it marginally more bearable.

  18. Ugh Wordsworth. I spent most of high school (and college) convinced that he became a poet just because it’d be a catchy career to go with his name. I picture him with his buddies saying after too many pints, “I’ll be a poet because I’d be working with WOOORDS and that’s my NAAAAME, man. And the ladies would love it.”

    I am almost 30 and still heartily agree with my high school self. Wordsworth is the worst.

    When it comes to nature poetry, I adore Wendell Berry. :)

  19. Small clarification from a literary geeklet: Wordsworth was a writer of the English Romantic era, not a Victorian, and is certainly far superior to others from his time, but they WERE all a product OF their time, and were inspired by the natural world around them. But of course we can’t all like the same stuff. I abhor Jane Austin, George Eliot, and most self-absorbed 19th & 20th-century American poets, but I do love daffodils. And a good rant. :-)

  20. Laura says:

    I apologize in advance for the length of this comment.

    Wow, this poem brings back memories! My 6th grade English teacher, Mrs. Oliver, made our entire class memorize this poem. Except that I refused. While I like poetry, I absolutely hated THIS poem.

    Mrs. Oliver asked daily for volunteers to go in front of the room to recite the poem. By the time all 31 of my classmates recited it, I could recite it too, but I still refused. I wasn’t scared of public speaking either. I just HATED this poem. I told Mrs. Oliver this, but it didn’t matter.

    My mother, a college English teacher, told Mrs. Oliver to handle my lack of cooperation in any way she saw fit, so while the rest of the 6th grade girls got to play basketball at the local college, I had to stay at school. I also got an ‘F’ for this assignment.

    All this time I thought I was the only one who hated that poem…I’m normal after all!

    (I wouldn’t have made a good basketball player anyway as I’m only 5’2″.)

  21. Absolutely not. I got my daughter to scream stop after only part of the first verse of the Tay Bridge Disaster. She can listen to the Wordsworth.

  22. Faisal says:

    I wandered lonely
    Like a dill –
    To spy a little
    Daffodil.

    Methought a little
    Daff or two
    Would thrill
    A Ranting Gardener too.

    I wrote a verse
    All full of goo:
    But Gard’ning Ranter
    Feels much worse.

  23. Layanee says:

    My husband’s comment concerning worst poet in the world “They obviously have not seen any of my s—“! LOL Good to know how you really feel Michelle.

  24. Jayne says:

    Not with you on this one, but I am happy to have discovered your “garden rant!”

  25. naomi says:

    Mom would ask something and instead of yelling I’d mutter under my breath. Obviously, I had a speech impediment, as did one brother with the same response. I remember walking with him to Miss Venie’s every Thursday for speech lessons. She would first fix us a cup of tea, and while we drank it along with cookies or toast with apple butter, she would recite and act out poems we were to memorize. This was one of them, and that tiny old woman swayed as the flowers did, pointed out the stars, danced across the door opening (our “stage”), her voice booming out, filling the room and us. We, of course, were expected to do the same. We did. We claimed to our siblings to hate it (as we ate the fruit cookies we received upon leaving) but we loved it as much as they were jealous.

  26. Tony says:

    Next time you write something as memorable as:

    “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”

    By all means, let us know. In six words, this deceptively simple line speaks volumes about the author’s state of mind and identification with the natural world.

    Just because you were force-fed Wordsworth, hey relax — it’s stood the test of time with less damning ears than yours.

    Place the true blame on Keillor who can sap up almost anything.

  27. It could be worse. I was once in an audience captive to Ray Bradbury. I hope it never happens again–his stories are great, but his poetry!

    Garrison Keillor can bore me to tears these days, but I’ve heard a few worse voices in my day, in person or via audio reproduction.

    Your feeling about Wordsworth is similar to mine about ewwwcalyptus. Only good thing I can say about it is Tencel is made from its wood. The smell of the tree or its leavings sends me running for a basin.

    I certainly remember Bullwinkle slaughtering quite a lot of poetry–and anything else jay Ward set his mind to inflict on us via Bullwinkle!

  28. dominique says:

    Laughing out loud here–and I love the poem! But hey. Just turn off the radio. Beauty is fleeting…but I will spare you…

  29. Tom Fischer says:

    Anyone who dismisses Wordsworth–one of the greatest poets of the English language–on the basis of this poem is a fool. And it’s actually a pretty good poem.

    Familiarize yourself with Romantic poetic diction. Read “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tinturn Abbey.” Better yet, read “The Prelude.” But then, taking refuge in an easy philistinism is so much easier than making an effort.

  30. Tom Fischer says:

    Um, that would be “Tintern Abbey” . . .

  31. Debbie Fitch says:

    I can’t help it- every time I see a large planting of daffodils, I think “A host of golden daffodils!” My high school English teachers really new how to brainwash.

  32. eliz says:

    I like Wordsworth OK and particularly enjoyed my college roommate who could recite the entire “Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey,” but only when drunk (may have mentioned this last year or whenever the last time was that you complained about Wordsworth).

    Next time, try the lesser Victorians. Swinburne writes often about various flora but doesn’t get nearly the attention he should.

  33. Harold NYC says:

    I think Shakespeare and Milton are worse. And I always want to take a knife and slash any painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

  34. Harold NYC says:

    Why do we bother to preserve such garbage? As Bazarov states in Fathers and Sons, “A decent chemist is twenty times more useful than any poet.”

  35. H. Gradgrind says:

    Throwing all that old poetry in the toilet– how refreshing! It’s not as though Wordsworth were a pioneering landscape gardener or anything.

    http://www.online-literature.com/article/wordsworth/7184/

    Come to think of it, what do gardeners add to the bottom line? Everyone knows that the human mind is not capable of being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants. You want entertainment? There are plenty of movies of stuff being blown up.

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