The poems “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth and “l(a” by E. E. Cummings could not be more different. Nevertheless, the theme of both of these poems is the same: loneliness and solitude. William Wordsworth weaves a vivid floral tapestry that invites the reader into the recesses of his mind’s eye. While alone, as he claims he often is, he recalls the sight he once beheld while also being alone with the world. The theme is encrusted in beautiful verse, with rich descriptions that flow smoothly due to Wordsworth’s poetic execution. E. E. Cummings takes a wholly different approach with “l(a,” expressing the idea of loneliness in a single word, broken in two unequal parts by an image of a single leaf. The poem is brutally minimalistic and does not give the reader much content. However, the unusual execution of it breaks the very words down and creates a tense, oppressive atmosphere. These two poems should be compared and contrasted because they explore the same ideas in curiously opposite ways. The side-by-side analysis can emphasize the versatility of poetry as an art form and the different ways of leveraging the written word.
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While Wordsworth’s poem is, in the first place, supposed to be about nature, yet the idea of loneliness appears in the very first line. “I wandered lonely as a cloud” explains how the author came to discover the wonderful patch of daffodils: he was lonely, and he went for a walk. Perhaps he desired to connect to the world around him, with the second line expressing his focus on observation. Miraculously, he encountered exactly what he needed: a patch of majestic daffodils that would etch themselves into his memory forever. The entire second stanza is dedicated to them, which is perfectly reasonable for a poem about nature. The third stanza introduces the idea that the flowers are “a jocund company,” implying that sights and life experiences like that are sometimes more desirable for artists than other people. The idea of solitude permeates the entire poem, intertwined with the generous descriptions of nature.
While the first three stanzas lay the thematic groundwork, the fourth stanza explains the significance of the daffodils to the author and ties the themes together. “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.” These four lines are the most crucial part of the poem, as they affirm the importance of positive and beautiful experiences for a lonely person. “That inward eye” is something all people have, and that which lonely people turn to most often. The overall message of the poem is positive and optimistic, as loneliness is portrayed as something sometimes beautiful and conducive to experiencing nature’s beauty. Even though the author may feel lonely at times, the precious memories are always there to keep him company. That positivity is reinforced by the poem’s execution, as it has a definite rhyme scheme and rhythm. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which creates an easy to follow the march-like flow. It does not confound the reader with complicated structure, and, along with the content, creates a feeling of lightness and positivity.
E. E. Cummings does the exact opposite of that, with the entire poem being composed of three words. “l(a leaf falls)oneliness” is the entirety of the poem; it is unabashedly straightforward with its content. There is no rhyme or rhythm, and there are even no full words. The source of the poem’s emotional impact comes from its form, with the words being hacked apart and presented to the reader in a way that is deliberately confusing at first. The author creates a feeling of alienation, which he evidently felt himself. There are no majestic flower patches in his loneliness, only a single leaf that falls with no context and no description. The initial impression of the poem is that of disturbed ramblings of disparate fragments of ideas with no internal consistency. The seventh line extracts “one” from the word “loneliness,” packing an emotional punch disproportionate to the amount of material presented. It sounds like an unfiltered wail of a miserable person’s exposed soul. The fact that merely dividing one word across several lines could produce this impact is a testament to both the author’s linguistic genius and the versatile medium of poetry.
The theme that both of these poems express is presented in such extremely different ways. Wordsworth paints a beautiful picture of nature that he discovered because he felt lonely. The patch of daffodils had a profound effect on him, and he recalls it along with the reader when his solitude drove him to look inward. Cummings takes a single idea and, through distorting the words, presents it in a raw emotional manner. He, like a single falling leaf, does not feel any profound connection to nature, he is simply alone, and painfully aware of it. The way these two authors presented their feelings and ideas is fundamentally different, and the emotions they create in the reader are equally different. However, they manage to explore the same idea: loneliness and solitude. Looking at these two works of art in tandem gives a better understanding of poetry as an art form and the way it both draws from and affects the human psyche.