Monday, 22 February 2010

Daffodils

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.

Three years ago yesterday, I read this poem to my dad in East Surrey Hospital. During his illness I had found it difficult to find things to occupy his bright, bright mind that didn't exhaust him. We tried a portable TV (no reception in the ward), short books (he couldn't sustain the effort of reading), and puzzles (too silly for my high-minded, cerebral father). 

But a day or so before my dad died, I was picking up things he needed before visiting the hospital and I came upon his battered copy of The Golden Treasury, the anthology of poetry he and so many of my father's generation were taught at school in the subcontinent, and which caused them to dream of an exotic, mysterious England. Naipaul says of this: "Wordsworth's notorious poem about the daffodil. A pretty little flower, no doubt; but we had never seen it. Could the poem have any meaning for us?" And yet the greats of English literature had a profound effect. My favourite Gias Uncle will quote Shakespeare with a reverence that he does not for Tagore. And my father would always go back to the Romantics. 

Ever-hungry for knowledge, my father would always squirrel away the books I read on my courses, including Benjamin, C. L. R. James, and Adorno. As a Maoist trained in economics, however, he'd always return my books on cultural Marxism to me with a dismissive, bemused shrug. My postcolonial literary works, he'd find too plaintive, and not "really literature." Duncan Wu's monumental Romanticism, on the other hand, was still on my dad's bookcase downstairs when I cleared it a few months ago, only for me to find receipts and other bits and pieces he used as bookmarks, underlinings and his beautiful, but generally illegible handwriting marking its pages.

And though by day I'm a postcolonial scholar with my head firmly in contemporary literature, the Romantics have been a source of joy my father and I always shared. As a pretentious undergraduate studying "Literature" I memorised Keats' odes, and after reading Tennyson aloud late at night, dreamt up an essay structure in fitful, hallucinatory sleep (I both cringe and am proud of this). I've a continuing affection for the poems, in whose lyrical beauty I can revel without deconstructing them for future articles.

So I read Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth to him that morning, with feeling, and I think, well. The words seem to transport him, away from the clinical room and the pain, if but for moments. Recalling it I feel so honoured that I was able to do this little little thing, when throughout his life he had done so many things for me. 

Wordworth's poem has an enduring, poignant significance.* We are experiencing a very cold start to spring this year, but three years ago it was mild and the green-yellow daffodil buds were already beginning to peep from their leaves in our garden. We had hoped that my dad's stay in hospital was going to be brief, and I told him after reading the poem that on his return he would see them in bloom. He didn't, and so I'm always filled with a mixture of sadness and joy when I first see them, and another spring begins, without him.

*It is also the logo for Marie Curie Cancer Care, who throughout my dad's illness provided us with a level of support we will never be able to repay. So if you meet me, and I'm wearing my coat, you'll notice a daffodil brooch on my lapel, and you'll know now the many reasons why I wear it.




4 comments:

  1. This post has made me cry a little but also smile at the same time as i love this poem. I hope you are ok Naz xx

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  2. aww what a lovely heartfelt post.

    xx

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  3. Daffodils is one of my favorite poems of all times. I remember memorizing it in primary school and still to this day I know the words.
    You write so well and eloquent.
    I wish you the best as you cope with your loss dear.
    xx

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  4. I always say this, but you write so beautifully, with grace and tenderness.

    This was the first poem I ever memorised. I still think of it every spring when I see the gallant tattered Glasgow daffodils fighting their way out into the wind and rain!

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