So, on Saturday I was half-way up this hill in Dovedale, which is called Thorpe Cloud
when we took a break, and suddenly somebody started to talk about Wordsworth. He’d been to a funeral where ‘Daffodils’ was recited as part of the ceremony: and then he burst out: ‘How is that different from doggerel?’ He started to recite the poem thus:
I wan-dered lone-ly as a cloud
di-dah di-dah di-dah di-dah’
I began to protest: I have always thought highly of Wordsworth and I started to say what I thought were the differences between the two.
‘But it sounds just the same!’ he protested.
‘It depends how you say it,’ I said.
After that the sandwiches took over, but it set me thinking: how DO you tell the difference between good poetry and doggerel? Let’s consider the following two extracts:
by Wm Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o’er dale and hill
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.
… and this, by Hilaire Belloc:
Mathilda told such dreadful lies
it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes
her aunt, who from her earliest youth
had kept a strict regard for truth
attempted to believe Mathilda
– the effort very nearly killed her,
and would have done so, had not she
discovered this infirmity.
Well? What are the differences? Both poems are in iambic quadrameter ie four metrical feet, each of which has the stress on the second syllable, so superficially they sound the same. I think the differences are partly in intention – Wordsworth’s intention was serious whereas Belloc’s was comic – and that has an effect on how you read the poems. I totally disagree that you would read ‘Daffodils’ in a di-da-di-dah way – I think the rhythm is slower and more contemplative and the words are slow, not punchy: lonely, cloud, golden: it’s very hard to say these words quickly and sharply, unlike killed, lies, gasp, eyes which are the staples of Belloc’s poem.
What do you think?
Answers on a postcard please. Preferably from the Lake District – or failing that, Dovedale…