By Robert Kingett
When I was little, I did not wander as a cloud. I floated on one.
I have to admit, when the assignment was given to me, a blind college student, to write about a poem I did not think I would find one that would capture my interest or my memory. For days, my ears would burn the table of contents of my textbook as my fingers struck down page numbers in a hopeless search to find something that I could connect with, for something that I could write about and have it be genuine. I was lost and my hopes for finding a poem that would even hold my interest long enough to allow me to write about it seemed to be an impossible reach. I was a bibliophile at heart, but I did not like writing about poetry. I enjoyed reading it, but writing about it was a different kind of circle of hell. On my fifth haphazard hunt through the table of contents, my ears caught something that I had not noticed, and I was instantly drawn because it sounded familiar: “I wandered lonely as a cloud” by William Wordsworth. I reflected on its familiarity, sensing that it would be significant to my life in some way. I wanted to explore the kind of emotional journey that this poem would take me through, and so I did. After listening to the first line, I was instantly transported to a memory that I did not even know I had.
It is late at night, and I am six. I remember feeling the Braille calendar poised in my lap, my finger tracing the soft indentations of the moons among the days. A sound erupts from the living room and I look up, my ears picking up every shift of the air just a few rooms from me. Shouting soon breaks out as if I am in a pep rally. It grows louder and more obscene with each passing word. My mother has made her appearance on stage yet again, and I start to sob. I am guessing that Grandma and Grandpa are out in the fray as well, but I do not want to be in here all alone. The shouting reaches a volume that I do not even know exists, and my fright and anger mesh into one emotion as the stupidity of the situation finally reaches me.
As my mother and her husband continue screaming at each other, mixing in sounds of smacking and hitting, Grandma comes into the room. I know it is her because I can smell the peach scented perfume. It is as if the smell alone is a blanket, about to wrap me up. My bedroom door softly clicks shut, and tender shoes thud over to me. She takes my small hand in hers.
“Are you ready for bed?” she asks me. I smile and nod while trying to hide my anger at my mother. “Well, I’m sorry. I do not have a story for you tonight. All I have is this book of poems your grandfather gave to me.” I groan at the mention of poetry. Even at that young age, I much rather prefer it when she read me something GOOD such as Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. I do not want to stay here any longer; however, I like it when Grandma reads to me.
Outside of my bubble of safety, my mother starts to cry as grandpa yells at her about how stupid she is acting. I hear pages slowly open. Grandma leans over to read and instantly I am taken to the place of golden daffodils, leaving the screaming behind me.
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.
I am soon floating on that cloud looking at dancing yellow flowers. As Grandma continues to read the poem to me, I feel a sense of peace. I am flying, and the newly developed sounds of clashing in the kitchen are merely a faint whisper. I am swept away by Grandma’s reading. We are both wandering as clouds, but neither of us is lonely. I listen with eagerness as Wordsworth’s words allows me to ignore the smashing sounds in the next room.
When she finishes the poem, she tucks me in and kisses me goodnight. She tells me she loves me and then leaves the room. I drift on my own cloud of safety, finally able to feel calm and happy enough to go to sleep. I am comfortable and soon floating on my own cloud, across vales and hills far from the treachery of the world. I am safe.
That was when I was six. That memory of Grandma sprang to mind when I first listened to the poem. I reread the poem after that, repeatedly, making it my ‘comfort poem.’ While I was reading the poem at that young age, I had a literal visual interpretation of it that seemed logical and obvious to me: the speaker was looking down at golden flowers swaying in the wind. I believed it so strongly that I vividly imagined this, picturing the golden tendrils swaying gently in the breeze, and some shadow sitting up high on a pink cloud looking down at this dancing show. For a long time, that is how I interpreted the poem. I do not know where my interpretation changed, but it did.
I presume that it changed just after my grandmother died and I had no way of escaping the abuse and domestic violence I had to endure. I would always wish that Grandma would come softly into my room, click my door shut and take me with her on a cloud high above the bad things in my life. With the passing of years, I never saw or heard the poem again.
Now, when I heard the poem again, I was instantly six again, feeling a sense of love. I replayed the poem, wearing out the skip back button on my CD player in order to keep hold of the memory that this poem helped to bring back from the dead. I loved this rare opportunity to smell Grandma’s peach scented perfume again. I loved the chance to hear her powerful delicately articulate voice read me a poem to take away all the bad things in my life. Listening to the poem now, I soon realized that I had a different interpretation. Perhaps this interpretation came from her death when I was seven. I believe that the loss of my grandmother, physically and mentally, has helped me to make this interpretation once I reclaimed her in my memory after so long of an absence. This poem helped me regain a memory that I did not even know existed within me.
The speaker talks about how he is happy to watch “golden daffodils” dance. My grandmother was always like that, happy to see, create, and experience pure happiness. This poem, I believe, is what my grandmother sees and saw. Because of this realization about my grandmother, I no longer have the same image when I listen to the poem. I picture someone looking down on people, but not just any people, I picture someone looking down on me, and a few other people, some wealthy, some poor, some old, some young, some black, some white, some Asian, and some of everything. All of us are dancing with an airy display for our spectator, twirling and giggling as we choreograph a perfect rhythm. I no longer picture the shadow on top of the cloud as having no face or figure. It now has a form and a shape to it. It is someone I know. I picture the wrinkly old woman looking down at us softly smiling. She is comfortable on the pink cloud, basking in her glory and her peace. I am sure, if we were closer, we would smell the peach scented perfume. I picture the old woman slowly bringing her wrinkled hands together, clapping and shedding silent tears as she watches the spectacle. I would like to think that she would be smiling at this point, glad to finally have the opportunity to watch the best show in the world – the show of a host of golden daffodils tossing our heads up in a sprightly dance.