When we read Ginsberg’s poem “In back of the real” in the last session, I almost immediately had to think of William Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud”:
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.
source: Wordsworth, William: “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, Web: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174790, Nov. 25 2015
There are so many similarities between these two poems that Ginsberg’s almost seems to be a postmodern version of Wordsworth’s. In my opinion, this makes quite a lot of sense when considering that we described Beat Literature as a neo-romantic movement in the last session. Apparently, the Romantic period had considerable influence on Beat writers. Both turn to the natural world to find the sublime. Both poems start with the lyric I wandering around alone: “I wandered desolate” in Ginsberg compared to “I wandered lonely (as a cloud)” in Wordsworth. In both poems the lyric I comes across a flower/ flowers. The only difference is that there are numerous (“ten thousand”) in Wordsworth’s poem but only a single one in Ginsberg’s. Next to the fact that both poems describe different kinds of flowers, another difference is the way in which the flowers are depicted and characterized. While Wordsworth presents them as joyful and beautiful (for example, he uses “golden” instead of plainly ‘yellow’ to describe their color), Ginsberg, on the other hand, describes the flower in a much more unfavorable way, e.g. as spiky, dirty and even ugly. For Wordsworth the daffodils are a welcome company that evoke feelings of joy, pleasure and happiness in him even long after the actual experience. This is particularly obvious in the last stanza of the poem when he talks about the impact that the mere memory has on him. Ginsberg, too, refers to imagination (which is related to memory) when he talks about “the form of the great yellow / Rose in your brain!” However, he rather refers to the mental image which significantly differs from what it actually really is. While the external experience influences the lyric I’s mind in Wordsworth’s poem, the internal, imagined image influences the experience of the external real object in Ginsberg’s poem. The different moods of the poems illustrate the change that the image of the sublime underwent over time. Ginsberg’s poem clearly shows that postmodernists added ugly and grotesque elements to their sublime, while Romantics still had a purely positive understanding of the sublime.