My Affair with 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.

Those are the opening lines from William Wordsworth’s famous poem about daffodils. I swear, I really didn’t mean to fall in love with daffodils. It just sort of happened. They are native to meadows and woods in Europe, North Africa, and West Asia, with a center of distribution in the Western Mediterranean. Wherever I would wander lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, I, too, would catch a glimpse of the crowd, a host of golden daffodils. Over 140 varieties have gained recognition. But you don’t get to view them very long in one place. They are in bloom for about three weekends, then gone for another year.

The name "daffodil" started out as “affodell." The reason for the introduction of the initial "d" is not known, although a probable source is an etymological merging from the Dutch article "de," as in "De affodil." From at least the 16th century, folks have been fooling around with the name; Daffodowndilly has come to town in a yellow petticoat and a green gown.

In ancient China, a legend about a poor but good man holds he was brought many cups of gold and wealth by this flower. Since the flower blooms in early spring, it has also become a symbol of Chinese New Year. If the daffodils bloom on Chinese New Year, it is said to bring extra wealth and good fortune throughout the year. The Chinese also love and revere the flower because of its sweet fragrance.

In Persian literature, the daffodil in the spring garden is a symbol of beautiful eyes, together with other flowers that equal a beautiful face, such as roses for cheeks and violets for shining dark hair. In some countries the yellow daffodil is associated with Easter. The German for daffodil is Osterglocke, that is "Easter bell;" a house with daffodils in it is a house lit up, whether or not the sun be shining outside.

But the place where I fell in love with daffodils was not Germany, China, Persia, or Holland . . . it was in dear old London town. In my years of travel, I would be required to pass through London a half dozen to ten times a year. I looked forward to being in Great Britain in the spring. Many times I would be in London on my birthday, March 22nd. Even if I only had a few hours layover at Heathrow or Gatwick, I would grab my camera, put the rest of my bags in “left luggage” at the airport, get on the train, and head for Victoria station. From there, I could walk into a fantasy land of weaving and nodding gold. The daffodils would be in bloom in Green Park, Hyde Park, St. James Park, and all along the Pall Mall from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. It was ecstasy. It was peace. It was a delight to the eye and a solace to this weary traveler’s soul.

One spring, I had been traveling in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was necessary for me to continue my travels through London and on to Ethiopia, Uganda, and Rwanda. It had been very cold in Pakistan and would be very hot in Africa. I needed a whole new set of clothes, but did not have time enough to go all the way back to Denver to exchange suit cases. Fortuitous enough for me, it was spring break at Anna Marie’s school and it was also going to be my birthday. She packed another suit case for me, jumped on a flight out of Denver, and we met in London. We walked through the parks and returned to our hotel near Westminster Abby. I was very exhausted from the travel and fell soundly to sleep in our room. I awoke to a room filled with fresh daffodils and roses. She had gone to the market and purchased flowers and fresh strawberries for tea and shortcake.

Two years ago, Anna Marie began to ask if there was any place special I would like to go for my birthday? My answer was, “No, I don’t believe so. I think I know already what is on the other side of most of the mountains on the map.” Then, I stopped and said, “Oh, there is one place I would love to go . . . let’s go to England and chase the daffodils.” We flew to London, and then caught the fast train to Carlisle. We met up with some friends and headed to the Lake District in the north. Our destination was the village of Grasmere, the old stomping grounds of William Wordsworth. We visited fields of daffodils, the ancient stone church and courtyard of dazzling yellow, and the gravesite and headstone of William Wordsworth.

To my surprise, there were bus loads of Japanese and Koreans there to honor Wordsworth and view the daffodils. In the traditional Japanese medicine of kampo, wounds were treated with the daffodil roots mixed with wheat flour paste. Also, daffodils, that just happen to be the national flower of Wales, are now grown commercially in Powys, Wales, to produce galantamine, a drug used to combat Alzheimer’s disease.

You see, most visitors travel to Great Britain after school is out and they just think that all the parks are always grass. Little do they know that under that carpet of green grass are tens of thousands of daffodil bulbs ready to cast aside winter and announce the beauty and vibrancy of yet another Spring. By the time the tourists arrive, the big lawnmowers have cleared away the transitional gold and have prepared the parks for yet another summer.

I can identify with William Wordsworth’s final stanza of his poem about daffodils:

   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. 

Happy springtime to all of you . . . and why not experience an affair with the daffodils?