William Wordsworth’s famous poem about daffodils opens with these inspiring lines:
I wandr’d 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.
I swear, I really didn’t mean to fall in love with daffodils. It just sort of happened. 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.”
Daffodils grow naturally in woodlands and meadows throughout Europe, North Africa, and west Asia. There are anywhere between forty and two hundred varieties of daffodils, but you don’t get to view them very long. They’re in bloom for about three weekends, and then they’re gone for another year.
The name daffodil started out as affodell. No one seems to know why the initial d was added, but it most likely came from the Dutch article “de,” as in “de affodil.” From at least the sixteenth century, folks have been fooling around with the name, as in rhymes like “Daffodowndilly has come to town, in a yellow petticoat and a green gown.”
Daffodils are also the stuff of legend and myth. An ancient Chinese legend, for example, speaks of the daffodil bringing a poor but good man much wealth. This spring flower is also a symbol of the Chinese New Year. Daffodils that bloom on this occasion are said to bring good fortune during the year. The Chinese also love and revere the flower because of its sweet fragrance.
In Persian literature, garden flowers often symbolize facial characteristics. Daffodils, for example, resemble beautiful eyes, roses symbolize cheeks, and hyacinths resemble shining locks of hair. Some countries associate yellow daffodils with Easter. And in the German language, the word for “daffodil” is osterglocke, which means “Easter bell.”
As far as I’m concerned, “a house with daffodils in it is a house lit up, whether or no the sun be shining outside.”
The place where I fell in love with daffodils wasn’t 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 as often as 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 22. 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 fantasyland 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 Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, and it was necessary for me to pass through London before continuing 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 didn’t have enough time to go all the way back to Denver to exchange suitcases. Fortuitously enough for me, it was spring break at Anna Marie’s school, and it was also going to be my birthday. She packed another suitcase for me, jumped on a flight out of Denver, and met me in London.
We walked through the parks and returned to our hotel near Westminster Abbey. I was very exhausted from the travel and fell soundly asleep in our room. When I awoke, I was reclining in a room filled with fresh daffodils and roses. Anna Marie had gone to the market to purchase flowers and fresh strawberries for tea and shortcake.
A few years ago, Anna Marie asked if there was anyplace special I would like to go for my birthday. My answer was, “No, I don’t believe so. I think I already know what’s 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.”
So 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, busloads of Japanese and Korean tourists were there to honor Wordsworth and view the daffodils. I later learned the significance of daffodils in the Asian culture. It seems that Japanese practitioners of a traditional medicine called Kampo mixed daffodil roots with wheat-flour paste to treat wounds. In a more recent medical breakthrough, scientists discovered a compound in daffodils called galantamine that has shown promise in treating Alzheimer’s disease. And it just so happens that commercial crops of daffodils, the national flower of Wales, are grown in Powys, Wales for this purpose.
Most visitors travel to Great Britain in summertime after school is out, and they mistakenly think that all English parks have to offer is green 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, lawnmowers have cleared away the transitional gold and have prepared the parks for another summer.
I can identify with the final stanza of Wordsworth’s 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.
Next time spring rolls around, why not experience an affair with the daffodils?