THE CAPACITY TO BE ALONE – “DANCE WITH THE DAFFODILS”


Minnie Dastur, Senior Training Analyst at the Mumbai Chapter of the Indian Psychoanalytic Society, reflects on the psychoanalytic undertones in William Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered Lonely as a Cloud”.

Years ago in school we read William Wordsworth’s poem, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ (Daffodils).  The delight of it long remained in my mind.  Later in life, when I read Winnicott’s papers on The Capacity to be Alone and The Location of Cultural Experience, it was a Eureka moment - this is what Daffodils is about. Here is the poem:


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.

Wordsworth lost his mother when he was 8 years old. However, he must have had a “good-enough” mothering and developed a sense of self, which is evident in his poetry. In “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” he writes:

          “Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;”

Here is the poet lying in the grass, its soft coolness, the freshness of its smell, the moment of oneness with “Mother Nature”, lying there and looking up at a flower that looks down on him.  This closely follows Winnicott’s baby enveloped in his mother’s arms, looking up into her face, to find her “mirroring” back her delight in him. This is also what Bion and Meltzer talk of as the Aesthetic Moment, the “Apprehension of Beauty” of the mother’s breast.

The first line of Daffodils follows Winnicott’s statement about the three different stages of emotional development, the words “I, I am, and I am alone”. The baby lying, with his attention drifting, not to just externalities visible to his eye, but also to his sensations within himself, experiencing himself as contained within his skin after a satisfying feed, at one with the mother, as much as aware of himself as separate.  The white “cloud” conjured up along with the “continuous ...stars that twinkle on the milky way” connects to this.  The mother image that hovers and accompanies him as he walks along and yet the twinkling of his mother’s loving eyes that gaze down on him, always accompanying him “o’er the vales and hills” of his life.  The established good internal object.

The “never-ending line along the margin of the bay”. This is the transitional space that Winnicott talks of in quoting Tagore, “on the sea shore of endless worlds, children play”. The waves lap along the margin, meeting the shore; the transitional space between me and not me – where separation does not create anxiety and the coming and going is an established rhythm; a sense of timelessness.  The mother and baby “play”, bringing their faces together and moving apart, only to get together again with “gleeful” laughter.  “I gazed – and - gazed but little thought, what wealth the show to me had brought.”  The wealth of psychic health a good mother-infant mirroring and states of mother’s reverie bring.

The final stanza is about having mourned and established a good internal object, which can be turned to again and again.  For Wordsworth, it was the pleasure and joy in nature – the sublimation of his love and unbreakable bond with his loving mother.  You are thus never “alone” in the sense of an aching loneliness.

Minnie will be presenting as a keynote speaker at the IPA’s forthcoming Asia Pacific Conference in Tokyo over the 3rd – 5th May 2018. Registration is currently open, and an early-bird discount is available until the 30th March. For more information, or to book your discounted place, please visit the event registration website here.