This Extraordinary Life

The poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud” by William Wordsworth is clipped to the bulletin board in my office. I keep it there because the language is elegant, and it makes me happy. It’s about a moment of joyful appreciation for a field of daffodils, and the memory of those flowers that repeatedly delights and inspires the poet.

This is, on one level, a poem about the creative process, about how a writer’s daily experiences make up the material for his or her work. Seeing a field of flowers is something that one might not register as extraordinary. It could be easily missed. And, yet, by happenstance, Wordsworth does see the field and, because it is the poet’s job, he lingers. And, later, in his revery, he makes something of it: a source of personal delight, and the inspiration for a poem.

Moments of quiet revelation are elusive as lightning bugs, and just as hard to capture. Perhaps they have always been so, but they seem particularly so now, in our age of social media, smart phones, highways, and overnight shipping. Everything is on demand. That’s why this poem speaks to me, because it’s a reminder that the job of the artist is, primarily, to notice. And to notice, one must be engaged and present for the stuff of life. The walks, the travels, the conversations, the chores, and the frustrations are all opportunities to pay attention. The daily, ordinary, even mundane moments of life are full of beauty and mystery. It is the artist’s job to notice the extraordinary in the ordinary, and to hold it up for all to see.

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