Comparing Wordsworth with Raditladi: Cowton in Illinois

In January 2016, “WordsworthTrust, Curator Jeff Cowton was welcomed by the faculty and students of Principia College, Illinois, USA. He was invited to lead classes and workshops with students, looking at the writings and creative processes of William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

One such class compared L.D. Raditladi’s Selelo sa morati (A Lover’s Lament) with I wandered lonely as a cloud, and the description of seeing daffodils at Ullswater found in Dorothy’s Grasmere journal. The students followed up the workshop with further reflection recorded in this accompanying blog, introduced by Dr Karen Haire.
Here are the poems; firstly, Selelo sa Morati (A Lover’s Lament) and then I wandered lonely as a cloud.
Keep reading for the thoughts of Dr Haire and the class.

Kalahari desert, Botswana
A Lover’s Lament by L.D. Raditladi

1. It was the time of twilight
The sun making its departure
At the end of the horizon
Resting place of our ancestors
We were relaxing on the school premises
Reminiscing about our school work
When I declared my love to her
Pioneer of boldness among Bangwato
She looked at me as if perplexed
I saw her avert her wild wild eyes
Like a butterfly in the misty light
A butterfly only survives in the dark
2. Butterflies were soaring in the sky
Fluttering and dancing like ululating women
Criss-crossing in sprightly dance
Beneath the shadows of the trees
The blossoming green grass of the veld
A heavenly paradise of sundry flowers
Piebald colours of the leopard
Prettier than the rainbow colours
A thing of beauty is rhapsody of joy
Arousing rapture and reverence in me
The kind of beauty you never forget
5. I am talking about the Mokgatla, glancing at her
On the photograph she gave to me
She looks as if she can say “hello”
As if she can open her lips and live
Her eyes are like two pieces of diamond
In the middle of Kalahari desert
6.. Her hair as pitch as ashes of tambuti wood
And as soft as feathers of a baby dove
Her string of beads illuminates her beauty
Like rainbow colours in the sky
Her breasts like two small hills
Her dress as dark as the firmament at night
You left this world at a tender age
Young and fresh like the green grass of the veld
Death is a mystery, difficult to fathom
Like you we shall all die
People will always shed tears at the graveside
And creepers spread across the grave

(Raditladi 1984, p. 14)

daffodils ullswater


I wander’d lonely as a cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wander’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.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way
They stretch’d 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.

_______________________________________________________________________

As the professor of an undergraduate course in Postcolonial Literature, I was thrilled when I learned that Jeff Cowton of the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere would be visiting our college.  One of the Southern African poems students in this class were reading was by a poet from Botswana who had been exposed to the Romantics, especially Wordsworth, in his colonial schooling, so much so that he had borrowed rhyme (traditionally not part of the Setswana poetic convention) and incorporated it into his Setswana language poetry.  This Setswana love poem, in its English translation, had echoes of and affinities with Wordsworth’s Daffodils poem, as the students explain in this blog.  Jeff Cowton’s visit to our class was a “virtual” visit to the Lake District – we ate authentic gingerbread cakes he had brought – as we read aloud an excerpt from Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary and learned about the inspiration and intent for I wandered lonely as a cloud.  This enhanced not only our appreciation of the African poem, but of Wordsworth and the “feeling” created in and through his classic poem.
Let me introduce Genavieve and Kim who will tell you more…

Genavieve
Though William Wordsworth and L.D. Raditladi come from very different backgrounds, their poems – I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud and Selelo sa Morati (A Lover’s Lament) (respectively) – have a common, yet beautiful theme, nature, that serves to unite all of humanity and transcend time, space, and nationality.  Studying one can be vital to understanding the other, and we see in both a strong connection to and appreciation of nature.  Wordsworth begins his piece with “I wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o’er vales and hills,” intentionally conveying a feeling of solitude and individuality.  Raditladi’s introduction has the same effect: “It was the time of twilight / The sun making its departure / At the end of the horizon / Resting place of our ancestors,” though he, unlike the aforementioned poet, brings in this idea of community with the word “our” – probably because loyalty to family and heritage is something so prominent in African culture.  It’s interesting to notice the differences and similarities here.  Wordsworth compares his “golden daffodils” to the stars that shine in the sky, while Raditladi compares butterflies to the movement of “ululating women” (evoking the women who, dressed in bright clothing, dance at an African wedding.)  In both poems, life is measured, stilled, and progresses through and with nature.  The subjects in these pieces are identically moved and enraptured by the flowers dancing at their feet.  Wordsworth and Raditladi share an emotion and an experience of nature, yet come from very different places, England and Bostwana. As an audience, we are able to draw connections.

Kim
In both I wandered lonely as a cloud and A Lover’s Lament, one of the key elements used to provoke the desired emotions is nature. The words chosen and the images described in regards to nature enable the reader to envision the scene and thus put the reader in the shoes of the protagonist of the poem, experiencing nature as he does. While Raditladi draws some of his inspiration from Wordsworth, uses some of the same words to create a similar atmosphere, he chooses very different elements of nature: elements that are specific to nature as found in Africa.
The exact words “fluttering and dancing” and “sprightly dance” are used in both poems, almost mimicking the other’s personification of nature. But while Wordsworth uses these terms to describe daffodils, Raditladi applies them to butterflies. Butterflies have been commonly used to symbolize the fluttering of a heart in love, the joy and excitement found in romantic person-to-person relationships.

While Wordsworth draws daffodils from his own experiences in England, Raditladi draws his choices of nature from his experiences in Southern Africa. He carefully picks certain features of nature that have a certain symbolic connotation in his culture and he incorporates them in his poetry both in honor of his nation and his home, Botswana. For example, in the last two stanzas, he uses Africa’s natural environments to evoke images of his wife. He describes her eyes as diamonds, such as are found in the Kalahari desert in Botswana; her breasts are likened to two small hills such as can be found on South African soil and her hair is said to be like tambuti wood.  The tambuti, a rare and protected tree in Southern Africa has a sap with healing properties, a beautiful wood used to make furniture and is a food source to antelope, elephant, monkey and black rhinocernos. Thus the image conveys the great value the poet attaches to his wife.
I wandered lonely as a cloud and A Lover’s Lament are similar in the way that the authors personify to produce certain feelings from the nature, however, the specifics of nature that both authors feature in their poems are drawn from their own experience and differ – the natural environment of Botswana is desert, a drought-prone region, which incorporates the Kalahari, quite a contrast to Wordsworth’s England, a lush, wet, green, rain and wind-prone island.