Paraphrasing

Introduction

Before analyzing a text, we want to understand its literal meaning. We’ll do this by looking up any difficult words and by putting the text in our own words (paraphrasing).

For a short poem, you can do a word by word paraphrase. For a longer text, you might consider writing a short summary of key points.

Our example is William Wordsworth’s poem “I wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (1807).

Vocabulary

As you read the poem, consult the definitions below:

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
By William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales1 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 way2,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin3 of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly4 dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee5:
A poet could not but be gay6,
In such a jocund7 company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft8, when on my couch I lie
In vacant9 or in pensive10 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.

Definitions:

  1. Over valleys.
  2. Earth’s galaxy.
  3. Edge, border.
  4. Lively.
  5. Delight.
  6. Happy.
  7. Cheerful.
  8. Often.
  9. Empty.
  10. Thoughtful.

Paraphrase

The following paraphrase is quite casual, and it doesn’t capture the beauty and imagery of the poem, but it should give you some idea of the literal meaning:

When I went for a walk, I felt like I was a cloud, floating above the hills and valleys below. Suddenly I saw a huge number of daffodils, right beside a lake and under some trees. They were swaying in the breeze.

There were so many daffodils that they looked like the stars in our galaxy. The daffodils formed a line that stretched around much of the bay. In one glance I could see ten thousand of them. They looked liked they were dancing.

The waves in the bay also seemed to dance, but the daffodils looked happier. A poet couldn’t avoid being happy in such circumstances. I did a great deal of gazing, but didn’t fully appreciate the moment at the time.

Often when I’m lying on my couch, and feeling a bit emotionless or thoughtful, I can still see those daffodils in my mind. By the way, being able to remember is quite pleasant when you’re all alone. Now, when I recall the daffodils, I feel warm and fuzzy, as if I’m dancing with the daffodils.

Conclusion

Don’t be too hasty in moving on to analysis. If you don’t take the time to look up difficult words, you will be more likely to misinterpret the text. This is especially the case for “false friends,” words that seem familiar but have changed their meaning.

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