(abducted, redacted and “traducted” from Виктор Драгунский)
Our literature class teacher, Mrs. Whymont, was sick for quite a while and Mrs. Gracie came to substitute her. Normally, Mrs. Gracie taught us science and geography but the circumstance was exceptional and the Headmaster had finally convinced her to replace the sick Mrs. Whymont.
Mrs. Gracie entered the class, we all greeted her, and she sat at the teacher’s desk. In the meantime, Sam Brown and I continued our battleships game. Just a moment before Mrs. Gracie’s appearance, the game’s odds turned to my favour: I already annihilated Sam’s two cruisers and sunk his three submarines; it only remained to locate his aircraft carrier, which was an easy task. I though a bit and was about to open my mouth to announce my next (certainly, lethal) move, when Mrs. Gracie, who in the meantime opened the register, called out loudly:
— Nicholas Irving!
Sam immediately whispered:
— A direct hit!
I stood on my feet.
— Come to the blackboard, please.
Sam whispered again:
— Rest in peace, dear brother in arms! — and made a “funeral” face.
And I went to the blackboard. Mrs. Gracie said reprimandingly:
— Stand straight please. And tell me, what are you studying now in your literature class?
— We studied Daffodils, Mrs. Gracie — I replied.
— Who is the author? — she asked; it was evident that she wanted to ensure that I knew the author’s name.
— Wordsworth — I said reassuringly. — William.
— So, — she said — the great English poet William Wordsworth, the author of the famous poem Daffodils. Good. That is correct. Now tell me, did you learn… hmm… any piece of it by heart?
— Of course, — I replied.
— Which one? — asked Mrs. Gracie.
— “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”
— Lovely, — said Mrs. Gracie shining with delight. — This is one of my favorite passages. Go ahead, Nick.
One of her favorite passages! What a fortunate coincidence. That is my favourite poem too! I memorised it when I was a little child, and since then, when I read or recite these verses, I have the sensation that someone else is reciting them, not me, while the true myself is strolling along the lake’s shore illuminated by the sunset’s last golden rays and beholding all that transcendental beauty: the lonely white cloud reflecting in the lake’s pristinely clean water, the limitless sea of gold-colored flowers gently shivering in the wind, and the first stars appearing in the darkening sky. Besides me runs happily my puppy, with his tummy full of milk. He isn’t there in this poem, but I want him to be there, and, also, next to me is my grandfather who passed away when I was little, neither he is mentioned in the verses, but I love him so very much that my hearts beats faster filled with all those beautiful feelings…
— Come on Nick, will you read it? What are you waiting for? — Mrs. Gracie raised her voice impatiently.
I stood more comfortably and started reciting the poem. And once again I felt as if I was reliving those wonderful feelings. I only hoped my voice wouldn’t tremble.
…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…
— Stop, stop, enough! — Mrs. Gracie interrupted me. — Wordsworth is a great poet, a giant. Tell me now, Nicholas, what did you understand from these verses?
Why, why did she interrupt me? The verses were still here, in my heart, and she stopped me at full speed. I hadn’t come to my senses yet, so I pretended that I didn’t understand the question and uttered:
— Who? I?
— Yes, you. Come one, what did you understand?
— Everything — I said. — I understood everything. He wandered… and then saw the flowers. I read that he walked with his younger sister Dorothy around Ullswater in the Lake District and wrote the poem.
— Lake District, of course… — confirmed Mrs. Gracie with sudden enthusiasm, — but you are interpreting it somewhat… ehm, superficially. You need to be more profound. You aren’t in primary school, are you? This is Wordsworth after all…
— What do you mean? — I asked — how do I need to interpret Wordsworth deeper? — and made a dumb face.
— Let’s go phrase by phrase — she said with annoyance. — if you can’t do otherwise. “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”. How did you understand it?
— I understood that he was alone… like a cloud.
— No! — exclaimed Mrs. Gracie. — You have to realise that the words “I wandered lonely as a cloud” contain a very acute observation that although the entire Lake District region receives above-average rainfall, there is a wide disparity between the amount of rainfall in the western and eastern lakes. Lake Ullswater has less precipitations, and that is why the sky above it is often cloudless or contains few clouds. This is what you need to understand and know, Nicholas. Do we agree? Please continue!
— “That floats on high over vales and hills”, — I said, — the cloud, you know, floats high. Over the valleys and the hills. Exactly as written: “floats on high”.
— Oh my dear — exclaimed Mrs. Gracie with some kind of hopeless sadness in her voice. — Why are you repeating “floating high, floating high” like a parrot? Don’t you see that these simple two words conceal a great deal of meaning? With this seemingly unimportant phrase Wordsworth is telling us that the Lake District experiences relief rainfall responsible for the formation of the medium-altitude stratocumuli. Do you see now the greatness of Wordsworth’s talent? Go ahead.
But for some reason I no longer wanted to read. All of a sudden I got fed up with it. And mumbled hastily:
…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…
— Why? — perked up Mrs. Gracie.
— Why what? — I wondered.
— Why were they dancing? — she repeated.
— Who was dancing?
— The flowers.
— What flowers?
— What flowers? The… ehm… the daffodils of course. You have just said “Beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze…” So why were there dancing?
— They were eager to dance — I replied passionately. — So they danced! In the breeze.
— Not at all — said Mrs. Gracie angrily shaking her index finger in front of my face. It seemed as if she wanted to say: “that trick of those flowers of yours won’t work”. — Not at all — she repeated. — Wordsworth is simply implying that off the western coast lies a compact anticyclone with pressure around one thousand fifty millimeters. And, as you know, the air in a high pressure area moves from the center outwards rendering the region permanently windy. It’s this natural phenomenon that inspired the poet to write his immortal lines: “Beside the lake, hmm… hmm… beneath the trees, ehm… something and dancing in the breeze”. Do you understand, Nicholas? Good! You may sit down.
I returned to my place. After the lesson, Sam suddenly turned away, blushed from embarrassment and said quietly:
— Any my favorite one is about the birches:
…When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do… — Do you know it?
— Of course I know it. — said I. — How possibly can I not know it?
I made a nerdy face.
— “When I see birches bend to left and right” — with these words Robert Frost informs us that the birch is exceptionally strong and flexible, which is relatively uncommon for hardwood trees. And the phrase “doesn’t bend them down to stay as ice-storms do” further adds that that the birch resists the thermal conditions of boreal climates…
Sam stared at me with fear. And I looked at him. And then we both burst out laughing loudly. And laughed for a long time, like crazy. All the recess.