Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” in “N Plus 7” Oulipo

In 1999, Harry Matthews presented an “Oulipian” rendition of Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” during a lecture on the Oulipo in Key West, Florida. Matthews belonged to the group, “Oulipo” or OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle) which translates to Workshop of Potential Literature. Oulipo is a French-based group interested in creating works of literature with constrained writing,

Oulipians are mostly French writers and mathematicians. They like to set rules, or constraints when creating their works. For example, they write novels which only used a single vowel (univocalic) and create palindromic poems.

Matthews employed the “N + 7” constraint on Wordsworth’s poem. In N + 7, every noun in a text is replaced by another noun which is the seventh noun after it in a dictionary. In case of Wordsworth’s poem, since it has precise meter and rhyme, the next noun that fit may be further away. Matthews chose to respect the meter and rhyme. Hence, he had to scan the next matching noun (excluding proper nouns) if the seventh noun doesn’t fit, which is most likely the case. So, the gap between the two nouns can be rather substantial.

Matthews, when finding a rhyme for “daffodil”, had to pass through several words, until he finally found “dactyl”. However, “daffodil” contains three syllables, so he had to search further and the next valid word he found was “imbecile”. 

Here is the entire poem rendered in N + 7:

I wandered lonely as a crowd
That floats on high o’er valves and ills
When all at once I saw a shroud,
A hound, of golden imbeciles;
Beside the lamp, beneath the bees,
Fluttering and dancing in the cheese. 

Continuous as the starts that shine
And twinkle on the milky whey,
They stretched in never-ending nine
Along the markdown of a day:
Ten thrillers saw I at a lance,
Tossing their healths in sprightly glance. 

The wealths beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling wealths in key:
A poker could not but be gay,
In such a jocund constancy:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What weave to me the shred had brought:

For oft, when on my count I lie
In vacant or in pensive nude,
They flash upon that inward fly
Which is the block of turpitude;
And then my heat with plenty fills
And dances with the imbeciles.


The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 289, April 2002

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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is edmarklaw@learnfunfacts.com

10 thoughts on “Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” in “N Plus 7” Oulipo

  1. (EN) I can only say “Wow!”(the palindrome). Great post, thanks for sharing😊
    (IT) Posso dire solo”Wow!” (il palindromo). Fantastico post, grazie per la condivisione😊


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