Mini-Lesson Monday, Lesson #200 (Part 2): Different Ways of Seeing: Wordsworth’s ‘The Daffodils’

🌼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 …

– William Wordsworth, ‘The Daffodils’ (1807) 🌼

This is Part 2 of our Lesson on ‘Different Ways of Seeing’: having read Wordsworth’s poem in Part 1, we are now going to look at 6 different verbs that can be used to describe different ways of seeing things – ‘look’, ‘see’, ‘watch’, ‘gaze’, ‘glance’, ‘eye’.

📝 #1) LOOK

This verb is used to describe the movement of our eyes towards something that doesn’t move or change. Imagine I have bought a new painting and hung it on my wall: I might tell you, ‘Look at my new painting! Isn’t it nice?’ ✒️

‘Look’ is the perfect verb to use in this kind of context because the objects being looked at – the painting – is not moving.

Note: when we use an object in the sentence, we use the preposition ‘at’ after ‘look’ – ‘look at’.

Otherwise, we do not need any preposition: e.g., she looked around her as she entered the room.


📝 #2) SEE

This is used to describe our noticing something with our eyes (or with the ‘corner of our eyes’). Unlike ‘look’, which gives the impression of focusing our attention towards something, ‘see’ does not involve focusing our attention consciously on something. When you ‘see’ something, it might be a case of your just happening to notice it.

✒️ For example: ‘I read the essay you wrote, it was great! It flowed nicely and I didn’t see any mistakes.’

Here are our examples taken directly from Wordsworth himself:

📜 ‘When all at once I saw a crowd, / A host, of golden daffodils …’


📜 ‘Ten thousand saw I at a glance, / Tossing their heads in sprightly dance …’

✍️ Herein lies some of the beauty of this poem: Wordsworth wants us to understand that he was not searching for the daffodils when he went on his walk, but he happened to discover them – he saw them and was impressed.

👉 (Compare this with ‘look’: He didn’t look for the daffodils, because he hadn’t known them to be there in the first place. But if someone had told him, ‘when you go for your walk there, have a look out for the daffodils’, then he would have looked and not seen them.)


📝 #3) WATCH

‘Watch’ is easy to remember because it is fairly different from either ‘look’ or ‘see’: ‘watch’ means to pay focused attention for something, especially something that is changing or moving.

If you are interested in birds and wildlife, and a friend tells you, ‘there is a wonderfully rare bird out in my garden that you would be interested in’, you might go out into the garden to ‘watch’ for that bird – you would be focused, attentive, and prepared to see the bird flying or moving around.

Even though Wordsworth’s daffodils were moving in the breeze, he wasn’t watching them because he knew that they weren’t going to move further or go anywhere. But if he had seen a lot of rabbits or sheep, for example, he might have watched them to see what they were doing or where they were moving.

✍️ NOTE: One last observation worth noting: whether we go out to the cinema, a concert, or to a sports event, or watch tv at home, we use only ‘see’ or ‘watch’, never ‘look’.

When you have to leave the house to see something, you use the verb ‘to see’. For example, ‘Shall we go to the cinema to see that movie on the weekend?’

When you can do the activity within your home and don’t have to go anywhere, you generally use the verb ‘to watch’. For example, ‘Would you like to watch a movie/tv programme tonight?’


📝 #4) GAZE

This is another verb that we use for focused attentive looking, but unlike with ‘watch’, with ‘gaze’ it doesn’t matter if the object is moving or not.

‘Gaze’ usually describes a state of looking with a kind of long-lasting emotion (like wonder, amazement, or admiration) at something, or else with no emotion or thought at all (like daydreaming).

✒️ Here are some sample sentences:

  • ‘He gazed at the painting with admiration.’
  • ‘The child gazed in wonder when the butterfly emerged from its chrysallis.’
  • ‘She was bored in this lonesome house, and gazed abstractly out the window at the children playing on the street.’

With this in mind, now read this line from Wordsworth again:

📜 ‘I gazed – and gazed – but little thought / What wealth the show to me had brought.’


📝 #5) GLANCE

This describes the kind of looking that is interested, but quick and fast.

✒️ Here are some examples:

  • ‘Wordsworth’s sister was walking beside him on the lake shore on that memorable day. When he saw the beautiful view, he glanced at her face to see if she was similarly impressed by it all.’
  • ‘As soon as I said that, I knew I had made a mistake and maybe even offended him – I quickly glanced at him, wondering if he was hurt.’
  • ‘The doctor glanced at the wound. “I’m afraid this is a serious injury”, he said.’
  • ‘I glanced at the books on the shelves in the bookshop, but soon noticed that their classics section was very small.’


📝 #6) EYE

When you see this listed as a verb here, you might be thinking to yourself – ‘isn’t that a noun describing part of the human face?’ You are right, but it is also a verb that we use in very particular circumstances, especially when we want to describe the act of looking closely at something, sometimes with suspicion, distrust, or doubt.

What is more, because of its connection with negative emotions, we do not want the person we are ‘eyeing’ to look back at us while we are doing so – in that way, ‘to eye someone’ is a kind of secretive act in itself.

✒️ Here are some examples:

  • ‘The jury-men eyed the suspect as he told his unbelievable story in the court room.’
  • ‘The teacher knew that the little boy was very active, and she eyed him during the whole lesson to make sure he was behaving properly.’
  • ‘When I handed my ID to the cashier, she eyed me warily (carefully, cautiously), comparing me with my photograph.’


That is the end of our Lesson for today! I sincerely hope that you found it helpful and enjoyable. I will be preparing more lessons in future on similar topics, but from today onwards I will be doing so on a less regular basis – no more daily Lessons for a while! This is because I will need some extra time to focus on creating a lesson package for you that includes more practical exercises and the chance for me to actually work with you more effectively. Please continue to send me your questions and any ideas for what you would like to see covered in upcoming lessons.

Till next time, keep up your good work! 😊

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2024)