Wonderful Daffodils in honour and memory of my Penang Free School English Teacher, D.H. Howe

William Wordsworth


A poem can stir all of the senses, and the subject matter of a poem can range from being funny to being sad. I hope that you like this poem and the sentiments in the words of Daffodils by William Wordsworth.

This poem has special meaning to me, although I could and did not appreciate it when I was doing English and English Literature in 1959 in Penang Free School under the tutelage of my teacher and friend (I met him again in Hongkong in 1986), the late D.H. Howe. I had never seen a daffodil at the time nor had I been to the English Lake District which had inspired poets for many generations.

The Penang Free School, Green Lane, Penang

Mr. Howe gave me a very low grade in a class examination for my written appreciation of this William Wordworth’s poem. My Penang Free School classmates, Tan Sri Sheriff Kassim, Dato Lim Say Chong, Dato Zain Yusuf ,and Goh Thong Beng may recall this incident. I had never felt more humiliated than the treatment for this effort I got from Mr. Howe. I had failed to see imagery which Wordsworth created in this poem. But how could I ever forget the opening lines of this poem, “I wondered lonely as a cloud, That floats on high o’er vales and hills…

Thanks, Mr. Howe for the humiliation I got but as in all things, there was something positive that came out of it. It made me learn and appreciate a little poetry every now and then, especially when the chips are down or when fortune frowns on me. May God Bless you, Sir.


I mentioned this incident to my wife, Dr. Kamsiah G. Haider last evening, about D.H. Howe, my English teacher, William Wordworth the poet and his Daffodils and of course Penang Free School (picture above) . It is, therefore, appropriate that I should dedicate Daffodils (she prefers red and white roses, and white lillies) by William Wordsworth to her with all my love and admiration. —Din Merican

Daffodils by William Wordsworth

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,
They stretched 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 leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but 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.

20 thoughts on “Wonderful Daffodils in honour and memory of my Penang Free School English Teacher, D.H. Howe

  1. Thanks for sharing your special poem with us. 🙂 The beauty of William Wordsworth’s writing style lies in his ability to bring to life an otherwise abstract emotion, with the sheer use of metaphors, to capture and release the fleeting feelings of wonderment,joy, bliss,pleasure and reminiscence!
    Most eloquent comment on Bill Wordsworth, ocho-onda. —Din Merican

  2. I am very much your junior,Din, but like everyone else who had to sit for the English paper, I empathize with what you went through as it was a constant challenge to try to figure out the writing styles of the earlier English poets,Shakespeare or even James Joyce ! It would have been a breeze if English was our mother language ! 🙂

  3. Sir,

    It’s such a coincidence that you’re writing about Daffodils. I’ve just been reminiscing with my old friends from Bath, England on Facebook and here’s Daffodils. Memories of Brother Beatty in Form 3, I think come rushing. I was 12, Sherbet, ABBA (about to happen) and Rod Stewart were it!

    Do you know what? I do believe I’m going to share it with my daughter now!

    Victor, good for you. Poetry enriches the soul. Man needs soul to do the right things and do them right. Share to multiply. Take care, Din.

  4. hi Din,

    My dad used to recite this at the dinner table when we were growing up. We could not really appreciate it’s beauty then but thanks to your posting it is twice as nice now as it is not only appreciated but it brings fond memories of my Dad!
    Joe, I am glad your dad exposed you to poetry including the poem by William Wordsworth at dinner. Thanks for visiting my blog and also for your comment. —Din Merican

  5. SAHC in Aloq Setaq, Kedah’s premier school, my alma mater, has produced some distinguished leaders, though several appear to have made it to PKR-PR’s Rogues Gallery.

    Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin, first Malay to hold the post, Tan Sri Abdul Halim Ali, Chief Secretary to Government, Tan Sri Mohamad Khir Johari, Education Minister and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Tan Sri Razali Ismail.

    The first headmaster of the school was Mohamad Iskandar – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s father.

    It also produced five former Chief Justices:

    Tun Syed Sheh Hassan Barakbah, Tun Mohamed Azmi Mohamed, Tun Abdul Hamid Omar, Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah and Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and now the sixth – Tan Sri Zaki Tun Azmi.
    Can Penang Frees beat this list of distinguished leaders – ‘small fry’ not included. Never mind the ‘rogue leaders’ since it is fair to say that the jury is still out and will be out for decades. The legacies they left behind will be up to the historians.

    Wiki only makes reference among a few others to Tan Sri P. Ramlee, Malay singer and actor, Tun Dr Lim Cheung Eu, former Chief Minister of Penang, Dato Eddy Choong, the All England Badminton champion and the arrogant Tan Sri Rama Iyer, former Sec-Gen Primary Industries.

    Never mind Tunku who studied at SAHC before joining PFS. He also had his education in Bangkok. In Alor Setaq, Tunku as a boy would go to school during those early years on the back of his minder.

    SAHC formerly known as the Government English School (the first English school) was set up before Kedah came under British Protection in 1908. That’a a first. PFS set up in 1816, is of course ahead, since Penang was previously known as the Prince of Wales Island and PFS was the first secondary English school in South East Asia. PFS was also a mission school.

    The three schools i.e. SAHC, PFS and MCKK were bitter rivals in sports. Together, academically and in sports, they are ahead of the pack. The ‘orang puteh’ not only left their mark on PFS and MCKK, the latter known as the Eaton of the East, SAHC had their share of ‘orang puteh’ headmasters until 1959.

  6. Among other notable alumnis that I know of are:

    Tuanku Syed Putra ibni Almarhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail, the 3rd Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia

    Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin, the Raja of Perlis and the 12th Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia.

    Dr. Wu Lien-teh, plague fighter and pioneer in the modernization of China’s public health system.

    Tan Sri Azizan Zainul Abidin – former Petronas corporate giant.

    Danny Quah – Prominent Economist and Head of Economics Department at the London School of Economics.

    Prof. Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram – Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development in the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)

    Wee Chong Jin (Dr), First Chief Justice of Singapore

    Former Datuk Bandar of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Elyas Omar.

    Tan Sri Datuk Seri Dr. Ismail Merican, Director General of Health.

    Dennis Lee – World renowned pianist.

    Penang Free School can proudly boast of having the most number of Queen’s scholars in the country as well back then.

    Fortis Atque Fidelis!

    Old Free Class of 2002
    Jason, welcome to the club and thanks for your comments.—Din Merican

  7. so ur an old free sir?

    ‘Free School for the Brave and for the True….’

    am an old free myself…a young ‘old free’ actually…
    2003/2004 (s.captain)
    Vanguard, you have done well for yourself, achieving the status of school captain. Fortis Atque Fidelis and thanks for visiting this blog.—Din Merican (PFS, 1959)

  8. Brother Din,
    Thanks for bringing back the memory of school and our teachers. Like you, I sat through Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, John Donne and God knows who elase. I was an utter diappointment to a lovely lass from England as well as I completely failed to appreciate the wondrous works of these purveyors of rhyme. Poor Anne Stamford was certainly disappointed when I failed in her pet subject. However, I did redeem myself 5 years later just in time to tell her (when she returned to Malaysia for a holiday) that I did do well in her favourite subject after all.
    Wonderful memories of the Old School in Green Lane and of all my outstanding seniors (including you).
    Keep up the good work and God Bless

  9. Mr Ong Poh Kee was my Economics teacher at PFS before he became HM of SAHC and Chief Education Officer, Kedah.

    Yes, SAHC is a great school, but I will not be get into an argument with you on which school is the better, PFS or SAHC. Both schools have their share of great guys and gals.

    So, Mr. Bean, your school is Kedah’s No. 1 school, but in Penang, there are number of very good ones in my time–PFS, St. Xavier’s Institution, Chung Ling High School, The Methodist Boys School, St George’s Girls School, and The Convent, Penang, just to name a few. What happened today to these schools in terms of educational quality and sporting prowess? —Din Merican

  10. –PFS, St. Xavier’s Institution, Chung Ling High School, The Methodist Boys School, St George’s Girls School, and The Convent, Penang, just to name a few. What happened today to these schools in terms of educational quality and sporting prowess? —Din Merican

    Sad but you are so right, Din ! Reflective of the state of the leadership in our beloved country today!

  11. Mr Bojangles favorite also had some clouds but rather grim ones at that in “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” by WB Yeats

    I know that I shall meet my fate
    Somewhere among the clouds above;
    Those that I fight I do not hate,
    Those that I guard I do not love;
    My country is Kiltartan Cross,
    My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
    No likely end could bring them loss
    Or leave them happier than before.
    Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
    Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
    A lonely impulse of delight
    Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
    I balanced all, brought all to mind,
    The years to come seemed waste of breath,
    A waste of breath the years behind
    In balance with this life, this death.

    Alas, with all the billboard pollution blighting our cities this, by Ogden Nash, rather than duty and patriotism, might be more appropriate a path to helping push up the daffodils:

    Beneath this slab John Brown is stowed.
    He watched the ads, And not the road.

  12. “Beneath this slab John Brown is stowed.
    He watched the ads, And not the road.”

    Mr Bojangles – March 3, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Are you implying, Din’s Daffodils’ a distraction ? 🙂

  13. Waaah…! Is this blog changing to a different kind of blog i.e. “My Alma Mater” Penang Free School? How about University of Malaya before it went to the dogs?? But then every other institution has gone to the dogs!

    At the time the Malays were not good in English because most came from the kampong where English was never spoken. Those who were living in towns and more urbanized areas had a far better control of the English language. Din Merican and I were among those. Din Merican had another reason. He reckoned to be able to cast his net far and wide, he would have to be able to express his romantic thoughts with better than average clarity. I was not too far behind.

    Today that cannot explain the aversion the Malays have over a language like English which is spoken by one out of every five people walking this earth (with varying levels of competency, of course). Some 750 million people speak English as a foreign language.

    UMNO has done it to the Malays when their leaders politicized language and education, changing the medium of instruction from English to Malay etc feeding a narrow form of Malay nationalism – while sending their children overseas to study.

    Anwar was my contemporary at university (there was then only one university) and I never heard him giving his fiery speeches at Speakers’ Corner in any language but Malay. I suppose that was his way of reaching out to his core supporters. By the time he became DPM, he exhibits the kind of control over the language which is refreshing i.e. the kind you would like your leaders to have when speaking to an international audience. Anything less is embarrassing.

    It is all about communication. The truth is you cannot expect the world to listen to you if you do not have control over a language spoken by every one out of five people who walk this planet.

    PKR is in a unique position to reverse the trend. But then I have still to hear of PKR’s education policy or even economic policy.

  14. Daffodils aside – the reason for the drop in the standards of the performances of our top schools is due to the drop in the standards of our education system .
    “There are no bad students, only bad teachers”. When PR takes over they have to make education one of their priority concerns and most especially, to ensure that only quality people are attracted and recruited into the teaching profession !!!

  15. “So, Mr. Bean, your school is Kedah’s No. 1 school, but in Penang, there are number of very good ones in my time–PFS, St. Xavier’s Institution, Chung Ling High School, The Methodist Boys School, St George’s Girls School, and The Convent, Penang, just to name a few.” Din Merican

    Only because Penang was ahead of the game – and more.

    The good schools were mission schools and Malays those days were afraid to send their children to English schools because they feared it would make Chrisitians out of them. It took a lot of persuasion before they changed their minds and that does not happen overnight.

  16. “Anwar was my contemporary…” Bean-san

    Compared to you, Din and most of the visitors to this blog, in terms of seniority, I am still a punk. 🙂

  17. If ocho-onda is a punk, I am just a baby compared to all those guys you mentioned.

    I am proud of my alma mater that is Convent Taiping. Not many had gone through the same school from primary one to secondary level (up to Form 5) the way I did. The school encouraged us to be all round sportswomen .We did not have sixth form and that led me to the University of Malaya at the age of 17 mainly on my active involvement in sports. My school motto is “Simple in Virtue and Steadfast in Duty”.

    Sad to say not many schools today are interested in developing all rounders with leadership potential. There is too much emphasis on grades to the exclusion of other attributes of a human personality.

    I was in first batch of victims of UMNO politicians who politized Malay language as a total medium of instruction. It is only after I left the University that I was ‘forced’ to develope my English reading and writing skills. This is indeed a shame when politics over rides other considerations.

    I never got to learn English properly or in a formal way since Bahasa Melayu was the medium of instruction all the way till I completed my first degree in science.

    Therefore my exposure in English poetry and literature is rather limited. Bill Wordsworth’s Daffodils is new to me. It sounds great anyway!!! I was thus spared the humiliation Din suffered under Mr Howe. Given a chance of a good teacher such as Mr Howe I could easily outperform Din.

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