Full Title: "Ode: Intimations Of Immortality From Recollections Of Early Childhood"

Information:

  • Author: William Wordsworth
  • Original Text: Poems in Two Volumes
  • Published: 1807
  • Genre: Romantic
  • Full Text:

                      The child is father of the man;
                      And I could wish my days to be
                      Bound each to each by natural piety.
                           --(Wordsworth, "My Heart Leaps Up")                  
    
    
                                       I
    
              THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
              The earth, and every common sight,
                        To me did seem
                      Apparelled in celestial light,
              The glory and the freshness of a dream.
              It is not now as it hath been of yore;--
                      Turn wheresoe'er I may,
                        By night or day,
              The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
    
                                       II
    
                      The Rainbow comes and goes,
                      And lovely is the Rose,
                      The Moon doth with delight
                Look round her when the heavens are bare,
                      Waters on a starry night
                      Are beautiful and fair;
                  The sunshine is a glorious birth;
                  But yet I know, where'er I go,
              That there hath past away a glory from the earth.
    
                                      III
    
              Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
                  And while the young lambs bound
                      As to the tabor's sound,
              To me alone there came a thought of grief:
              A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
                      And I again am strong:
              The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;
              No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;
              I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
              The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
                      And all the earth is gay;
                          Land and sea
                  Give themselves up to jollity,
                      And with the heart of May
                  Doth every Beast keep holiday;--
                      Thou Child of Joy,
              Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy
                        Shepherd-boy!
    
                                       IV
    
              Ye blessed Creatures, I have heard the call
                  Ye to each other make; I see
              The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
                  My heart is at your festival,
                  My head hath its coronal,
              The fulness of your bliss, I feel--I feel it all.
                  Oh evil day! if I were sullen
                  While Earth herself is adorning,
                      This sweet May-morning,
                  And the Children are culling
                      On every side,
                  In a thousand valleys far and wide,
                  Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,
              And the Babe leaps up on his Mother's arm:--
                  I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
                  --But there's a Tree, of many, one,
              A single Field which I have looked upon,
              Both of them speak of something that is gone:
                  The Pansy at my feet
                  Doth the same tale repeat:
              Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
              Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
    
                                       V
    
              Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
              The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
                  Hath had elsewhere its setting,
                    And cometh from afar:
                  Not in entire forgetfulness,
                  And not in utter nakedness,
              But trailing clouds of glory do we come
                  From God, who is our home:
              Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
              Shades of the prison-house begin to close
                  Upon the growing Boy,
              But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
                  He sees it in his joy;
              The Youth, who daily farther from the east
                  Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
                  And by the vision splendid
                  Is on his way attended;
              At length the Man perceives it die away,
              And fade into the light of common day.
    
                                       VI
    
              Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
              Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
              And, even with something of a Mother's mind,
                  And no unworthy aim,
                  The homely Nurse doth all she can
              To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man,
                  Forget the glories he hath known,
              And that imperial palace whence he came.
    
                                      VII
    
              Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
              A six years' Darling of a pigmy size!
              See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies,
              Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses,
              With light upon him from his father's eyes!
              See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,
              Some fragment from his dream of human life,
              Shaped by himself with newly-learned art;
                  A wedding or a festival,
                  A mourning or a funeral;
                      And this hath now his heart,
                  And unto this he frames his song:
                      Then will he fit his tongue
              To dialogues of business, love, or strife;
                  But it will not be long
                  Ere this be thrown aside,
                  And with new joy and pride
              The little Actor cons another part;
              Filling from time to time his "humorous stage"
              With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,
              That Life brings with her in her equipage;
                  As if his whole vocation
                  Were endless imitation.
    
                                      VIII
    
              Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
                  Thy Soul's immensity;
              Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
              Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
              That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,
              Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,--
                  Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
                  On whom those truths do rest,
              Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
              In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;
              Thou, over whom thy Immortality
              Broods like the Day, a Master o'er a Slave,
              A Presence which is not to be put by;
              Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
              Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height,
              Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
              The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
              Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
              Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
              And custom lie upon thee with a weight
              Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
    
                                       IX
    
                  O joy! that in our embers
                  Is something that doth live,
                  That nature yet remembers
                  What was so fugitive!
              The thought of our past years in me doth breed
              Perpetual benediction: not indeed
              For that which is most worthy to be blest--
              Delight and liberty, the simple creed
              Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
              With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:--
                  Not for these I raise
                  The song of thanks and praise;
                But for those obstinate questionings
                Of sense and outward things,
                Fallings from us, vanishings;
                Blank misgivings of a Creature
              Moving about in worlds not realised,
              High instincts before which our mortal Nature
              Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised:
                  But for those first affections,
                  Those shadowy recollections,
                Which, be they what they may,
              Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
              Are yet a master light of all our seeing;
                Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
              Our noisy years seem moments in the being
              Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
                  To perish never;
              Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
                  Nor Man nor Boy,
              Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
              Can utterly abolish or destroy!
                  Hence in a season of calm weather
                  Though inland far we be,
              Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
                  Which brought us hither,
                  Can in a moment travel thither,
              And see the Children sport upon the shore,
              And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
    
                                       X
    
              Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
                  And let the young Lambs bound
                  As to the tabor's sound!
              We in thought will join your throng,
                  Ye that pipe and ye that play,
                  Ye that through your hearts to-day
                  Feel the gladness of the May!
              What though the radiance which was once so bright
              Be now for ever taken from my sight,
                  Though nothing can bring back the hour
              Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
                  We will grieve not, rather find
                  Strength in what remains behind;
                  In the primal sympathy
                  Which having been must ever be;
                  In the soothing thoughts that spring
                  Out of human suffering;
                  In the faith that looks through death,
              In years that bring the philosophic mind.
    
                                       XI
    
              And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
              Forebode not any severing of our loves!
              Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
              I only have relinquished one delight
              To live beneath your more habitual sway.
              I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
              Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
              The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
                          Is lovely yet;
              The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
              Do take a sober colouring from an eye
              That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
              Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
              Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
              Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
              To me the meanest flower that blows can give
              Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
    
    Hurrah for the Node your homework mentality.

    Wordsworth's Intimations Ode as a Path to Self-Discovery

    Today, William Wordsworth’s understanding of the human mind seems simple enough to analyze, what with the advent of psychoanalysis and the general Freudian acceptance of the importance of childhood in the adult psyche. But in Wordsworth’s time, his ideas about the visionary qualities of infancy and childhood were different from anything that had been previously suggested.

    Because his ideas on the formative qualities of youth were themselves so untested, Wordsworth had the advantage of being able to define his ideas throughout a lifetime of observation, experience, and the questioning of his preconceived notions about the role of childhood in the adult life. His conclusions led to a belief in the self being removed at birth from a Utopian state of creative self-awareness. “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: / The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, / Hath elsewhere its setting” (“Ode” lines 59-61). This belief that he is in the process of losing his prodigious spark of Nature by growing up is repeated multiple times as he moves back and forth between crisis and inspiration.

    In “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (hereafter referred to as “Intimations Ode”), Wordsworth uses the first stanza to introduce his audience to the sense that all is not well:

    “There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
    The earth, and every common sight,
    To me did seem
    Apparelled in celestial light,
    The glory and the freshness of a dream” (“Ode” lines 1-5).

    He provides a glimpse of the “celestial”, and then takes it away. This loss of sight is a core characteristic of his crisis. “By night or day / The things which I have seen I now can see no more” (“Ode” lines 8-9). He suggests that our birth is a removal from the “celestial,” and that as we grow up, we become lesser beings, losing that creative questioning impulse that makes life worthwhile.

    In order for this to be a valid argument and to better understand the qualities of his crisis, it is important to be able to interpret the properties of his inspirations. Throughout this poem, Wordsworth shows an almost obstinate hope found exclusively in his brief descriptions of the natural creative world. “The Rainbow comes and goes, / And lovely is the Rose, / The Moon doth with delight / Look round her when the heavens are bare” (“Ode” lines 10-13). It is through these glimpses or memories that he is able to take hold of his emotions, and label them “Dialogues of business, love and “strife” (“Ode line 99). He realizes that these interactions cause him to retreat still further from life: “Full soon they Soul shall have her earthly freight, / And custom lie upon thee with a weight, / Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life” (“Ode” lines 127-129). This realization triggers a new volley of crises that are not fully resolved until line 169.

    A good example of this type of thinking can be found in lines 130 through 168 where Wordsworth finally begins to understand his problems, and responds to the paths of maturing out of childhood that he creates in stanza VII: “A wedding or a festival, / A Mourning or a funeral; / And this hath now his heart, / And unto this he frames his song” (“Ode” lines 94-97). Wordsworth thinks little of the person who plays a “part” in life, “As if his whole vocation / Were endless imitation” (“Ode” lines 103-108), but he finds great joy in the idea that some fragment of his founding energy remembers where he came from. “Oh joy, that in our embers / Is something that doth live, / That nature yet remembers / What was so fugitive” (“Ode” lines 130-134).

    Wordsworth then shows the child of line 86 that he can escape the monotony of life as a mere role player by giving himself up to the “obstinate questionings” that are a part of his deepest self. By doing this, the child (and Wordsworth) discover that the human nature so studiously outlined in stanza 7, trembles “like a guilty Thing surprised” (“Ode” line 148). They find themselves again able to see clearly, and to interact with the creative spark from which both are come.

    “Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
    To perish never;
    Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
    Nor Man nor Boy,
    Nor all that us at enmity with joy,
    Can utterly abolish or destroy!” (“Ode” lines 156-161).

    Wordsworth defines the space and confines of his poem early, setting the scene out in nature and capturing himself as a child at the very dawn of life in stanza I which sets the tone for everything that follows after. Even at the end of the poem where he is looking back at his childhood, it is not the adult life or interpretation of life that he focuses on; instead it is the path of dialectic growth away from glorious infancy to the position of thinking youth. It is with his own youth that he holds imaginary “dialogues,” which leads to the discovery that he is able to appreciate Nature as an adult better than when he was a child, formed in the image of man. “Though nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; / We will grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind” (“Ode” lines 178-181). It is his own mortality That allows him to appreciate the immortal constancy of Nature in all her unchanging ways.

    “I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
    Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
    The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
    Is lovely yet;
    The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
    Do take a sober colouring from an eye
    That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality.” (“Ode” lines 193-199)

    -----------------------------------------
    Sources:

    “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth
    Literature 223 with Robert Baker
    Me

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