ENGL 334- Romanticism
Children of Joy?
In the first four stanzas of his poem â€śOde: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of early Childhood
,â€ť William Wordsworth
wonders what has happened to the beauty
he saw in the world when he was a boy, and if the beauty and wonder
he saw then can ever be recovered. â€śWhither is fled the visionary gleam?
/ Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
â€ť he asks. Both Wordsworth and his close friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge
would attempt to answer this question. It would be two years before Wordsworth would again pick up his pen and continue with the ode
, but Coleridge was struck by the opening of Wordsworthâ€™s poem immediately, and began his own work, â€śDejection: An Ode
,â€ť in an attempt to answer Wordsworthâ€™s question for himself.
There are several important metaphor
s laid out by the opening of Intimations of Immortality,
which are used to some degree in both Coleridgeâ€™s poem and in Wordsworthâ€™s conclusion. Coleridge introduces additional symbol
ic references to aid the message of his work, as does Wordsworth in his own conclusion. Both poems also contain many of the same thematic element
s, and deal with the loss of childhood
â€™s natural wisdom
and wonder, the frustration that comes when one is emotionally severed
from oneâ€™s world, and whether or not inspiration
is possible to regain once it is lost.
The major motif of Wordsworthâ€™s first four stanzas is the passage from childhood into adulthood
, and the indescribable something
that is lost in growing upâ€”indescribable because it is not really appreciated until it is lost
, leaving only the shadow of a â€śvisionary gleam
â€ťâ€”â€śsomething that is goneâ€ťâ€”but is spoken of by trees, fields, and flowers. The couplet
that concludes the fourth stanza of â€śIntimations of Immortalityâ€ť is a question so weighty, so distressing, that Wordsworth himself spent two years without an answer for it. Why does imagination
shrink as we grow? Why does inspiration become more and more difficult to achieve in our adult years?
In â€śDejection: An Ode,â€ť Coleridge suggests that the reason inspiration is harder to find when we become adults is that we assume that it comes from outside sources
. After watching a beautiful sky
, and realizing that he sees its beauty objectively
, without passion, Coleridge is crushed by his â€śdull pain
,â€ť his â€śunimpassioned grief
,â€ť and his â€śwan
and heartless mood.â€ť Upon hitting bottom
, he realizes that he â€śmay not hope from outward forms
to win/ The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.â€ť He will later proclaim, â€śthe soul itself must issue forth
/ A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud.â€ť For Coleridge, this is where the visionary gleam has fledâ€”deep within the soul
. Coleridge also finds a simpler name for this inner light: Joy
Coleridge feels that at some point he lost this Joy
, this inspirational light
, which was the source of his â€śshaping spirit of Imagination.â€ť According to his own definition
, what he has lost in the process is his secondary Imagination
, the ability to re-create, to dissect and reassemble. After losing this creative spirit
, he turned to analysis and criticism, which eventually became his only even marginally creative outlet. Upon realizing that this has happened to him, he turns away from â€śrealityâ€™s dark dreamâ€ť to listen to the stormy windâ€”inspirationâ€”that has â€śraved unnoticed.â€ť Immediately upon hearing the wind, he begins to create again.
Coleridge personifies the wind, making it a â€śMad Lutanist
,â€ť an â€śActor
,â€ť and a â€śPoet
.â€ť He imagines in its roar a wild battle-plain, a â€śrushing crowd,â€ť and finally of a little lost child, calling for her mother. Perhaps this last metaphor is the most important, since it calls to his mind thoughts of childhood, perhaps even a memory of an occasion in which he was himself lost in a wood. By recognizing his current situation and realizing what has happened to him and accepting what is for what it is, he is immediately able to change his situation, and awakens his own inner light. Coleridgeâ€™s primary Imaginationâ€”that which is â€śa repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM
,â€ť and which can never be taken away, immediately puts his secondary and creative imagination to work.
It is difficult to say whether or not Coleridge has found joy in this act of creation. He may not even realize that his creative spirit has, at least for a time, returned to him, and he immediately changes the subject to thoughts of hope for Sara Hutchinson
, the â€śDear Lady
â€ť of the poem. It seems he has at least been able to climb out of the pit of egocentric self-pity and self-loathing he has been in, and to turn his thoughts to the welfare of another person.
Wordsworthâ€™s conclusion to â€śOde: Intimations of Immortalityâ€ť also uses the ideas of childhood, joy, and weather, but Wordsworthâ€™s solution to the question of â€śthe glory and the dreamâ€ť takes a much different course. Section five begins with an assertion:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our lifeâ€™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:
This response, which took him two years to work out, gives Wordsworth the hope he so desperately needed at the conclusion to part four. The Joy and inspiration that childhood holds so carelessly and naturally and which adulthood lacks and craves
can be regained through rebirth after death. This assertion of reincarnation assures Wordsworth that he will once again know the Joy and light of childhood. He declares that Earth
is no more than a nurse or foster-parent to him, trying to make him forget his eternal nature
, and his true â€śimperialâ€ť home. Rather than brooding in Coleridgeâ€™s clouds and stormy winds of inspiration
, Wordsworth imagines himself as a kind of sun, rising and setting on a natural world for all time.
Wordsworth also laments the tendency of children to pretend to and long for adulthood, wanting to grow up, only to find that they have lost something beautiful in the process. For Wordsworth, it is the child, not the wind, who is an Actor, and who can bring him the Joy of memory
, which is the remnant â€śemberâ€ť of youthâ€™s blazing â€śvisionary gleam.â€ť This last spark of inspiration
is the light by which we can still see the â€śimmortal seaâ€ť of our eternal nature.
For Wordsworth, then, the â€śvisionary gleamâ€ť has indeed begun to fade into the â€śyears that bring the philosophic mind
â€ť of adulthood. That light has not disappeared completely, however, and there is, for him, the knowledge that it will be rekindled by a return to his eternal home. Although he does not see the world around him with the same unclouded eyes, able to see everything wreathed in â€ścelestial light
,â€ť he finds peace, knowing he has â€śrelinquished one delightâ€ť in exchange for the earthly world, but that he will someday have the chance to see the world again in a new light