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Ode: Intimations of Immortality was composed between 1802 and 1804 and was published in 1807. William Wordsworth‘s note on the composition of the poem is worth-quoting:
“This was composed during my residence at Town-end, Grassmere. Two years at least passed between the writing of the first four stanzas and the remaining part. There may be no harm in adverting here to the particular feelings and experiences of my own mind on which the structure of the poem partly rests. Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood than to admit the notion of death as a state applicable to my own being. It is not so much from the source of animal vitality that my difficulties came as from a sense of the indomitableness of the spirit within me….With a feeling congenial to this, I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from but inherent in my own immaterial nature…… In later times L……have rejoiced over the remembrance as is expressed in the lines of obstinate questions etc. (Il 14 ff). To that dream-like vividness and splendour, which invests objects of sight in childhood, everyone, I believe, if he would look back, could bear testimony…….”
Ode: Intimations of Immortality Summary
In his childhood Wordsworth saw the objects of sight clothed in heavenly radiance and dream-like vividness. But now he cannot catch the vision of this heavenly splendour.
Things in nature–the rainbow, the rose, the moon, the sun-appear and disappear as before, but the divine radiance which shone on them before has vanished forever.
It is the month of May. The whole nature leaps in joy. The shepherd-boy shouts in joy. The waterfalls come down from the steep mountains with a tremendous noise. The winds blow gaily through the fields. The valleys far and wide are full of flowers and children have come out to cull flowers. The sun shines brightly in the cloudless sky. The whole nature wears a festive look. The poet alone is sad. His sadness is out of tune with the joyful surroundings. So he strives to banish the mood of depression and to be gay to do justice to the jollity all around him. But in spite of all his efforts he cannot shake the sadness off his mind. A look at the stray objects of nature, a tree, a pansy, a field reminds him that something glorious he could visualise in childhood has passed away from the face of the earth.
Stanza 3 & 4
When a man is born in this world he brings with him the light of the heaven where he lived before his birth. In his infancy he sees the celestial light all around him. But as he grows up this light begins to disappear from his vision. Still in his boyhood he can catch delightful glimpses of this receding light. In his youth he cannot see the light directly, but he can have glimpses of it through his worship of nature. This light totally vanishes as he grows to manhood.
Earth offers the man her own worldly material pleasures and thereby tries to make him forget the glories of his pre-natal existence.
A child is imitative by nature. He imitates the scenes of human life he sees around him. Thus he arranges his toys so as to imitate a mourning, a festival, a funeral or a wedding. In conformity with this imitation he frames his childish world. Then in imitation of his elders he will adjust his speech to conversations dealing with business, or love or quarrel. But very soon he will grow up into a young man, and will give up imitating the thoughts and feelings of his elders. Then like an actor he will imitate all the different parts from that of a boy to that of an old man, as if his whole business in life lay in imitating his elders.
The child is the best philosopher, prophet and seer. He retains even in this world his inheritance of heavenly bliss. He has insight into ultimate and eternal reality (the eternal deep). He feels the presence of God all around him. He knows those truths (e.g. the immortality of soul) which we are struggling to discover all our lives. He is dominated and controlled by the consciousness of his heavenly life. He is perched on the highest height of spiritual freedom. This being the case, it is really strange why he should, by imitating grown-ups, make himself slaves of customs and conventions which will kill his spiritual freedom.
The memory of childhood days is a source of constant joy to a grownup man, not because childhood is a period of delight and freedom, but because the child has persistent doubts about the reality of the world of the senses, and saw everything around him clothed in celestial light. The vague memories of this childhood vision of the heavenly light and of the doubts about the reality of this world serve as the guiding light of all our future days and make us realize that the noisy years of our life are but few moments in the vast silence of eternity. Nothing can destroy this spiritual realisation Hence in the peaceful moments of our life we catch glimpses of the vast sea of eternity
So we need not despair even though the objects of nature do not appear to be clothed in heavenly radiance as it used to be in our childhood. We will find abundant recompense “in what remains behind”–in the memory of the childhood vision of the celestial radiance and in the comforting thoughts that come from the contemplation of human sufferings.
The poet appeals to nature not to sever her love for him. He still feels her influence in his heart of hearts. But his love for her has been sobered by his tragic experiences. Now the most insignificant flower moves him with the feelings that stir him to the very depths of his being like some great sorrow.