Glorification of Childhood in Ode: Intimations of Immortality
Exaltation of the state of childhood is one of the distinctive features of Romantic poetry. Himself an inaugurator of the Romantic movement in England and its greatest exponent, Wordsworth sings of the glory, goodness and bliss of childhood in his poems. But it is in Ode: Intimations of Immortality that his exaltation of the state of childhood reaches its acme.
Ode: Intimations of Immortality is memorable especially for its glorification of childhood. When a man is born in this world, he falls into a spiritual sleep and loses consciousness of his pre-natal existence in heaven and forgets its blisses and glories. But the soul which comes to inhabit his body with his birth does not wholly forget the glories and blisses of heaven, its real home. The memories of the glorious heavenly life surround it at birth. That is why while a man is in childhood he sees “the earth and every common sight” appareled in celestial light and invested with “the glory and freshness of a dream”. As the child grows in years “shades of the prison-house begin to close upon him and take him farther and farther from heaven. Still in boyhood he remembers, though faintly, its divine heritage, and sees, though dimly, the light that never was on land and sea, and knows that the light emanates from heaven:
Ode: Intimations of Immortality conveys Wordsworth’s philosophy of pre-existence (i.e. man’s existence in heaven, the ideal world of beauty and glory, before birth) and recollections from it in childhood. The theory of pre-existence and recollection goes back to Plato, but Wordsworth did not take it from him nor is his application of it Plato’s. He took it rather from Coleridge and Henry Vaughan. Whatever may be Wordsworth’s indebtedness to others, it is the intensity of his personal experience that gives validity to his philosophic theories. He had his own visionary moments. “He believed himself to be immortal because through the objects of sense he had known a lofty exaltation in which he passed beyond time.” (Bowra). In the child’s vision of heavenly pre-existence he saw something very like his own visions.
A gown-up man has intimations of immortality through his recollections of childhood. He looks upon the child as the best philosopher who has insight into eternal reality and who retains the privilege of visions and intuitions he had in pre-natal existence. He is the “Eye among the blind”. He can see the celestial light to which the grown-ups are blind. He continually feels the presence of God, the eternal mind, everywhere. The truths which grown- up men are struggling hard all their life to discover with the help of reason are revealed to him intuitively. He has instinctive sense of the immortality of the soul, and this sense envelops and dominates the mind of the child as light envelops the day or the master dominates over the slave.
The memory of childhood days is a source of constant joy to a grown- up 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 senses.
In childhood the objects of sight seem to slip off from him and melt into nothingness. This insubstantiality of the material objects gives rise to the doubt that he is living in an unintelligible world. A child has lofty intuitions from above. He has also the primal perceptions of the celestial radiance investing the objects of sight and faint recollections of the glories of the pre- existent heavenly life. Whatever may be the exact nature of these primal perceptions and shadowy recollections they are the source of the light that guides us through the darkness of the material world. They are also the supreme light that makes us see into spiritual truths. They sustain and cheer us in the midst of the worries of worldly life and have the power to make our noisy life on earth appear to be the briefest interval between the silent (i.e. peaceful) eternal existence before birth and after death. Intuitions of the heavenly life that dawn on us in childhood do never die out. So by remembering what we felt in childhood, we can, even in old age, have occasional glimpses of eternity when we in a mood of calm, spiritual contemplation:
“Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be
Our souls have sight of that immortal seal
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.”
To conclude, Ode: Intimations of Immortality is the finest specimen exhibiting the exaltation of childhood and the glorification of the childhood memories.