Ode: Intimations of Immortality as a Philosophical Poem

Ode: Intimations of Immortality as a Philosophical Poem

Ode: Intimations of Immortality as a Philosophical Poem

A philosophical poem is the one which embodies some philosophical truth without sacrificing the essential poetic qualities and graces. There is nothing to mind if poetry is the outcome of philosophy or is the vehicle of philosophic truth. Wordsworth, for example, wished to be considered a teacher or nothing. Lord Morley says, “In deserts of preaching we find almost…… within sight of one another delightful oases of purest poetry.” What makes for the difference between poetry and philosophy is not the presence or absence of philosophical ideas. The difference lies in the treatment of ideas. We should not, therefore, quarrel with any poet who offers us philosophy in the fashion of poetry. “We require only,” as Hudson says, “that his philosophy shall be transfigured by imagination and feeling; that it shall be shaped into a thing of beauty; that it shall be wrought into true poetic expression.”

Intimations of Immortality is a philosophical poem, because it conforms fully to this definition of a philosophical poem. It expresses such philosophical doctrines as pre-existence and recollections from it in childhood. These philosophical ideas go back to Plato, but Wordsworth did not take them from him, nor is his application of them Plato’s. He took them from Coleridge and Henry Vaughan.

“Coleridge had played with the idea of pre-existence as an explanation of a feeling that we have in a previous existence done something or been somewhere.”


When a man is born in this world, the soul comes to inhabit his body. This soul is immortal and has its real home in heaven, the ideal world of beauty and glory (Plato’s perfect world of ideas). In childhood the soul has the memories of the heavenly life fresh in it. That is why the child sees “the earth and every common sight” apparelled in celestial light and has doubts about the reality of the external things. On occasions the objects of sight seem to him to vanish away as something unsubstantial. As the child grows in years, “shades of the prison-house begin to close upon “him.” He becomes more and more interested in the things of this world. This interest dulls his soul and thereby makes him recede farther and farther from heaven. In boyhood and still in youth, the visionary gleam, though dim, lingers in him. When he grows to be a full man, the heavenly light sets below the horizon of his vision. Yet, even in mature age, the recollections of pre-existence come to him, though fitfully. Thus when he is in a mood of calm, spiritual contemplation, he can catch glimpses of eternity and find the children playing on its shore.

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Intimations of Immortality expounds profound philosophical doctrines, no doubt. But it is not the philosophy that is the best thing about the poem-the best thing is rather the inspired beauty of expression. True to his poetic theory the poet expresses his philosophical theories in a selection of language really used by men; but his expression is charged with an intensity of emotion and feeling and is full of subtlest suggestions that effectively stir our imagination. In the lines,

“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.”

the expression attains to the height of emotional intensity and imaginative suggestiveness that can hardly be scaled. As we read the lines our emotions are so stirred that we pass into a state of spiritual ecstasy, and seem to see the vast, limitless vista of the eternal sea with its waves swelling and surging forever and the countless children playing on its shore, According to Helen Darbishire, “these lines, the most beautiful in the poem are at the height of imaginative vision. The image has a magic and a sensuous beauty rare in Wordsworth.”

The charm of the melody that haunts the lines of the poem is simply wonderful. Even to those who are unable to catch the full significance of the philosophical ideas, the emotion of the poet is admirably carried by the varying cadence of the verse at every transition of thought. And this is the main characteristic of all great poetry.

To conclude, Intimations of Immortality offers a perfect blend of poetry and philosophy. It is a philosophical poem in the true sense of the term.

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