Study Guide

Ode: Intimations of Immortality

by William Wordsworth

Ode: Intimations of Immortality Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

William Wordsworth was a prolific and controversial poet. A major figure in the English Romantic movement, he was known as the optimistic author of numerous lyrical poems, which were written in a simple language dedicated to a daffodil, a daisy, or a butterfly, symbols of the splendor of all nature (living and nonliving). The famous English poet and critic Matthew Arnold thought Wordsworth’s poetry had “healing powers,” educating people to feel again. Wordsworth’s theory of poetry was based on passion and emotions. He believed that even the thoughts rest in feelings.

Ode treats the preexistence of human life, using the poet’s personal life experience combined with a Platonic concept. Wordsworth first mentioned the lasting importance of childhood memories of nature upon the adult mind in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (1798). In addition to Plato’s famous theory regarding such memories, another possible influence on the poet may have been the book Silex Scintillans (1650, 1655) by the Welsh-born religious poet Henry Vaughan.

The main concept of Wordsworth’s Ode is based on the poet’s belief that the “Child is Father of the Man” a sentiment taken from John Milton’s Paradise Regained (1671) and used by Wordsworth in his short poem “My Heart Leaps Up” (Complete Poetical Works, 1802). In the Ode, he explains that birth is “a sleep and a forgetting,” not the beginning of life. Thus, he believes, children still carry a glorious memory of the “imperial” heaven as their home with God. Innocent babies and children see the beauty of the terrestrial world not only with their physical eyes but also and even more through their hearts and souls, which carry a preexisting sense of the spiritual presence. With an elegiac and definitely a nostalgic timbre, the Ode starts with the poet’s own memory of that blissful place (or state of spirit and mind).

Because of their still recent and fresh memory of the celestial glory, Wordsworth claims, children live in a dream-like world of pure joy and fascination. Gradually, while growing, they start to forget. The bliss fades into the light of ordinary day. Their attention becomes self-absorbed, less dedicated to solitary thinking and curious questioning. They become physically and mentally involved in various activities, in attending school, and in the distractions of crowds. There are prevalent, pressuring, mundane routines to be learned daily. According to the poet’s vision of that stage of life, each individual gradually becomes a “prisoner” and “imitator” of other people and of conventional ways of life. To fill the nagging feeling of innate loneliness, a youth craves to blend in, to be accepted into something larger, to belong. After losing the celestial freedom and the previously owned grandeur of peace and harmony, the individual is absorbed in a constant search for the self and the lost paradise.

The poet laments this loss, but he believes that it is not complete. His acclaimed positivity of outlook is expressed in numerous poems, especially lyrical poetry, and always with a philosophical, sometimes didactic, touch. He combines the ancient, pre-Christian Plato’s view with his own Christian-based theory, adding a personal twist. Wordsworth believes there is wisdom in maturity and a different,...

(The entire section is 1391 words.)

Ode: Intimations of Immortality Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” was written over a two-year period from 1802 to 1804 and published in 1807. According to his sister Dororthy’s journals, Wordsworth began the poem sometime before the end of March, 1802. The first four stanzas of the ode were completed by April 4, 1802, which is the date assigned by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to his “Dejection: An Ode,” which was written in response to Wordsworth’s poem. In 1802 William and Dorothy were living at Grasmere cottage, within walking distance of Coleridge’s house in the same neighborhood. The proximity of the two poets fueled a magical collaboration, of which the two odes are a prime example. After hearing Wordsworth read the first few stanzas of his ode, Coleridge was inspired to answer some of the questions and problems it raised.

A period of two years intervened between Wordsworth’s writing of the first part and the poem’s completion. The poem was originally published under the abbreviated title “Ode.” As he did with many of his poems, Wordsworth continued to revise the ode throughout his lifetime, adding the famous epigraph, “The Child is father of the Man,” in an 1815 edition. In a note on the poem dictated to Isabella Fenwick in 1843, Wordsworth identifies the poem’s principal theme as the “Immortality of the Soul.” According to Wordsworth, the poem emerges from two recollected feelings of childhood: the lost vividness of sense objects, which appear different to the adult poet from how they appeared to him as a child; and the child’s inability to accept his own mortality and to reconcile the fact of his own death with the world around him.

The poem begins with Wordsworth’s fond memories of his childhood and his early experiences of nature. In this past time, the natural world appeared to the speaker as though “appareled in celestial light” (line 4). Now, in the present, this former, dreamlike appearance of the external world has changed. The poet laments hauntingly that...

(The entire section is 841 words.)

Ode: Intimations of Immortality Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” is a personal poem in a traditionally impersonal, formal verse form of eleven stanzas that vary in length and metrical design. Wordsworth uses the ancient Greek Pindaric ode, which had celebrated the virtues of athletic heroes, to examine the strangely compelling process of growing up from childhood to adult maturity. The hero is a child, but the victory is won by the adult who reflects upon childhood’s losses.

The epigraph of the poem states the paradox that childhood experiences provide the background and source of the adult’s identity, as if a child could be the parent of the adult who develops from childhood. The poet, recognizing that this is so, wishes therefore to be naturally faithful to his past, to build his maturity upon a continuous line of connections with his youth.

The first four stanzas express the poet’s strange experience of feeling wonderful on a lovely spring morning in May, when all nature celebrates a rebirth of vegetable and animal life. The poet sees and hears the signs of this rebirth, and he can even feel a stirring of sympathetic identification with the vitality all around him. Yet he also feels a disturbing emotion that shadows the bright landscape. He feels that there is something missing in his own being, that the natural scene does not have the same glorious promise that it had when he looked at it as a child. The rest of the poem is an attempt to identify what is missing and to recover it if possible.

Stanzas 5 through 8 recall childhood as if it were like the dawn of a new day, when the sun peers upon the earth through glowing clouds. The meaning behind the comparison is that a child comes from darkness and awakens to life with a vision still colored by its origins in eternity. Like the sun, a child moves from an exciting, hopeful dawn of life, rises toward the common light of midday’s adulthood, and casts shadows that, like a prison, seem to surround a person and block the vision of glorious origins. Human life is also compared to a foster child...

(The entire section is 857 words.)