Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1391 words.)
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Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
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...
(The entire section is 841 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised 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...
(The entire section is 857 words.)