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Ode: Intimations of Immortality

by William Wordsworth

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Coleridge's "Dejection: An Ode" andWordsworth's “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” are pessimistic laments for the loss of imaginative powers. Examine the relationship between the two poems.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's “Dejection: An Ode” and William Wordsworth's “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” both lament the loss of joy, wonder, and imagination under the cares and afflictions of the world. They apply different philosophies and perspectives, but they both reach out for remnants of joy, Coleridge in another person and Wordsworth in his own immortality.

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge's “Dejection: An Ode” and William Wordsworth's “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” both reflect on the fading and loss of imagination, joy, and wonder, but they do so in different ways.

Coleridge's poem begins with a meditation on a phenomenon of the moon that foretells a coming storm. The speaker observes the seeming convergence of the new moon with the old moon in a “phantom light” (10), and he watches as the wind and rain pick up, but these natural beauties no longer move him as they once did. At one time, he says, they would have “sent my soul abroad” (18) in ecstasy, but now all he feels is a dull pain.

As the poem continues, the speaker reflects on that grief and its cause. He still seeks the beauty around him, but now he only sees it; he does not feel it, and this causes a dull, dark grief within him that is like a weight. He lacks the passion and life he once had. In the fourth stanza, the speaker ponders the human soul and how it surrounds nature with “A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud” (54), a cloud that offers sweetness to the natural world, that fills the world with music. “The beautiful and beauty-making power,” he explains, is joy (63). Joy allows the imagination to flourish, to see the world with wonder and love, to feel the beauty of nature, to create poetry and tell stories, and to discover delight.

But, the speaker continues, this joy is lost to him. All the pressures and afflictions of the world weigh upon him and drain the joy from his heart and the imagination from his mind. He prays, however, in the final stanza, that this may not happen to his friend, the lady to whom the poem is addressed. Instead, he wishes that “Joy lift her spirit, joy attune her voice” (134) and that she may “evermore rejoice” (139).

Wordsworth covers many of the same themes as Coleridge but in a different way. The speaker in this poem also begins with a reflection on the past and how he once saw the world through eyes of wonder. He notices the beauty of the world, but it is not longer

Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream (4–5).

The glory that once touched him to the core of his soul has now passed away. The “visionary gleam” is gone (57).

The speaker has a theory about why this has happened, an idea quite different than that of the speaker in Coleridge's poem. “Our birth is but a sleep and forgetting,” he says (59). The human soul has come from God, and when it is young and new in the world, it continues to see through the immortal lens, not entirely forgetful of its home in God. “Heaven lies about us in our infancy” the speaker declares (67).

But soon the “Shades of the prison-house begin to close” in upon a child as he grows (68), and by the time he reaches manhood, the vision and the joy he once had have been pushed aside and consumed by the cares of the world, the “earthly freight” that weighs down upon the soul (127). The “heaven-born freedom” (123) is gone, replaced by a dark striving through life, a haunting of something once possessed that can no longer by grasped.

All is not lost, however. Souls can still find joy in life, for they can catch glimpses of “that immortal sea” (164) and can still travel there briefly in flashes of light and truth. The human heart can still find delight in nature and reach out for something more.

Coleridge's poem and Wordsworth's poem, then, examine the theme of the loss of joy, wonder, and imagination from different perspectives and with varying philosophies. Coleridge finds remnants of joy in another person, but Wordsworth discovers them in himself as he reaches out toward immortality.

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