person smiling and standing with arms and legs outstretched surrounded by colored shapes

Ode: Intimations of Immortality

by William Wordsworth

Start Free Trial

Explain the quotation: "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; The soul that rises with us, our life's star, ..."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This quotation comes from William Wordsworth's "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." This poem is primarily concerned with the sense of wonder we all have in childhood, which can be prompted by the simplest things in the natural world which once seemed "apparelled in celestial light" but which now we "can see no more." The primary question this poem asks is "whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"

The quotation you have isolated, then, is about how, from the moment we are born, we are actually moving further and further away from the understanding of God we had when "the Soul which riseth within us" was in its original "setting," in heaven. Babies come "from God, who is our home," and as we move away from childhood, the sublime which we were once able to see becomes "common" through overexposure. Childish wonder allows us to recognize the miraculous beauty of the world around us. However, Wordsworth does not wish for this to be a cause for us to "grieve"—instead, we should "find strength in what remains behind," and seek to remember that "the innocent brightness of a new-born day / Is lovely yet." The poem ends with a true expression of the Romantic Sublime, as Wordsworth states that "the meanest flower" can give him "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears." This idea of nature prompting extremely strong feeling is one which is central to Romanticism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Wordsworth is suggesting here that our earthly existence is just one phase of our immortality, and that our souls come from another stage of existence into this so-called three-dimensional, “reality” existence, and there is a veil of forgetfulness drawn between the two phases.  As a baby, we gradually forget our previous existence, as Earth fills our lap with “toys” (three-dimensional life, our senses).  Wordsworth thinly remembers when the earth was “Appareled in celestial light” and regrets having lost “the visionary gleam,”something he occasionally glimpses in such natural phenomena as a rainbow or a rose (these are some of the “toys” that Earth gives us).   He has learned to love these beautiful natural occurrences because they have something of the glory his soul once knew.  This poem is a profound statement of the principles of Romanticism, and is read aloud once a year by scholars of this poetic period.  The poem is an ode, meaning that the narrative voice is speaking to the universe, wording his feelings to no-one in particular.  We will "awaken" at death, and reconnect with our universal soul. 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team