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Ode: Intimations of Immortality

by William Wordsworth
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How does Wordsworth depict childhood in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”?

In “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” Wordsworth depicts childhood as happy, glorious, spiritually sound, and free in its innocence. Experiences impressed on human consciousness during childhood are so important that they are never totally forgotten.

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Throughout “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” William Wordsworth expresses an idealized view childhood as the stage of life in which human beings enjoy the most freedom. The poem’s speaker refers glowingly to the innocence and joy that children enjoy and connects this freedom with the spiritual light with which they are naturally endowed by God. Although the poem concludes with the speaker’s acknowledgment that adulthood and maturity bring insights that were not available earlier, it also reveals nostalgia, as the speaker apparently regards youth as the preferable stage.

Wordworth’s speaker praises the spiritual glow that permeates the infant, whose soul or “life’s Star” is on the ascendant. They exclaim, “Heaven lies about us in our infancy!” This view of Heaven is equated with liberty, in that as the child grows, they face limitations so severe that life seems to be a “prison-house.”

Reminiscing on their own earlier experience, the speaker recalls “the glory and the freshness” and uses descriptive terms such as “lovely” and “glorious” for the way life and natural phenomena appeared to them. Regarding the “Shepherd-boy” that the speaker addresses, they reference “laughter” and “bliss.”

The poem’s contemplative tone indicates the speaker’s growing awareness of what is lost by growing up. They equate Earth to a mother or “a Nurse” who

doth all she can

To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man,

Forget the glories he hath known.

However, the memory of those glories is so deeply embedded in the soul that totally forgetting is impossible. For this reason, childhood experiences continue to inform adult consciousness. The “truths” that are learned early will persist, and

neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour …

Nor all that is at enmity with joy,

Can utterly abolish or destroy!

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