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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”?

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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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How does "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" reveal Wordsworth's mysticism and beliefs?

In this poem, Wordsworth expresses his belief that life on earth is but an echo of a more pure and profound heavenly experience we had before birth and that we remember vaguely as children. Later, as we mature, we forget his experience and move further from the divine source. He writes in the ode that

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting . . . / Not in entire forgetfulness / . . . But trailing clouds of glory do we come / From God, who is our home.

This connects to Wordsworth's belief stated in "My Heart Leaps Up" that

The child is father of the man

because the child has a "natural piety" that adults lose as the cares of the world press on them.

Mysticism means a direct, unmediated experience of God, one that does not rely on the intercession of priests or religious institutions. Wordsworth says in this poem that he had such mystical experiences as a child interacting with nature. He writes that:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light
Wordsworth once saw God in all the natural sights around him. He can't feel the divine in nature the way he did as a child, and this is a loss to him. As he says, as a mature person,
there hath past away a glory from the earth.
Nevertheless, as is often the case with Wordsworth, memory keeps him connected to the divine source and offers solace. His memories of childhood, when God infused the landscape, are a balm as he grows older:
Those shadowy recollections,
Which, be they what they may
Are yet the fountain-light of all our day
Wordsworth both mourns the passing of his childhood connection with the divine but is immensely grateful for the memory of it as it keeps him, in a mystical way, connected with the godhead.

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