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Ode: Intimations of Immortality

by William Wordsworth

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In "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," what concept does Wordsworth introduce that challenges Locke's tabula rasa?

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In “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” William Wordsworth contradicts John Locke's concept of tabula rasa in the lines in which he presents children as retaining a special sense of heaven, wonder, and immortality. Let's look at this in more detail.

John Locke's idea of tabula rasa asserts that when children are born, they are a blank slate, so to speak, a purely white tablet upon which nothing is written. They must learn everything from the world through their senses in order to fill up that slate.

Wordsworth, however, disagrees. He recalls when, as a child, he saw everything “apparelled in celestial light.” The whole world was filled with wonder and glory and freshness as if it appeared through a heavenly lens, which he later argues, it did. Yet there is still a sense of this old vision left in him, especially when he is free in nature and as he watches the children play. These children he calls “blessed creatures,” for they are filled with innocence and bliss and joy. They play with abandon, running free in nature.

In the next stanza, Wordsworth reflects on why the children are so free and joyful. “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,” he says. Young children have not yet forgotten the glory of their heavenly home, which is God. “Heaven lies about us in our infancy,” he declares. Indeed, the light of heaven shines upon children. They remember heaven, and they still see it reflected in the world. As they grow, however, this fades.

So for Wordsworth, tabula rasa does not exist. Children are inherently connected to God and see the world through the “trailing clouds of glory” with which they were born.

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