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In his famous poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” William Wordsworth suggests (as the very title of the poem implies) that our memories of childhood intimate that human souls are eternal. They exist before we are physically born, and they survive after we physically die.
This idea is especially suggested, for instance, when the speaker asserts that
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home . . .
In other words, we come from heaven and (if we are fortunate) we return to heaven. While we are alive here on earth, we never entirely forget the place from which we came. Despite the various earthly influences, man never quite
Forget[s] the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.
Which, be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,
Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;
Uphold us--cherish--and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence . . . [emphasis added]
It is thanks to our imagination that we can mentally see the past and participate in it:
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore. [emphasis added]
As these lines suggest, imagination allows us access to our past (both the past of childhood and the past that preceded our childhoods). Our “shadowy recollections” of both kinds of the past feed and sustain our imaginations and our very lives.
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