(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Ode: Intimations of Immortality cover image

William Wordsworth was a prolific and controversial poet. A major figure in the English Romantic movement, he was known as the optimistic author of numerous lyrical poems, which were written in a simple language dedicated to a daffodil, a daisy, or a butterfly, symbols of the splendor of all nature (living and nonliving). The famous English poet and critic Matthew Arnold thought Wordsworth’s poetry had “healing powers,” educating people to feel again. Wordsworth’s theory of poetry was based on passion and emotions. He believed that even the thoughts rest in feelings.

Ode treats the preexistence of human life, using the poet’s personal life experience combined with a Platonic concept. Wordsworth first mentioned the lasting importance of childhood memories of nature upon the adult mind in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (1798). In addition to Plato’s famous theory regarding such memories, another possible influence on the poet may have been the book Silex Scintillans (1650, 1655) by the Welsh-born religious poet Henry Vaughan.

The main concept of Wordsworth’s Ode is based on the poet’s belief that the “Child is Father of the Man” a sentiment taken from John Milton’s Paradise Regained (1671) and used by Wordsworth in his short poem “My Heart Leaps Up” (Complete Poetical Works, 1802). In the Ode, he explains that birth is “a sleep and a forgetting,” not the beginning of life. Thus, he believes, children still carry a glorious memory of the “imperial” heaven as their home with God. Innocent babies and children see the beauty of the terrestrial world not only with their physical eyes but also and even more through their hearts and souls, which carry a preexisting sense of the spiritual presence. With an elegiac and definitely a nostalgic timbre, the Ode starts with the poet’s own memory of that blissful place (or state of spirit and mind).

Because of their still recent and fresh memory of the celestial glory, Wordsworth claims, children live in a dream-like world of pure joy and fascination. Gradually, while growing, they start to forget. The bliss fades into the light of ordinary day. Their attention becomes self-absorbed, less dedicated to solitary thinking and curious questioning. They become physically and mentally involved in various activities, in attending school, and in the distractions of crowds. There are prevalent, pressuring, mundane routines to be learned daily. According to the poet’s vision of that stage of life, each individual gradually becomes a “prisoner” and “imitator” of other people and of conventional ways of life. To fill the nagging feeling of innate loneliness, a youth craves to blend in, to be accepted into something larger, to belong. After losing the celestial freedom and the previously owned grandeur of peace and harmony, the individual is absorbed in a constant search for the self and the lost paradise.

The poet laments this loss, but he believes that it is not complete. His acclaimed positivity of outlook is expressed in numerous poems, especially lyrical poetry, and always with a philosophical, sometimes didactic, touch. He combines the ancient, pre-Christian Plato’s view with his own Christian-based theory, adding a personal twist. Wordsworth believes there is wisdom in maturity and a different,...

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