person smiling and standing with arms and legs outstretched surrounded by colored shapes

Ode: Intimations of Immortality

by William Wordsworth

Start Free Trial

"Our Birth Is But A Sleep And A Forgetting"

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 164

Context: This famous ode is based upon the Platonic doctrine (found in the dialogue called the Meno) that all knowledge is merely recollection. The doctrine asserts that the soul has lived elsewhere before it assumed human form, and that it brings knowledge, in the form of recollection, from this other life. Thus the child, closer to this former existence, has a clearer memory of it, a memory that fades as he grows older. Hence, Wordsworth is able to call the child "Thou best Philosopher," because he, clearer in vision and closer to his immortal origins, can see that which the adult has lost the power to understand, most particularly the beauty of nature. The fifth stanza of the ode begins:

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.
. . .
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy. . . .

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access