William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” was written over a two-year period from 1802 to 1804 and published in 1807. According to his sister Dororthy’s journals, Wordsworth began the poem sometime before the end of March, 1802. The first four stanzas of the ode were completed by April 4, 1802, which is the date assigned by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to his “Dejection: An Ode,” which was written in response to Wordsworth’s poem. In 1802 William and Dorothy were living at Grasmere cottage, within walking distance of Coleridge’s house in the same neighborhood. The proximity of the two poets fueled a magical collaboration, of which the two odes are a prime example. After hearing Wordsworth read the first few stanzas of his ode, Coleridge was inspired to answer some of the questions and problems it raised.
A period of two years intervened between Wordsworth’s writing of the first part and the poem’s completion. The poem was originally published under the abbreviated title “Ode.” As he did with many of his poems, Wordsworth continued to revise the ode throughout his lifetime, adding the famous epigraph, “The Child is father of the Man,” in an 1815 edition. In a note on the poem dictated to Isabella Fenwick in 1843, Wordsworth identifies the poem’s principal theme as the “Immortality of the Soul.” According to Wordsworth, the poem emerges from two recollected feelings of childhood: the lost vividness of sense objects, which appear different to the adult poet from how they appeared to him as a child; and the child’s inability to accept his own mortality and to reconcile the fact of his own death with the world around him.
The poem begins with Wordsworth’s fond memories of his childhood and his early experiences of nature. In this past time, the natural world appeared to the speaker as though “appareled in celestial light” (line 4). Now, in the present, this former, dreamlike appearance of the external world has changed. The poet laments hauntingly that...
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