Ode: Intimations of Immortality Additional Summary

William Wordsworth


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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...

(The entire section is 841 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” is a personal poem in a traditionally impersonal, formal verse form of eleven stanzas that vary in length and metrical design. Wordsworth uses the ancient Greek Pindaric ode, which had celebrated the virtues of athletic heroes, to examine the strangely compelling process of growing up from childhood to adult maturity. The hero is a child, but the victory is won by the adult who reflects upon childhood’s losses.

The epigraph of the poem states the paradox that childhood experiences provide the background and source of the adult’s identity, as if a child could be the parent of the adult who develops from childhood. The poet, recognizing that this is so, wishes therefore to be naturally faithful to his past, to build his maturity upon a continuous line of connections with his youth.

The first four stanzas express the poet’s strange experience of feeling wonderful on a lovely spring morning in May, when all nature celebrates a rebirth of vegetable and animal life. The poet sees and hears the signs of this rebirth, and he can even feel a stirring of sympathetic identification with the vitality all around him. Yet he also feels a disturbing emotion that shadows the bright landscape. He feels that there is something missing in his own being, that the natural scene does not have the same glorious promise that it had when he looked at it as a child. The rest of the poem is an attempt to identify what is missing and to recover it if possible.

Stanzas 5 through 8 recall childhood as if it were like the dawn of a new day, when the sun peers upon the earth through glowing clouds. The meaning behind the comparison is that a child comes from darkness and awakens to life with a vision still colored by its origins in eternity. Like the sun, a child moves from an exciting, hopeful dawn of life, rises toward the common light of midday’s adulthood, and casts shadows that, like a prison, seem to surround a person and block the vision of glorious origins. Human life is also compared to a foster child...

(The entire section is 857 words.)