Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Between the third and the ninth stanza, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” seems extremely bleak. Wordsworth suggests that human growth leads downward from the splendor of youth to the emptiness and grief of “palsied Age.” He accepts Plato’s notion that souls exist before as well as after they are joined with bodies. Unlike Plato, however, Wordsworth believes that little children and infants inhabit a world which is full of “visionary gleam” because they have only recently left the “imperial palace” in the spiritual realm and, “trailing clouds of glory,” have entered the fallen world of matter. In childhood, according to Wordsworth, one’s own immortality is intuited and so young people are perpetually joyful; they have a “heart of May” not because their bodies are strong and capable but because of their spiritual health. The bleakness comes when the “yearsbring the inevitable yoke” of customary actions and “endless imitation.” When the “celestial light,/ The glory and the freshness” of youth disappear, what is left?

The final three stanzas answer this question in a hopeful fashion. Memory serves as an important key for a kind of hard-earned happiness, “all that is at enmity with joy” cannot “utterly abolish or destroy” as long as one can recall the “delight and liberty” of childhood when God’s light was all around. As the title explicitly states, in maturity, one garners “intimations of immortality...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Over the years as well as in Wordsworth’s own lifetime, a number of people have objected to Wordsworth’s apparent adherence in this poem to the idea of “metempsychosis,” or the transmigration of the soul, a notion of the soul’s immortality that seems much more Eastern in its orientation than the traditional Christian formulation. This criticism of the poet’s conception of immortality extends beyond an orthodox Christian audience. According to Richard McKusick, Henry David Thoreau in his journals further complains of “Wordsworth’s assimilation of the Platonic doctrine of the soul’s preexistence to the traditional Christian belief in heaven.” In Thoreau’s mind, Wordsworth seems to be claiming that the soul’s existence before incarnation is not only separate but also superior to earthly life. In line 80, Wordsworth seems to be contrasting “the glories he hath known,” the soul’s experience and remembrance of its heavenly origins, to its mundane existence in this dimmer earthly plane. Elsewhere, in line 86, the poet characterizes the heavenly realm of the soul’s origins as an “imperial palace,” a place far removed and much lamented by the soul now imprisoned in human form. In response to both Wordsworth’s Christian critics and more secular readers like Thoreau, one can reasonably ask if the poem reveals a Christianizing tendency in its treatment of the soul’s origins and immortality—or, conversely, can the ode be viewed in any way...

(The entire section is 482 words.)