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Wordsworth's Poetical Works Summary and Analysis

by William Wordsworth

"Ode; Intimations of Immortality"

Full Title: "Ode; Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"

The speaker begins by declaring that there was a time when nature seemed mystical to him, like a dream, "Apparelled in celestial light." But now all of that is gone. No matter what he does, "The things which I have seen I now can see no more."

In the second stanza the speaker says that even though he can still see the rainbow, the rose, the moon, and the sun, and even though they are still beautiful, something is different...something has been lost: "But yet I know, where'er I go, / That there hath past away a glory from the earth." The speaker is saddened by the birds singing and the lambs jumping in the third stanza. Soon, however, he resolves not to be depressed, because it will only put a damper on the beauty of the season. He declares that all of the earth is happy, and exhorts the shepherd boy to shout.

In the fourth stanza the speaker continues to be a part of the joy of the season, saying that it would be wrong to be "sullen / While Earth herself in adorning, / And the Children are culling / On every side, / In a thousand valleys far and wide." However, when he sees a tree, a field, and later a pansy at his feet, they again give him a strong feeling that something is amiss. He asks, "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"

The fifth stanza contains arguably the most famous line of the poem: "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." He goes on to say that as infants we have some memory of heaven, but as we grow we lose that connection: "Heaven lies about us in our infancy!" As children this connection with heaven causes us to experience nature's glory more clearly. Once we are grown, the connection is lost. In the sixth stanza, the speaker says that as soon as we get to earth, everything conspires to help us forget the place we came from: heaven. "Forget the glories he hath known, and that imperial palace whence he came."

In the seventh stanza the speaker sees (or imagines) a six-year-old boy, and foresees the rest of his life. He says that the child will learn from his experiences, but that he will spend most of his effort on imitation: "And with new joy and pride / The little Actor cons another part." It seems to the speaker that his whole life will essentially be "endless imitation." In the eighth stanza the speaker speaks directly to the child, calling him a philosopher. The speaker cannot understand why the child, who is so close to heaven in his youth, would rush to grow into an adult. He asks him, "Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke / The years to bring the inevitable yoke, / Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?" In the ninth stanza (which is the longest at 38 lines) the speaker experiences a flood of joy when he realizes that through memory he will always be able to connect to his childhood, and through his childhood to nature.

Hence is a season of calm weather

Though inland far we be,

Our souls have sight of that immortal sea

Which brought us hither,

Can in a moment travel thither,

And see the Children sport upon the shore,

And hear the might water rolling evermore.

In the tenth stanza the speaker harkens back to the beginning of the poem, asking the same creatures that earlier made him sad with their sounds to sing out: "Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!" Even though he admits that he has lost some of the glory of nature as he has grown out of childhood, he is comforted by the knowledge that he can rely on his memory. In the final stanza the speaker says that nature is still the stem of everything is his life, bringing him insight, fueling his memories and his belief that his soul is immortal: "To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

Analysis

"Ode; Intimations of Immortality" is a long and rather complicated poem about Wordsworth's connection to nature and his struggle to understand humanity's failure to recognize the value of the natural world. The poem is elegiac in that it is about the regret of loss. Wordsworth is saddened by the fact that time has stripped away much of nature's glory, depriving him of the wild spontaneity he exhibited as a child.

As seen in "The world is too much with us," Wordsworth believes that the loss stems from being too caught up in material possessions. As we grow up, we spend more and more time trying to figure out how to attain wealth, all the while becoming more and more distanced from nature. The poem is characterized by a strange sense of duality. Even though the world around the speaker is beautiful, peaceful, and serene, he is sad and angry because of what he (and humanity) has lost. Because nature is a kind of religion to Wordsworth, he knows that it is wrong to be depressed in nature's midst and pulls himself out of his depression for as long as he can.

In the seventh stanza especially, Wordsworth examines the transitory state of childhood. He is pained to see a child's close proximity to nature being replaced by a foolish acting game in which the child pretends to be an adult before he actually is. Instead, Wordsworth wants the child to hold onto the glory of nature that only a person in the flush of youth can appreciate.

In the ninth, tenth and eleventh stanzas Wordsworth manages to reconcile the emotions and questions he has explored throughout the poem. He realizes that even though he has lost his awareness of the glory of nature, he had it once, and can still remember it. The memory of nature's glory will have to be enough to sustain him, and he ultimately decides that it is. Anything that we have, for however short a time, can never be taken away completely, because it will forever be held in our memory.

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