Critical appreciation of “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” is one of the greatest and noblest English poems. Wordsworth began it at the height of his genius. The poem was started in the spring of 1802 and by summer the first four stanzas seem to have been completed and the main design coined. It was finished in 1806 at the town. The delays in the composition have made no difference to its unity. The First four stanzas tell of his spiritual crisis of a glory passing from the earth and end by asking why this has happened. The middle stanzas examine the nature of this glory and explain it by a theory of reminiscence from a pre-natal existence. Then the last stanzas show that, though the vision has perished, life has still a meaning and a value. The three parts of the Ode deals with a crisis, an explanation speaks of what is most important and most original in his Poetry.

The poem seems to have been influenced by Pythagoras, Slate, and Vaughan. They believe in a life before birth, which on the basis of this poem was first mentioned in the west by Pythagoras. The poet doubts and questions about the reality of the world of senses have their origin in the Philosophy of Plato. The idealization of childhood may be traced back to Vaughan who in his poem. “The Retreat,” says that the child sees divine glory in nature. This poem contains a metaphysical doctrine i.e. the theory that the memories of our childhood inform us of a life before birth and therefore of the immortality of the soul. The truth of the doctrine cannot be verified by us from our experiences. Thus the poem lacks that universal appeal which is necessary for its enjoyment by the average reader. Wordsworth himself does not assert the doctrine of reminiscences to be true. He looks hold of it as having “sufficient foundation in humanity” and therefore worthy of being used by a poet.

The idealization of the child though defeasible of the ground of purity and innocence of childhood, it is not justified on the ground of its spirituality or prophetic quality. To address the child as a mighty prophet, “Seer Blest” “best philosopher” is too much. This poem is also autobiographical and reminiscent of the poet’s past life. The radiance and glory of Nature which he declares, as having seen in his childhood, was a part of his own personal experience, which he also felt the unreality of the outward object to which he refers in the Ninth Stanza, we have his own statement in support of this.

Wordsworth has very vividly described the psychology of the child. The child is an imitator, an actor who copies and performs every action and gesture that he sees:

            “The little actor cons another part,

            Feeling from time to time his human stage

            With all the persons, down to palsied age,

            That life brings with her in her equipage,

            As if his whole vocation

            Where and less imitation.”

The descriptions of nature pictures are also beautiful. This poem brings out the difference between his love for nature as a child and his love for nature as a man. As a child, he had a passion for nature, an appetite, but as a man has a love for nature was meditative and reflective and even the most ordinary objects of nature gave rise to deep and profound thoughts in him. Having witnessed human suffering, he looked at nature thoughtfully- “The clouds that gather around the selling sun

“The clouds that gather round the selling sun

Do take a sober colouring from an age.

That hath kept watch over man’s mortality.”

“To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

A moral view has been expressed in the ode. The poet refers to human sufferings which he has witnessed and the sympathy which he feels for his fellow human beings. The last stanza reveals the reflective mood of the poet. No one can remain untouched by the restful and soothing effect of the music at the close. Wordsworth’s fictional gift or image-making power may also be noticed in this poem. He gives vivid pictures of the rainbow, the rose, the moon shining in a cloudless sky, the star, light falling on water, the children collecting fresh flowers, the baby leaping on his mother’s arm etc.

The poet has used such rhythmic and effective phrases in the Ode like “The glory and the freshness of a dream,” “Shades of the prison house,” “the height of common day,” “thoughts of deep for tears” etc. As a matter of fact, the words used to express thoughts and emotions in this poem are very appropriate. The grandness of language befits the grandness of the theme. There is thus a perfect harmony between thought and expression, “words, thought and music are woven into a perfect whole”.

This poem is an irregular ‘ode’ because it is marked by lack of uniformity in meter and in the length of its stanza. This is to say it is not written in the same meter throughout and that all of its stanzas do not consist of the same numbers of lines. It is written mainly in the iambic meter. Some lines, however, are in anapaestic and trochaic.

The lyrical element is also found in this poem. In the first four stanzas, the poet expresses his sense of loss and the last two stanzas refer to the compensations which make him happy and intensely emotional and possess a singing quality. Thus the ode becomes a happy blending of thought and emotion of doctrine and poetry and of meditation and melody. The author’s gift for lyrical and for metaphysical verse become perfect and are for once united. Notice the melody, emotion, sincerity, and simplicity of the following line:-

“It is not now as it path been of yore

Turn wheresoe’er I may,

By night or day

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.”

According to some critics, the poem also suffers from some defects.

  • The poem dwells too long on the idea of pre-existence. This fact marks the unity of thought.
  • The poem is out of harmony, with the spirit of a true nature.
  • There is a sudden transition in thought after the first four stanzas of the poem. The reason is obvious because the first four stanzas were written in 1802 where the last seven in 1806 etc.

Whether we agree or not with the philosophical views expressed by the poet in this poem, we have to admit that this ode is his supreme lyrical achievement. His personal feelings find a natural inspired and spontaneous expression in this ode. According to Saintsbury, “This poem is not in every smallest detail yet as a wholly perfect and immortal. It could not have been written letter.”


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