On the surface, Wordsworth’s poem, ‘My Heart Leaps Up’, is about the simple beauty of a rainbow. Looking at it more closely, the poet is saying that people should maintain their sense of childlike wonder well into adulthood and old age. He is saying that nature, symbolized by the rainbow, for him will always be divine, and he thinks it should be for everyone. The analysis will begin by examining the poem line by line. After this, it will move on to discuss the structure and historical context of the piece.
My Heart Leaps Up Analysis
My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky:
In the first lines of the poem, William Wordsworth explains his reaction to a rainbow. It’s obvious that the poet has a deep affinity for the natural world. He says, “My heart leaps up…” This is an extreme reaction to a not uncommon metrological event. Rainbows are, universally, regarded as beautiful, but I would argue that the rainbow in this poem is a symbol for nature as a whole. I would also argue that Wordsworth’s reaction, as I said before, is somewhat extreme. Most grown men do not react with the same level of enthusiasm to a rainbow. As the poem goes on however, he will argue that we should all share his sense of wonder.
So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man;
Here, the poet describes that he has always felt the same visceral, joyous reaction to a rainbow and to nature as a whole. His sense of wonder began when he was born and persisted through out his childhood, into his adulthood. Wordsworth has been a fan of nature from the very start.
So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die!
Wordsworth gets a bit extreme in these lines. First, he states that he hopes to continue to be mesmerized by nature well into old age. Then, he says “Or let me die!” The fairly unambiguous interpretation here is that the poet would rather die than find the world around him boring and bereft of beauty. Death would be preferable to becoming a jaded cynic who cannot grasp the wonder of nature.
The Child is father of the Man;
This is, perhaps, the most important line of My Heart Leaps Up. In his typical fashion, Wordsworth gives a seemingly straightforward metaphor, which actually has enormous implications. All people were once children, so the line makes some sense on that level. We come from children as children come from their parents. The greater implication is that, like a parent, a child can be a great teacher and a great role model. Children are constantly experiencing the world as if for the first time. They have an unending sense of wonder and awe regarding nature and, indeed, life itself. Wordsworth is saying we should be like children in this way and that we should hold on to our childhood sense of the world.
And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety
In the last two lines of the poem, Wordsworth closes by reiterating this idea that he hopes to continue being in awe of nature. He wants every day to be tied together by an on going theme of love for the world. The words “natural piety” imply that the poet considered his feeling for nature to be so reverent that seeing a rainbow was an almost religious experience.
Wordsworth advocated for poets to move away from the use of dense and archaic language, which had been popular up until that point in history. Instead, he believed that poetry could and should be written in the every day language of the average man. This idea is clearly displayed in My Heart Leaps Up. Compared to other poems, the vocabulary and meaning of this piece is relatively easy to grasp.
The poem’s simplicity carries over into its use of rhyme. Each line ends with one of 4 sounds, each sound is repeated twice, except “man,” which ends two lines and is rhymed with “began.”
Wordsworth was part of the Romantic Movement. The artists of this time elevated nature, discussing it as a part of the ‘sublime,’ or something of great beauty beyond human understanding. This respect and reverence for nature is on clear display in this particular piece.
The poem was written in 1802 while Wordsworth was staying at Dove Cottage with his wife. This was a fertile place for the poet, as he wrote many poems there. Indeed, My Heart Leaps Up was written at around the same time of many of the poet’s other works. The poem was first published in 1806.