Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth

Within ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ Wordsworth explores themes of youth, age, religion/spirituality, and nature. These themes are some of the most commonly tapped into within Wordsworth’s oeuvre and will be familiar to anyone who has read poems such as ‘Daffodils,’ ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles Tintern Abbey’ and My heart leaps when I behold’. 

The mood of the poem varies greatly from one section to the next. At some points, the speaker is joyously celebrating the life around him, at other times he’s mourning what he lost and cannot find again. The tone mimics the mood in most cases. Wordsworth helps it along through his choice of language and the arrangement of syntax. 

 

Summary of Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ by William Wordsworth speaks about growing up and losing one’s connection to nature. 

The poem begins with the speaker mourning the loss of his youth and the deeper connection he used to have to the natural world. He tries to touch the emotion of the past but is unable. There’s always something missing. The speaker reflects on what it means to age, and in the fifth stanza declares that we come from a world that is more heavenly than earth. It is with the memory of this place that we see the earth, at least at first. Eventually, we grow older, forget these experiences and are taken in by the earth itself. 

Wordsworth’s speaker concludes the poem by declaring that he can always look to his past, his memories, to remember what it was like to live as a child. He can channel these experiences into the present and live as he used to. This is how he regains the joy of the past and lives happily with his mortality. 

 

Structure of Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ by William Wordsworth is a 206 line poem that is split in eleven stanzas of varying lengths. There is no single rhyme scheme, but there are individual patterns of rhyme in each stanza. Wordsworth uses several different metrical patterns used throughout the poem. There are examples of Alexandrine lines, as well as iambic pentameter, tetrameter, and trimeter. 

 

Epigraph 

A reader should also make sure to take note of the epigraph that appears before the first stanza of the poem. It reads: 

The child is father of the man; 

And I could wish my days to be 

Bound each to each by natural piety. 

These three lines are actually the final three lines of Wordsworth’s own poem ‘The Rainbow,’ or ‘My Heart Leaps Up’. They were inserted before the poem when it was published in Poems, in 1815. The poem speaks on very similar themes to those contained within ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’. These include coming of age, death, and nature. 

 

Poetic Techniques in Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

Wordsworth makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’. These include alliteration, caesura, metaphor, personification, anaphora, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “Shouts,” “shouts,” and “Shepherd” in the last line of stanza three or “hath” and “heart” in line eleven of the seventh stanza. 

Wordsworth also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. There is a great example at the end of the poem where the phrase “Thanks to” begins two lines in a row. There are several other instances in the poem as well, such as lines that begin with “My,” “A,” and “And”. 

Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. One of the clearest examples of this technique is line six of the fourth stanza. It reads: “The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all”. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout the poem, such as in stanza one with the transition between lines three and four. 

 

Figurative Language 

A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. One example is in stanza five where the speaker explains that the young man, the youth, must travel from east to west. The line reads: “The Youth, who daily farther from the east / Must travel”. Just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, a metaphor for death. 

Another important technique in this poem is personification. It occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. There are numerous examples in the second and third stanzas when the speaker is delving deep into the workings of the natural world. But, one of the most interesting examples is in stanza six were the speaker addresses earth as a “Mother” and “Nurse” determined to strip humankind of its knowledge of the “Heaven” it originated from. 

 

Analysis of Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

Stanza One 

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, 

The earth, and every common sight, 

To me did seem 

Apparelled in celestial light, 

The glory and the freshness of a dream. 

It is not now as it hath been of yore;— 

Turn wheresoe’er I may, 

By night or day. 

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

In the first stanza of ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ the speaker begins by looking towards the past. He recalls how there “was a time” when things were different. To him, the “meadow, grove, and stream” all seemed “Apparelled” or dressed/covered in “celestial light”. There was something spiritually elevating, and almost religious about the landscape. The “common sights” were not common, they were wondrous. He adds to this that they made him think that he was expecting the “glory and freshness of a dream,” or at least they had that kind of feeling. 

In the middle of this stanza, he reminds the reader that everything is not as it was. The world is not so glorious. Things are not as they were in “yore,” or the past. He has tried to seek out and find the same emotional experiences he had as a child but has been unable. The thing that he used to see he can “now…see no more”. 

 

Stanza Two 

The Rainbow comes and goes, 

And lovely is the Rose, 

The Moon doth with delight 

Look round her when the heavens are bare, 

Waters on a starry night 

Are beautiful and fair; 

The sunshine is a glorious birth; 

But yet I know, where’er I go, 

That there hath past away a glory from the earth. 

The second stanza is also fairly short. It contains the speaker’s current way of thinking about the world. All the beauty of nature has not left him, he can still see and experience it. But, as the last lines admit, there is something crucial missing. In these lines, Wordsworth alternates between trimeter and tetrameter. The alternating patterns of meter mimic the fluctuating perception of space. 

He speaks on the “Rainbow” and the “Rose,” an example of alliteration, as well as on the “Moon” and “Waters”. Everything is “beautiful and fair” and he can feel the glory of the sun, but still, it’s not as it was. 

 

Stanza Three 

Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song, 

And while the young lambs bound 

As to the tabor’s sound, 

To me alone there came a thought of grief: 

A timely utterance gave that thought relief, 

And I again am strong: 

The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep; 

No more shall grief of mine the season wrong; 

I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng, 

The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep, 

And all the earth is gay; 

Land and sea 

Give themselves up to jollity, 

And with the heart of May 

Doth every Beast keep holiday;— 

Thou Child of Joy, 

Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy Shepherd-boy. 

The third stanza is seventeen lines long and makes use of a more complicated rhyme scheme. It starts out following a pattern of ABBCCA. In the first lines of this section, he reiterates again the beauty of the natural world but interrupts himself to speak on his “thought of grief”. As the “young lambs” jumped through the field to the sound of a “tabor,” or drum, he was brought low. 

His weakness is luckily temporary though and he is relieved by “A timely utterance”. The poet does not explain what this “utterance” is, only that it was relieving. It was likely something natural, the sound of a bird, or other creature. 

The speaker also mentions the “cataracts” in this stanza or the waterfalls. They are loud, personified in order to emphasize the racket their waters make. He determines that he’s no longer going to feel sad. His “grief” has been wronging the season. He knows he should be celebrating so he’s going to try. 

He takes note of the “gay” or happy nature of the earth and the way the “Land and sea” give themselves freely in joy. Creating a juxtaposition with his own heart, he notes how the “Beast[s]” are able to “keep holiday” at this time of year. He truly wants to feel as they do, but there’s still something keeping him from fully committing. 

 

Stanza Four 

Lines 1-14 

Ye blessèd creatures, I have heard the call 

Ye to each other make; I see 

The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee; 

My heart is at your festival, 

My head hath its coronal, 

The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all. 

Oh evil day! if I were sullen 

While Earth herself is adorning, 

This sweet May-morning, 

And the Children are culling 

On every side, 

In a thousand valleys far and wide, 

Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm, 

And the Babe leaps up on his Mother’s arm:— 

The fourth stanza contains the speaker’s words to the “blessèd creatures” of the earth. As if to console or reassure them, he says that he has “heard the call” they shout to one another and how the whole world and heavens participate in the joy they create. His heart, he adds, is “at your festival”. He’s fully in, ready to participate alongside the lovely life around him. In the sixth line the speaker stutters, as if overcome with that same joy. 

In lines seven and eight he curses the possibility of ever feeling sad on a day like this. It is a “sweet May-morning” and the children are laughing and playing in the fields. There is life being born and bringing new joy to the earth. 

 

Lines 15-22

I hear, I hear, with joy I hear! 

—But there’s a Tree, of many, one, 

A single field which I have looked upon, 

Both of them speak of something that is gone; 

The Pansy at my feet 

Doth the same tale repeat: 

Whither is fled the visionary gleam? 

Where is it now, the glory and the dream? 

Repetition I used in the fifteenth line to emphasize the speaker’s attempts to give himself over fully to the joy he hears. He looks out around him, metaphorically, and sees a “tree”. There’s one, in particular, that’s of interest. It stands along with a field he has “looked upon” in the past. Both of these things make him think of “something that is gone”. They are personified, playing into the already heavy personification used in the previous times. The world is at all times speaking to the narrator of this poem. 

It’s not just from the tree and field that he’s getting this negative feeling, also from the flower at his feet. It too tells the same tale. Where is it, he asks, “the glory and the dream?” Despite his joy or attempts at joy, everything is not right. There is still something missing. 

 

Stanza Five 

Lines 1-10 

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: 

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, 

Hath had elsewhere its setting, 

And cometh from afar: 

Not in entire forgetfulness, 

And not in utter nakedness, 

But trailing clouds of glory do we come 

From God, who is our home: 

Heaven lies about us in our infancy! 

The fifth stanza is perhaps the best-known of the whole poem. The speaker begins by saying that “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting”. He is proposing the possibility that the human soul exists before birth, “elsewhere” and “cometh from afar” when we are born. The “elsewhere” is a better place, somewhere more glorious. When ‘we” do come to earth to be born we bring with us “trailing clouds of glory”. It is with this feeling humans are born. 

It is here that Wordsworth puts the root of the poem. When we are young, “Heaven lies about us” but as we age it disappears. 

 

Lines 11-20 

Shades of the prison-house begin to close 

Upon the growing Boy, 

But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, 

He sees it in his joy; 

The Youth, who daily farther from the east 

Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest, 

And by the vision splendid 

Is on his way attended; 

At length the Man perceives it die away, 

And fade into the light of common day. 

In the second half of the stanza, he adds that growing up is like entering into prison. The “Shades of the prison-house begin to close” as one leaves one’s youth. “He,” the young man, must everyday travel closer to the west from the east, a metaphor for death. As the journey grows long, the splendour of “Heaven” disappears and fades in the “light of common day”. It is this “Heaven” that the speaker has been missing in the first four stanzas. 

 

Stanza Six 

Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own; 

Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind, 

And, even with something of a Mother’s mind, 

And no unworthy aim, 

The homely Nurse doth all she can 

To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man, 

Forget the glories he hath known, 

And that imperial palace whence he came. 

The sixth stanza is closer in length to stanzas one and two. In it, Wordsworth turns his attention to the earth and how it words as a mother to humankind. It has something of a “Mother’s mind” as it fills its lamp with “pleasures”. The earth is pure in its pursuits, none of its aims are unworthy. 

In addition to being a mother, the earth is also a nurse to humanity. “She” does all she can to “make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man” forget “Heaven” of the pre-birth time. It is best, the nurse-earth thinks, for humankind to forget about the “imperial palace whence” they came from. 

 

Stanza Seven 

Lines 1-12 

Behold the Child among his new-born blisses, 

A six years’ Darling of a pigmy size! 

See, where ‘mid work of his own hand he lies, 

Fretted by sallies of his mother’s kisses, 

With light upon him from his father’s eyes! 

See, at his feet, some little plan or chart, 

Some fragment from his dream of human life, 

Shaped by himself with newly-learn{e}d art 

A wedding or a festival, 

A mourning or a funeral; 

And this hath now his heart, 

And unto this he frames his song: 

In the first part of the seventh stanza, the speaker introduces a young boy. He exclaims over this child who is only six years old and “of a pigmy size” in relation to the rest of the world. The next lines explore the relationship the child has with his family members. He learns to love, he’s cared for, and is taught how to act by his mother and father. The boy imitates what it’s going to be like to grow older with charts. Planning “A wedding or a festival,” and so on. The boy is shaped by their influence. 

 

Lines 13-23 

Then will he fit his tongue 

To dialogues of business, love, or strife; 

But it will not be long 

Ere this be thrown aside, 

And with new joy and pride 

The little Actor cons another part; 

Filling from time to time his “humorous stage” 

With all the Persons, down to palsied Age, 

That Life brings with her in her equipage; 

As if his whole vocation 

Were endless imitation. 

These lines cast the world, as Shakespeare would’ve said, as a stage. The boy imagines that there are various roles to fill and he can fill them by learning the “dialogues of business, love, or strife”. But, before long he will change his mind and he will “con another part”. The speaker wants to know why this child is choosing to grow up and cast aside the joys of youth. Why would one want to engage in “endless imitation”. 

 

Stanza Eight 

Lines 1-13

Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie 

Thy Soul’s immensity; 

Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep 

Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind, 

That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep, 

Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,— 

Mighty Prophet! Seer blest! 

On whom those truths do rest, 

Which we are toiling all our lives to find, 

In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave; 

Thou, over whom thy Immortality 

Broods like the Day, a Master o’er a Slave, 

A Presence which is not to be put by;

In the eighth stanza, the speaker continues to discuss the boy. He addresses him as if he’s a prophet of some kind, or a “Philosopher”. It is only this boy and by default those of his age, that have access to “those truths”. He could tap into the Heaven of his birth if he chose to, a fact the speaker is trying to get across to him. 

Those who are older are toiling to find that time before birth in which everything was illuminated. 

 

Lines 14-21 

Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might 

Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height, 

Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke 

The years to bring the inevitable yoke, 

Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife? 

Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight, 

And custom lie upon thee with a weight, 

Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life! 

In the second half of the eighth stanza the speaker, continuing to address the child, asks him why he is trying to grow up so quickly. Why he states, are you trying to provoke pain and bring about the “inevitable yoke?” It’s going to be very soon in which this child completely loses access to the joys of the world, and the speaker is trying to warn him of that. Soon, his soul is going to have the weight of the world. 

 

Stanza Nine 

Lines 1-15 

O joy! that in our embers 

Is something that doth live, 

That Nature yet remembers 

What was so fugitive! 

The thought of our past years in me doth breed 

Perpetual benediction: not indeed 

For that which is most worthy to be blest; 

Delight and liberty, the simple creed 

Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest, 

With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:— 

Not for these I raise 

The song of thanks and praise 

But for those obstinate questionings 

Of sense and outward things, 

Fallings from us, vanishings; 

In the first part of the ninth stanza, which is the longest of the poem with thirty-nine lines, the speaker makes a statement of intent. He thinks of the past, that which he has lost, and how he intends to move forward. His past is remembered in nature and he can take pleasure in the fact that this is always going to be the case. 

 

Lines 16-28 

Blank misgivings of a Creature 

Moving about in worlds not realised, 

High instincts before which our mortal Nature 

Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised: 

But for those first affections, 

Those shadowy recollections, 

Which, be they what they may 

Are yet the fountain-light of all our day, 

Are yet a master-light of all our seeing; 

Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make 

Our noisy years seem moments in the being 

Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake, 

To perish never; 

In this second half of the stanza, he reiterates much of what he said previously. He celebrates in the recollections of the past. They are the “fountain-light of all our day” and the “master-light of all our seeing”. That which we remember from our youth directs us as we age. It is only through the memory of youth that our old age is made to seem beautiful. 

 

Lines 29-39 

Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour, 

Nor Man nor Boy, 

Nor all that is at enmity with joy, 

Can utterly abolish or destroy! 

Hence in 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 mighty waters rolling evermore. 

There is nothing, the speaker adds in the last portion of this long stanza, that can “abolish or destroy” his youth. It exists eternally no matter what the season or difficulty of the present. No matter, he adds, how far “inland we may be” there is a connection to the pre-life world of heaven. The “immortal sea” is the insight that “brought us hither” to life on earth.  

 

Stanza Ten 

Lines 1-11 

Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song! 

And let the young Lambs bound 

As to the tabor’s sound! 

We in thought will join your throng, 

Ye that pipe and ye that play, 

Ye that through your hearts to-day 

Feel the gladness of the May! 

What though the radiance which was once so bright 

Be now for ever taken from my sight, 

Though nothing can bring back the hour 

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; 

In a repetition of how he addressed the shepherd-boy earlier on in the poem, he asks the birds to sing. He also brings back in the image of the lambs bounding and the drum sounding. These lines are quite evenly rhymed, playing into the joy the speaker feels. 

He wants all creatures around him to participate in his joy, to feel the “gladness of the May!” He’s clearly incredibly excited by this revelation he has come to. 

 

Lines 12-19 

We will grieve not, rather find 

Strength in what remains behind; 

In the primal sympathy 

Which having been must ever be; 

In the soothing thoughts that spring 

Out of human suffering; 

In the faith that looks through death, 

In years that bring the philosophic mind. 

The speaker knows now that he can take comfort in the past, in “primal sympathy”. It happened, so it cannot be undone. It will always exist in memory. Anaphora in these last lines of the tenth stanza help paint a clear picture of the speaker’s thoughts. He celebrates  “In the soothing thought” that faith exists through death and years bring “the philosophic mind” and spring will come out of suffering. 

 

Stanza Eleven 

And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves, 

Forebode not any severing of our loves! 

Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might; 

I only have relinquished one delight 

To live beneath your more habitual sway. 

I love the Brooks which down their channels fret, 

Even more than when I tripped lightly as they; 

The innocent brightness of a new-born Day 

Is lovely yet; 

The Clouds that gather round the setting sun 

Do take a sober colouring from an eye 

That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality; 

Another race hath been, and other palms are won. 

Thanks to the human heart by which we live, 

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, 

To me the meanest flower that blows can give 

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

The final stanza of ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ begins with an address to the landscape. He feels the “might” of these places and loves them for it. He knows now so much more than he did as a child. When he was young, as the six-year-old in previous stanzas, he believed himself immortal. Or at least that’s how he felt. It was as though he could push past youth and adulthood would be better and forever. 

He’s smarter than that now and takes joy in his mortality. He knows he’s going to die and that he must accept and love his human heart. The speaker loves nature all the more because he knows he won’t last within it forever. The last lines are a lovely conclusion to this piece and bring him finally to the joy he was initially looking for. The “meanest” or smallest and least significant flower and stir up in him deep and moving thoughts. 

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  • Avatar William Toth says:

    Insightful and delightful.
    Thank you.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you, and great use of rhyme!

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