Throughout Wordsworth’s ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’, he engages with themes of childhood and aging. Often, as is the case with ‘Splendor in the Grass,’ readers should interpret a tone of nostalgia that borders on mournful. But, he consistently returns to the optimistic feelings one can receive from faith, memory, and within nature.
Splendour in the Grass William WordsworthWhat though the radiance which was once so brightBe now forever taken from my sight,Though nothing can bring back the hourOf splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower?I We will grieve not, rather findStrength in what remains behindIn the primal sympathyWhich, having been, must ever be.In the soothing thoughts that springOut of human suffering,In the faith that looks through death,In years that bring the philosophic mind.
Explore Splendour in the Grass
‘Splendour in the Grass’ by William Wordsworth is a short excerpt from a longer work in which Wordsworth reminds readers that there are sources of happiness in one’s old age.
In the poem’s first lines, the poet begins by describing the “radiance” that he, and all human beings, lose as they age. It is a radiance that is incredibly temporary, like the splendor of grass and the glory of a flower. Once it’s gone, it can never return. In the next lines, he provides readers with reasons to maintain their strength despite suffering and because of it. He reminds readers of the development of a “philosophic mind” that is only possible to attain as one ages and the importance of maintaining one’s faith in the face of death.
Meaning of Splendour in the Grass
The meaning of ‘Splendour in the Grass’ is that despite the loss of youth and beauty, there is still a great deal one can appreciate and take comfort in as one ages. The poet compares the light of youth with the flourishing of a glorious flower or the splendor of a single blade of grass. But, one can still seek to enjoy the “philosophic mind” that can only develop in old age.
Throughout ‘Splendour in the Grass,’ William Wordsworth engages with the theme of aging. It is, by far, the most important theme of this excerpt from the longer poem ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.’ In the first lines, the speaker, who is commonly considered to be the poet himself, looks back on his life and the radiant moments of his youth. He compares these moments to a shining, brilliant sun. But that time is over.
He is growing older and has been forced to reconcile the images of life he maintained in his youth with the reality he’s now facing. Although these thoughts can cause mourning, Wordsworth implies that it is important to maintain an optimistic outlook and remember all the sources from which one can gain strength.
Structure and Form
‘Splendour in the Grass’ by William Wordsworth is a fourteen-line poem that follows a rhyme scheme of AABBCCDDEEFG. There are some examples of half-rhyme within this text, for example, the “EE” rhyme which includes the words “spring” and “suffering.” Some of the many perfect rhymes in this poem include “bright” and “sight” at the ends of lines one and two, as well as “find” and “behind” in lines five and six.
Generally, Wordsworth uses iambs throughout this poem. But, he does not arrange them in a specific metrical pattern (iambic pentameter, iambic trimeter, etc). For example, in line three, the poet writes (with the stresses highlighted):
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
This line contains ten syllables, making it an example of iambic pentameter. Another example, like line seven reads:
In the primal sympathy
Here, the poet uses an anapest, two unstressed syllable’s followed by one stressed syllable, and then two iambs.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues a non-human feature of their text with human characteristics. For example, “Of splendour in the grass, / of glory in the flower.”
- Irony: occurs when an outcome is different than expected. For example, “In the soothing thoughts that spring / Out of human suffering.” Here, the poet describes how peace and happiness can come out of suffering, releasing the sufferer from their previous pain.
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “We will grieve not, rather find.” It can occur through a poet’s use of punctuation or through the use of a natural pause in the meter.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. These should trigger the reader’s senses and help them imagine what is described. For example, “What though the radiance / which was once so bright.”
- Consonance: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning or within words. For example, “In the nothing thoughts that spring / Out of human suffering” is both an instance of consonance and alliteration.
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 the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by alluding to the past. He remembers how peaceful, optimistic, and beautiful the past years were. Now these years are “forever taken from my sight.” This suggests that a conscious force, perhaps time or God, took these very real experiences away from the poet. Things have changed, and “nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendour in the grass.”
Readers who are familiar with William Wordsworth’s poetry will find themselves unsurprised to read Wordsworth engaging with themes of nature, the past, and nostalgia. Within these lines, he uses a metaphor to compare his youth to the radiant, warm sun that was so bright when he was young. But, now he is aging and, in line with the metaphor, the sun is moving from its peak point in the sky. He is alluding to a common metaphor for aging—the sunset.
There is a distinct focus on the theme of time in these lines. Time, Wordsworth seems to suggest, has “taken from” his sight the “radiance” of his youth.
In the fourth line, the poet utilizes the title of the poem, “splendour in the grass.” He uses personification in these lines to imbue natural features, like the flower in the grass, with human characteristics. There is “glory” in the flower. Here, the poet is trying to emphasize how grass, flowers, and other natural growing things are brilliant and glorious for a brief period of time and then decline. He is trying to make a comparison between this image and that of a human being growing, having a particularly radiant youth, and then declining in old age.
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
Having asserted that human beings decline, like flowers, after a particularly radiant youth, the poet suggests that “we will grieve not.” He suggests that despite the feelings of sorrow, aging, and death of oak, it is important to “find / Strength in what remains behind.” Wordsworth knows that he, and all human beings who have experienced a beautiful youth and decline as they grew older, should not mourn that loss. They should look back on their youth with a great deal of happiness and find strength in what they have left.
One of the things that Wordsworth believes human beings can turn to in order to find strength and happiness is “the primal sympathy.” He suggests that what makes human beings human exists from birth to death. The happiness one had in youth and the beauty they enjoyed “must ever be.” The word “sympathy” also evokes a feeling of understanding and connection. Readers might find themselves considering the universality of this experience.
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
In the ninth and tenth lines of Wordsworth’s poem, the speaker presents another way that human beings should soothe themselves as they age. One can take happiness in the “soothing thoughts that spring / Out of human suffering.” Here, in order to emphasize his point, Wordsworth rhymes the words “Spring” and “suffering.” These less than perfect rhymes also present readers with an example of juxtaposition. Spring is normally a time associated with happiness, rebirth, and beauty. But, Wordsworth pairs it, through placement, with “suffering.” He is intricately connecting these two concepts.
The poet suggests that one should take comfort in “soothing thoughts” resulting from a long period of suffering (also an example of irony). After making it through something difficult and feeling the pain or stress recede, the feelings of relief are incredibly soothing. This way, the poet alludes to a time when one’s concerns about the past are alleviated. (He may also be alluding to death when one will be far beyond “human suffering.)
Additionally, lines nine and ten take on added meaning when read alongside the final two lines of the poem. Here, Wordsworth speaks about the wisdom gained with age. The “years that bring the philosophic mind.” There is a great deal one loses when youth and beauty recede behind them, but Wordsworth is seeking to remind the reader, and perhaps himself, that there are things one can aspire towards in old age as well. A “philosophic mind” and the maintenance of one’s faith, even up until the time of death, are important and strengthening concepts. It’s only through age that one proves the strength of their faith, a faith that can stand up to death, and that one receives the wisdom of a truly “philosophic mind.”
Wordsworth suggests that human beings can take strength from their faith and from the wisdom gained through aging. One should not spend the years after their youth declines to mourn what they have lost.
The message is that time takes a great deal from every aging person, but, human beings can find strength in the development of their mind, the maintenance of their faith, and more.
William Wordsworth’s most famous poem is commonly considered to be either ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’ or ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’ The former describes a speaker’s return to a specific spot along the banks of the River Wye and his understanding of nature. The latter is one of the most popular poems in the English language and describes how a host of golden daffodils dancing in the breeze.
The poem recited in the film “Splendor in the Grass” (1961) is William Wordsworth’s well-known Romantic poem of the same name. Wordsworth relates the peak of one’s youth to the temporary splendor of “grass” and the glory of “flowers.”
The purpose of this William Wordsworth poem is to explore a theme that is universally applicable to all readers—aging. The poet was inspired to write this excerpt from his longer ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ after considering the implications of growing old and all that is lost as one’s youth full radiance recedes.
Some of the primary themes that William Wordsworth uses in his poetry include religion, memory, aging, nature, transcendence, and morality. Readers who enjoy his poems will be familiar with the discussions of his youth, the inspiring nature he enjoyed in the Lake District in England, and his interest in faith even as one faces death.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other William Wordsworth poems. For example:
- ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ —is a landscape poem concerned with nature that describes a man lounging underneath a tree and contemplating the changes society has undergone.
- ‘To a Child’ — a short poem in which the poet describes the importance of “service.”
- ‘After-Thought’—speaks on nature, death, and humanity’s impact on the earth through the image of the River Duddon.