intimations of immortality

Ode: Intimations of Immortality


The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I. There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Appareled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream
It is not now as it hath been of yore-
Turn whereso'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

II. 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.

III. 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 mountain 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! (part of previous line)

IV. Ye blessed 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 fullness 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-
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?

V. 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!
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.

VI. 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.

VII. Behold the Child among his newborn blisses,
A six-years' Darling of a pygmy size!
See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies,
Fretted be 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-learned art;
A wedding or a festival,
A mourning or a funeral;
And this hath now his heart,
And unto this he frames his song;
The 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.

VIII. 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 forever 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;
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!

IX: 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;
Blank misgivings of a Creature
Moving about in worlds not realized,
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: truth that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavor,
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.

X. 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 today
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
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.

XI. 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 newborn Day
Is lovely yet;
The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober coloring 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.

"Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood" is a long ode in eleven sections by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth. It is a deeply philosophical work, with themes ranging from the Platonic belief in pre-existence, to Wordsworth's belief that children have an instinctive wisdom that adults lack. Composed at Grasmere, in the English Lake District, between 1802 and 1804, "Intimations of Immortality" was first published in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). Arranged in eleven stanzas of anywhere from eight to forty lines each, the poem is written in anisometric verse, with lines of varied iambic stresses.

Wordsworth applies memories of his early childhood to his adult philosophy of life. According to the author's prose introduction, "Intimations of Immortality" was inspired in part by Platonic philosophy. Plato taught pre-existence, meaning that the soul dwelled in an ideal alternate state prior to its present occupation of the body, and the soul will return to that ideal previous state after the body's death. The immortality the title refers to is the immortality of the soul, which Wordsworth maintains is felt or intimated during early childhood. Hence Wordsworth's famous line: "The Child is Father of the Man."

"Intimations of Immortality" begins with the speaker recalling how nature and "every common sight" once seemed divine to him. In Stanza II, he reminds himself that rainbows and the like are still "beautiful and fair" to him, but nevertheless he feels "there hath past [passed] away a glory from the earth." In Stanza III, he feels that no private grief can diminish the joyous quality of nature. He feels nature's joy in the fourth stanza, but the feeling quickly fades.

In Stanza V, Wordsworth begins to philosophize in earnest. "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting," he says, for our souls originate in a purer, more glorious realm: heaven itself. Small children retain some memory of paradise, which glorifies their experiences on earth, but youths begin to lose it, and adults, distracted by earthly concerns, entirely forget it (Stanza VI).

Next, the speaker observes a six-year-old boy mimicking adult behavior in his play, "as if his whole vocation / Were endless imitation." In Stanza VIII, the speaker addresses the child, wondering why he, "thou best Philosopher" and "Mighty Prophet," imitates adult behavior as though he were eager to hasten "the inevitable yoke" of earthly cares and customs ("freight").

In the ninth stanza, the speaker rejoices that his memories of childhood ("those shadowy recollections" that "are yet a master light of all our seeing") remain to inspire him. In the tenth stanza, he calls on the birds to sing and the lambs to bound, to share his joy. Instead of mourning the loss of childhood innocence and wisdom, the speaker vows to "find / Strength in what remains behind" and to develop a mature "philosophic mind", 'which stems from a consciousness of mortality, as opposed to the child's feeling of immortality.'

Wordsworth sums up his philosophy in the final stanza (XI). His mature mind, he says, 'enables him to love nature and natural beauty all the more, for each of nature's objects can stir him to thought, and even the simplest flower blowing in the wind can raise in him "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."'

Stirringly written with 'linguistic strategies [that] are extraordinarily sophisticated and complex', "Intimations of Immortality" is Wordsworth's 'mature masterpiece' reflecting his belief that 'life on earth is a dim shadow of an earlier, purer existence, dimly recalled in childhood and then forgotten in the process of growing up.'

Musical settings

Wordworth's poem has twice been set to music in large-scale compositions for symphony orchestra and singers. Arthur Somervell's version was first performed at the Leeds Festival in 1907. Gerald Finzi's cantata Intimations of Immortality was premiered in 1950, when it was conducted by Herbert Sumison in Gloucester Cathedral at the Three Choirs Festival.


The poem was read by actor Timothy West at the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles.


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