Robert A. Albano
UNDERSTANDING THE POETRY
OF WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
Robert A. Albano
First Printing: December 2009
All Rights Reserved © 2009 by Robert A. Albano No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Wordsworth and the Romantic Period 7
2. Tintern Abbey (explication)
3. The Intimations Ode (explication) 43
“Tintern Abbey” (complete poem)
“Intimations Ode” (complete Poem) 85
WORDSWORTH AND THE
WORDSWORTH’S EARLY YEARS
William Wordsworth was most certainly one of the most influential of the Romantic poets. During the era of the Romantics in the early nineteenth century, Wordsworth wrote many great poems. Two of the best are “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” and “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” These two poems reflect several motifs or ideas that are common to the Romantic poets, especially (1) a reverence for nature and (2) the idealization of childhood.
William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and died in 1850. His poetry often focused on the relationship between man and nature. Like all of the Romantic poets, his work shows a remarkable contrast to the literature of the previous era, the Neoclassic Age.
Where the Neoclassicists were organized or structured, orderly, and artificial in their approach, the Romantics were unlimited or boundless, free, and natural.
Where the Neoclassicists placed an emphasis on reason, the Romantics emphasized emotion.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth Neoclassicists
Wordsworth’s poetry is also remarkable for being both simple and complex at the same time. Wordsworth presents complex ideas and philosophical concepts through a simple subject matter and language.
The second of five children, Wordsworth was born in northeast England in 1770. In 1778 Wordsworth’s mother died; and his father, who had earlier been rather successful in business, found himself in debt. However, his father did manage to send young William to a good boarding school when the boy was nine years old. Prior to that, William received most of his education from his mother.
Disaster struck again for Wordsworth when he was thirteen years of age (in 1783). His father died.
Wordsworth was fortunate, though, that his uncles became his new guardians; and they saw to it that Wordsworth continued his education at the boarding school Wordsworth graduated at age 17 (in 1787) and then enrolled at Cambridge University. His guardians expected him to be a clergyman, a member of the church, when he graduated.
Before he graduated, the 20-year-old Wordsworth took a break from his studies in 1790 in order to take a
walking tour through the Alps, the mountain range in central Europe and ranging along the borders of Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, and Austria. This experience with nature – among others – convinced the gifted scholar that the life of the clergy was not for him.
In 1791 Wordsworth graduated with honors from Cambridge. He then moved to London. A few months later Wordsworth moved again, this time to France. He fell in love with a French girl there. Her name was Annette Vallon.
In the following year (1792) Wordsworth and his girlfriend Annette had a child, a daughter whom they named Caroline. However, a lack of money as well as the growing tensions between England and France forced Wordsworth to return to England without his fiancé and daughter.
Wordsworth’s experiences in the Alps became the subject matter for his first published work in 1793, Descriptive Sketches. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge hailed the work and lavishly praised Wordsworth as “the best poet of the age.”
Because of his ties to France, the years prior to the French Revolution were ones of great despair and suffering for Wordsworth. Wordsworth worried about the political crisis and how it was affecting Annette Vallon and his daughter Caroline.
Later, in 1797, with his sister Dorothy, Wordsworth moved to Somerset, in southern England. The time he spent there contributed significantly in restoring his mental
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth health. At Somerset Wordsworth became close friends to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The two intellectual men shared a passion for poetry, and they influenced the writing of each other in numerous and profound ways.
PREFACE TO LYRICAL BALLADS
In the following year, 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge produced a joint collection of poetry entitled Lyrical Ballads. Among other poems in this work is the highly regarded “Tintern Abbey.”
Lyrical Ballads was highly successful, and it entered a second edition in 1800 and a third edition in 1802.
For the second edition, Wordsworth added a Preface. And in the 1802 edition he expanded that Preface even further.
This Preface today stands as what critics refer to as the pivotal turning point of English Romantic criticism.
They also use the word “manifesto” to describe it. The word manifesto is often used in politics when a political party or organization wishes to declare its goals or principle guidelines or intentions. To call Wordsworth’s Preface a manifesto, then, suggests that it somehow collectively represents the unified thoughts of the Romantic poets.
Nothing could have been further from Wordsworth’s intentions. The poet was not issuing any kind of political statement, nor was he suggesting that any type of organized movement enveloped the Romantic writers.
Yet, nevertheless, his Preface does encapsulate the trends and development of poetry in his age. The Preface examines the subject matter and language of poetry as well as addressing the question, “What is a
poet?” Although the Preface is too lengthy and complicated to examine adequately in this introduction, the student should be aware of some of the key concepts that appear in it.
KEY CONCEPTS OF THE PREFACE
(1) First, Wordsworth defines poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. Unlike the Neoclassicists, who kept their emotional voice in check, Wordsworth declares that an abundance of emotions forms the core of poetry. Such feelings exist within the poet as a result from his contact with nature, which exists outside or separate from the poet.
(2) Second, Wordsworth declares that poetry is free from rules. The poet is free to explore, bend, and even break the conventions of poetry. No established meters or rhythm need to be followed. And ideas or concepts can be explored as freely as rhythmical patterns.
(3) Third, nature forms the primary subject matter of poetry. And nature becomes, in a sense, a reflection of the poet’s own soul.
(4) Fourth, ordinary items, everyday objects, the commonplace are endowed with a special quality or glory. The poet may esteem and honor a tree, a small stream, or even a little child. Such are wonderful and marvelous creations of nature.
(5) Fifth, the beauty of nature contains a strange or even supernatural quality that affects the beholder in a positive and spiritual manner.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth One must keep in mind, though, that Wordsworth was not establishing rules here. He was merely recording his thoughts on the nature of poetry during his age –
especially as it appears in his own poems and those by Coleridge.
Wordsworth, like all of the Romantics, believed in the Individualism of the poet. Poets should not conform to rules, and Wordsworth would definitely not want other poets to use his poems as inspiration for their own creations or to imitate his own style of writing poetry.
AFTER LYRICAL BALLADS
After the third edition of Lyrical Ballads was printed, Wordsworth also was able to settle his personal affairs. In 1802 Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy took a trip to France. There he met his former girlfriend and his ten-year-old daughter. William helped them out financially, but the love that William Wordsworth and Annette Vallon once felt for one another no longer existed.
Later that same year, William Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, a friend whom he had known since childhood. Their marriage was a successful one, and they had five children.
Wordsworth scholars generally point to the years from 1797 and 1807 as the period when Wordsworth wrote his greatest poetry. Of course, this time frame includes the poems found in Lyrical Ballads. And it also includes the
“Intimations Ode,” which first appeared in 1807.
Several critics suggest that Wordsworth’s poetry after 1807 does not measure up to that which he wrote earlier. However, Wordsworth’s reputation as a great poet continued to grow over the next few decades.
In fact, as late as 1843, more than a decade after the Romantic movement had ended in England, Wordsworth was honored with the title of Poet Laureate. He was declared as the chief poet of England.
William Wordsworth died in 1850. He was the last survivor of the six truly great Romantic poets. Keats died in 1821, Shelley in 1822, Byron in 1824, Blake in 1827, and Coleridge in 1834. The final chapter on Romanticism was now at an end.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth THE PRIMARY TOPICS OF WORDSWORTH’S POEMS
(1) First, Wordsworth viewed nature as a teacher.
Nature instructs all of us when we are young and prepares us for our adult lives.
(2) Second, a relationship exists between childhood and adulthood. Wordsworth does not just mean this is the obvious sense. Rather, he points to a mystic or supernatural connection between these two distinct stages in life.
(3) Third, Wordsworth does believe that there is meaning in life, and such meaning can be apprehended or understood through a relationship with nature.
(4) Fourth, despite the positive affect of nature upon man, there also exists a conflict between man and nature.
At times Wordsworth depicts nature as a mysterious or divine presence. It possesses a supernatural quality that surpasses the understanding of man. Thus, nature, although an object of beauty, may also be, at the very same time, an object of awe or even fear.
MOTIFS IN ROMANTIC POETRY
The reader of William Wordworth’s poetry should attempt to discover which of the motifs common to many romantic poets are included in Wordsworth’s own work.
There are primarily eight of these motifs to look for.
1. a reverence for nature
2. nature’s appearance is largely subjective, formed by the response of the human mind
3. expressionistic imagery (images are not realistic but often represent the internal thoughts and moods of the speaker)
4. the conflict between desire and the mundane world (not unlike a conflict between reason and emotion) 5. a portrayal of the sensitive, alienated artist 6. praise of the primitive
7. the idealization of childhood 8. the nature of genius
Not all of these motifs will appear in Wordsworth’s poems, but most of them do.
In one of his greatest poems, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” the speaker recounts a physical journey where he returns to one of his favorite boyhood haunts, a scenic river bank. Yet more important than the physical journey is the mental one, in which Wordsworth recalls the past and his memories regarding the healing power of nature.
“Tintern Abbey” was written in 1798 and was included in Lyrical Ballads. The complete title is “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour. July 13, 1798.”
The poem pays homage to the restoring powers of nature.
The poem recounts an actual event at an actual location. Tintern Abbey is located in Wales in close proximity to Bristol, Monmouth, and Gloucester. In the summer of 1798, Wordsworth took a walking tour there with his sister Dorothy.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth Wordsworth had been there once before, by himself, five years earlier, in 1793. The year prior to that, in 1792, Wordsworth had been forced to leave his girlfriend and their baby daughter in France. That separation left Wordsworth feeling extremely depressed and full of despair. But the walking tour that he took above Tintern Abbey contributed significantly to bringing the young Wordsworth, then only 23 years old, back to health.
In 1798 Wordsworth returned to the scenic spot with his sister Dorothy. His hope was that the magical powers of the landscape would affect her as it did him.
The poem is 159 lines long and is divided into five stanzas.
(1) In the first stanza, lines 1 to 22, Wordsworth describes the locale and mentions how it awakens memories from five years before.
(2) In the second stanza, lines 22 to 49, Wordsworth provides a flashback recalling how the beauty of nature has helped sustain and revive him at those times in the past when he felt weary or depressed.
(3) The third stanza is brief, comprising lines 49 to 57. Wordsworth questions his belief, his philosophy regarding the power of nature. But he does not question his own experience.
(4) The fourth stanza is the longest, extending from line 58 to line 111. In this section Wordsworth contrasts the present moment with his reflections of boyhood.
(5) In the fifth and last stanza, from line 111 to 159, Wordsworth focuses on his sister Dorothy and how she is gaining the gifts of Nature that he had obtained in the past.
Wordsworth depicts nature as a protector or guardian
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 1
The first stanza begins with the following lines: FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length Of five long winters! and again I hear These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs With a soft inland murmur.--
The opening passage uses typical seasonal imagery, with summer representing a pleasurable time in life and with winter representing a cold and harsh time. Wordsworth informs us that five years has passed since his last visit.
But the poet is also suggesting that those past five years have not been easy. Wordsworth describes the winters with a simple adjective, long. The summers are not described in this way. Wordsworth is indicating that he has experienced more of the harsher moments in life and not so many of the pleasurable ones.
With another simple adjective – the word soft –
Wordsworth describes the sound of the mountain springs.
Wordsworth indicates the gentleness and tranquility of the surroundings and offers these up as a contrast to the harsh times of the past five years.
The stanza continues:
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, That on a wild secluded scene impress Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
Wordsworth establishes a connection in these lines between the wild secluded scene of nature and the deeper, secluded thoughts of the speaker. The speaker is thus connected to nature. The word wild – yet another simple adjective –
may thus also describe the thoughts of the speaker. His thoughts are wild due to his depression or despair.
Yet the speaker also establishes another connection, this time between the wild landscape of nature and the quiet of the sky. The sky lends its quiet calm upon the wild and unruly growths of nature. And since the speaker’s thoughts are connected to the landscape, the quiet charm of the sky also affects him. The speaker absorbs the calm and quiet presence of nature. And the speaker sits down to relax under the shade of the sycamore tree.
The day is come when I again repose Here, under this dark sycamore …
Wordsworth may have specifically mentioned the sycamore because of its symbolism. In Egypt the sycamore is the Tree of Life. And in the Bible the tree is a symbol of rejuvenation. Of course, Wordsworth finds Nature to have restorative or rejuvenating qualities. So the symbolism is appropriate.
During the Renaissance, the sycamore took on an entirely different meaning. It is associated with dejected love or, simply, sad love. The sycamore appears notably in one of the songs that Desdemona sings in the play Othello.
This symbolism is also appropriate for Wordsworth, who is sad over having to leave his girlfriend in France. And quite likely, Wordsworth could have intended both meanings.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth This Renaissance symbolism may have been created by poets who were always on the look out for puns and wordplay. The word sycamore sounds like "sick amour,"
meaning a sick or sad love. For Shakespeare's Othello, another pun could be intended. Sycamore sounds similar to
"a sick Moor." Othello was a Moor, the Moors being a tribe of people in northern Africa. Othello’s jealousy is a
“sick amour” or sick love; and, so, Othello is a sick Moor.
In describing the landscape, the speaker in “Tintern Abbey” corrects himself.
Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines Of sportive wood run wild.
The plants form little lines, but they are not hedges. A hedge refers to plants purposely planted close together in a yard or garden to form a fence or boundary. In wild nature there is no gardener to attend the plants. They grow naturally, wildly, without order. Nature in this way resembles Romantic poetry, which is also natural but free from any constrained and restrictive rules.
The speaker then observes the farm houses that dot the landscape:
… these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods, Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire The Hermit sits alone.
Wordsworth uses two similes – introduced by the word as in line 19 – to describe the farm houses. The first simile is that of the vagrants – hoboes or travelers – camping out beneath a tree in the woods. The second simile is the comparison to the hermit living in a cave. Both the woods and the cave are part of nature, and Wordsworth is suggesting that the farms appear to be just as natural. The farms have taken on the attributes of nature. The smoke sent up from the farmers’ chimneys are silent, like the quiet of the sky. The farms are serene and peaceful just like the streams and wild woods. The final word of the stanza is alone. The loneliness compliments the seclusion noted earlier.
The stanza thus depicts nature with several key terms: wild, secluded, quiet, and alone. The speaker also possesses these qualities. His own wild nature becomes at rest in the quiet of nature.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 2
The second stanza begins with the following lines: These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me As is a landscape to a blind man's eye.
The speaker is now connecting nature to himself and is describing the power of that nature. Even though he has been away from the beauty of nature for five years, he has not forgotten its beauty or its power. The beauty and power of nature have always been with him. He can still see its beauty even though he is away from it. It exists in his memory. He is not blind to it.
The speaker then adds …
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din Of towns and cities, I have owed to them In hours of weariness, sensations sweet, Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart; And passing even into my purer mind, With tranquil restoration.
The key word of this passage and perhaps the central theme of the entire poem is restoration. Wordsworth is describing the restorative power of nature.
The din or noise of life in the city is in direct contrast to the quiet of nature. Life in the city is not only noisy, but it fills one with weariness. And such weariness is not only physical; it is also psychological and emotional.
Nature is the solution to this weariness. It provides tranquil restoration. It provides serenity and peace. It soothes the nerves and calms the mind.
The speaker then adds that the pleasures or gifts of nature ...
… have no slight or trivial influence On that best portion of a good man's life, His little, nameless, unremembered, acts Of kindness and of love.
In other words, the speaker is declaring that the power of nature causes man to act in good and positive ways.
Men, of course, are not always kind and loving.
Sometimes they are cruel and hateful. Wordsworth may be suggesting that such men are cut off from nature. They are either physically away from nature or they are blind to it.
Such men are to be found more often in the city than in the country.
Wordsworth, thus far, has suggested that nature provides at least two gifts to man: (1) it restores men’s troubled or depressed feelings, and (2) it causes men to act in good, kind, and loving ways. But there is yet another gift that nature provides.
Wordsworth describes this third gift beginning at line 35:
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift, Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood, In which the burthen of the mystery, In which the heavy and the weary weight Of all this unintelligible world, Is lightened:
The adjective sublime, mentioned in line 37, suggests that this third gift has a higher spiritual value. The first two gifts, restoration and goodness, are physical, emotional, or psychological gifts. But this third gift sustains the spirit or soul of man.
The speaker explains that life in general makes us feel like we are carrying an enormous burden or load on our shoulders. Life is often difficult. It makes us tired, exhausted, weary. And this heavy load weighs down our spirits, our souls. And, worse yet, we do not understand why this is so. The speaker tells us it is a mystery. We feel like we are always carrying this burden or load, but we do not know why.
This third gift of nature, then, is the uplifting of our spirit or soul. Nature is our spiritual support. Our spirit is stronger because of nature’s affect on it. And we are thus able to stand up and move on despite the heaviness that life bears down upon us, upon our spirits. This third spiritual gift also lasts us our entire lives, according to Wordsworth; and once our bodies are gone, our spirit continues as a living soul.
The final three lines of the stanza are these: While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things.
Wordsworth concludes his second stanza by stating that (1) the power of nature brings us joy (the gift of restoration when we are feeling depressed or full of despair) and (2) harmony or fellowship with other people (the gift of goodness). And (3) Nature gives us the ability to understand life. We see not only the physical aspects of life, but we also come to see the spiritual aspects of everything in life.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 3
The third stanza is quite brief and begins with the following:
Be but a vain belief …
The word vain here could mean incorrect, worthless, or even foolish. Wordsworth is questioning his philosophy regarding the three gifts of nature. He wonders whether he might be wrong. But then he supports his belief with the following:
… yet, oh! how oft--
In darkness and amid the many shapes Of joyless daylight;
when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world, Have hung upon the beatings of my heart--
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee, O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods, How often has my spirit turned to thee!
Essentially, Wordsworth is supporting his belief with his own experience. The word sylvan refers to the woods or forest, the word Wye is the name of the river near Tintern Abbey.
Wordsworth uses personification to describe the river as a wanderer traveling through the woods. The river becomes alive and thus has a spirit of its own.
Wordsworth may doubt his philosophy, but he does not doubt his memory or experience. He explains that, while he was living in the city and experiencing severe bouts of depression, he only needed to think about the Wye River and its surroundings. Then he would be restored.
He would no longer be troubled or depressed. He would then feel joy even though he did not physically leave the city.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 4
In stanzas two and three, Wordsworth is discussing his first visit above Tintern Abbey in 1793. In stanza four Wordsworth then turns to the present moment: his second visit there five years later, in 1798. The word now, in line 58, marks this shift. The return visit brings mixed emotions: With many recognitions dim and faint, And somewhat of a sad perplexity, The picture of the mind revives again: Wordsworth first comments that he experiences sadness and confusion at this second visit. The sadness may be due to the fact that he has been away for so long and has missed the scene and the experience of being there. The experience is so wonderful and uplifting to him that he may perhaps be wondering why he did not return there sooner.
Wordsworth vaguely remembers his earlier visit, but he notes that his memories about certain features of the place are dim and faint. This return visit, then, revives those memories. The return visit also brings pleasure and pleasing thoughts. Wordsworth’s pleasure comes from the belief …
That in this moment there is life and food For future years.
In other words, the memories that will come from this second visit will be able to restore him and bring him joy in the many long years ahead when he returns, once again, to the city and lives separated from nature.
At least, Wordsworth hopes this will be true. He hopes that the effects of this second visit will be the same as the first.
Yet Wordsworth also realizes that he is no longer the same man that he was five years earlier. And so he is not certain that nature will affect him in the same way.
Wordsworth describes his younger self with a simile. He declares that five years ago he was like a roe. He was like a wild deer leaping and jumping over the hills and mountains. Wordsworth then extends his simile by suggesting that maybe he was more like a deer being pursued by hunters. He adds the following:
… more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one Who sought the thing he loved.
Back in 1793 Wordsworth was flying from or running away from himself and his own dreaded depression. He did not know then the effect that nature would have upon him. The positive experience was, then, accidental.
But with the return visit in 1798, Wordsworth is running to Nature. Nature is the “thing he loves.” And, so, Wordsworth is perhaps wondering whether that happy accident can repeat itself.
The fictional character that Wordsworth creates in his poem is not exactly the same as the real Wordsworth himself. In 1793 Wordsworth was then 23 years of age.
But he indicates that his speaker is a much younger person at that time. Wordsworth depicts the speaker at the earlier time (in 1793) as a youth, full of innocence.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days, And their glad animal movements all gone by) To me was all in all.
Like many Romantic poets, Wordsworth idealizes youth or childhood. The child is fully connected to or integrated with Nature. Wordsworth describes his youthful connection to Nature in terms of emotions. He is all appetite, feelings, and love. There is an emotional connection between the child and nature, and the innocent youth does not have any need for the three great gifts of nature that Wordsworth describes in stanza two.
With some regret, Wordsworth declares that his time of childhood and youth are over: That time is past.
And all of the wonderful and magnificent emotions that the child receives from nature are also over:
… and all its aching joys are no more.
The adult is no longer in touch with nature; and, so, he can no longer feel the pure and glorious joy that the child experiences.
But the speaker does not regret or mourn the loss of this childhood joy and pleasure. He comments that Nature provides other gifts to the adult that are just as wonderful and as magnificent as the gifts that the adult has lost. The speaker now looks upon nature in a new way, far different from his childhood self.
Wordsworth explains that, yes, it is true, the adult is forced to listen to the “sad music of humanity.” The adult is forced to experience the harshness and displeasure of life.
And this sad music of humanity has the power to “chasten and subdue” the adult. In other words, humanity, life in society, can be harmful to us in many ways. It can get us down and defeat us, as if we were prisoners or slaves to it.
Adulthood is clearly quite difficult. But Wordsworth then explains that adulthood is not entirely negative. There is something positive to provide balance in our lives.
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.
The word presence (in line 94) suggests that there is something alive, but not human. Rather, it is spiritual. The word could indicate, then, the Spirit of Nature. The word disturbs is used in a positive way here. This spirit of nature interrupts Wordsworth from his mundane or ordinary problems. It awakens him to a world outside the ordinary and physical.
The words elevated and sublime also indicate that this presence is high and lofty and spiritual, that it is beyond the scope of ordinary vision and understanding.
And so, this presence, this spirit of nature, brings the speaker a sense or feeling of sublime joy. It moves his soul beyond the worries and cares of the ordinary world.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth And this joyful spiritual presence is everywhere: in the sun, in the stars, in the ocean, and in the sky. It is everywhere. And, most importantly, this joyful and sublime spiritual presence enters into the mind of man.
Wordsworth further defines or describes this Spiritual Presence in the next few lines: A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.
This spirit is everywhere. It is in everything and everybody.
It is ubiquitous or omnipresent. It is flowing through everything and everybody.
Although Wordsworth does not directly call this spiritual presence God, most Christians would. God also is everywhere and exists in all people and things. God also is a presence that flows through everything and everybody.
Wordsworth, though, does not feel that it is necessary to enter into a religious debate or argument. He leaves it up to his readers to decide whether they should call this spiritual presence God or not.
The conclusion of the stanza is clearly marked by the word therefore:
Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods, And mountains; and of all that we behold From this green earth.
Wordsworth can no longer experience and enjoy nature with the “glad animal movements” of his boyhood. He no
longer can become a part of nature on a purely physical and emotional level. But he still loves nature because now he can enjoy it on a deeper and far more spiritual level.
In the final lines of stanza four, Wordsworth describes nature metaphorically: The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse, The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul Of all my moral being.
In the first of these five metaphors, Wordsworth describes Nature as the anchor of his purest thoughts. Like a ship’s anchor, nature keeps man firm and secure – but that security is in goodness and benevolence. Pure thoughts suggest acting in a good and noble and harmonious manner.
Wordsworth also describes nature as a nurse, a guide, and the guardian of his heart. Finally, and most importantly, Wordsworth calls Nature the “soul of all my moral being.”
But the distinction between heart and soul is a crucial one.
The word heart refers to a person’s physical or emotional self. Nature both guards and heals the physical and emotional aspects of the speaker. But the word soul connects nature to man’s spiritual self.
Nature exists within the soul of man. The soul of man is interfused and intertwined with nature. The spiritual force of nature is also, then, the spiritual force within man.
Man is a part of nature, and cannot – or should not – be separated from it.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 5
In the fifth and final stanza of “Tintern Abbey,”
Wordsworth mentions his traveling companion, his sister Dorothy. Wordsworth begins the stanza in this way: Nor perchance,
If I were not thus taught, should I the more Suffer my genial spirits to decay.
The word genial, as the certain critics suggest, could mean creative. But the word can also mean pleasant or comforting, and Wordsworth most likely intended all three of these meanings. Wordsworth is stating that his genial spirits, his good and positive feelings, would not suffer or decay in any way even if nature did not provide the spiritual gift that he was previously discussing.
And the reason why this is so is that his sister is with him: “for thou art with me here.” Wordsworth is experiencing his pleasant holiday with his sister Dorothy, whom he describes as his dearest friend. Wordsworth is extremely happy to share this glorious experience in nature with his sister.
The speaker describes his sister as being much like he was when he first visited the location five years earlier.
He is suggesting that she will experience that particular locale in nature just as he did when he was a youth five years earlier.
In thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart.
May I behold in thee what I was once.
Actually, Wordsworth is using a poetic conceit here. In reality, Dorothy was only one year younger than Wordsworth himself. The character of Dorothy in
“Tintern Abbey” is a fictional figure used for poetic purposes. Wordsworth does this because he wants to make a point, and he also wants to create a splendid poem.
Wordsworth is not writing a biography here. Wordsworth is a poet. He is not a biographer.
In the fictional situation created in the poem, the character of Dorothy serves to remind Wordsworth of his own boyhood, his own youth. Wordsworth thus hopes and prays that Dorothy will benefit from nature in the same way that he did. In the rough times ahead that Dorothy, like all people, must face in society, Wordsworth hopes that she will receive the comfort and joy and spiritual protection from Nature.
Wordsworth notes that Nature, personified, treats those who love her with kindness: Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her.
Referring to Nature as “she,” Wordsworth once again explains how Nature sustains and comforts us during the rough times of our lives.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth She can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress With quietness and beauty, and so feed With lofty thoughts,
that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men, Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all The dreary intercourse of daily life, Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold Is full of blessings.
The word inform (in line 125) means to place within us or to have a lasting effect upon us. Nature’s effect within us is a lasting one. It does not disappear.
Once again Wordsworth is explaining how nature will cheer us and bless us so that later, when we are in the midst of the woe and the suffering and evil of life, we do not succumb or fall to it. We are able to get through the hard times in life because the power of nature is within us.
The stanza shifts directions (at line 134), beginning with the word “therefore.”
Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk; And let the misty mountain-winds be free To blow against thee.
In a prayer-like fashion, Wordsworth asks Nature – the moon, the mountains, the wind – to bless his sister.
The speaker also believes that Nature will sustain and comfort his sister as she gets older and encounters difficulties of life.
In after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured Into a sober pleasure.
The speaker believes that his sister will experience the two stages of Nature just as he had. As a boy or young man, the speaker was one with nature, like an animal, enjoying nature on an emotional level. But as an adult, the gifts of nature are sublime or spiritual. The speaker sees his youthful sister experiencing nature on an emotional level, but he also believes that she will also later experience nature on a spiritual level later, after they end their journey.
Thus, Nature will heal and comfort Dorothy in later years whenever she experiences the “solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief” that is, unfortunately, so much a part of living.
The speaker concludes by foreseeing his own death – a time when he “no more can hear” his sister’s voice. But he adds that his sister will have one more gift related to nature that he did not have earlier. Dorothy will have the memory of having shared Nature with her brother William.
We stood together.
In his concluding section, Wordsworth once again describes his relationship with Nature in religious terms.
He is “a worshipper of Nature” and has for Nature a “zeal of holier love.”
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth Wordsworth loves nature in the same manner that a good Christian loves God. But Wordsworth’s love is increased or enhanced all the more because he is able to share that love with his sister Dorothy, whom he also loves.
In the final five lines of the poem, Wordsworth predicts that his sister Dorothy will, many years in the future, continue to remember this single experience in Nature with fondness and love for two reasons: (1) because the gifts of nature will sustain and comfort her during difficult times; and (2) because she will remember having shared this experience with her dear and close brother, whom she also loves.
And William Wordsworth is also comforted in knowing that he has shared the experience in nature with the sister whom he loves:
These steep woods and lofty cliffs, And this green pastoral landscape, were to me More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
And, so, for the speaker, the return journey to the Wye River above Tintern Abbey in 1798 also brings two gifts: (1) the speaker is able to recall with gladness and fondness his earlier visit five years earlier. In so doing, he is able to understand and appreciate the gifts of nature. And (2) he will now have the comforting knowledge that he has shared his love of nature and its gifts with his own dear and cherished sister and that she too will experience the powerful and sublime force of nature herself in the many years to come.
Many modern critics praise “Tintern Abbey” and note that it was Wordworth’s first poem to create a mythos surrounding nature. Nature is a mythic force, a powerful force, a god-like force that blesses and protects mankind.
The poem connects the inner world of the mind with the external world of nature. Nature is thus infused within the inner being of man.
When the book, Lyrical Ballads, appeared in 1798, it introduced a new age of poetry. That book, and especially the poem “Tintern Abbey,” ushered in a new style and spirit of poetry. And that new style was Romanticism.
THE INTIMATIONS ODE
INTRODUCTION: MY HEART LEAPS UP
introduced in “Tintern Abbey” in the following years.
Wordsworth had already indicated that the supernatural or spiritual gifts of youth are lost, but not entirely forgotten, as a person reaches adulthood. Further, the memory of that spiritual power helps to sustain us even during the most troubled and turbulent times of our lives.
In 1802, just a few years after he wrote “Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth wrote another of his greatest works, the “Intimations Ode.” The complete title of this poem is
“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” Wordsworth introduces the poem with the final three lines of another, shorter poem that he had written just a little time earlier, also in 1802. That poem, entitled “My Heart Leaps Up,” is only nine lines long.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth The entire poem appears to be rather simple. The speaker enjoys the beauty of nature, symbolized by the rainbow.
And the speaker adds that such appreciation of nature occurs from the time he is a child to the time he is an old man.
But then the puzzling seventh line appears: “The Child is father of the Man.” The line is open to interpretation, but the reader should recall the relationship between man and nature as Wordsworth expressed it in
“Tintern Abbey.” In “Tintern Abbey” the poet suggests that a child enjoys nature on a purely physical and emotional level. But as an adult, he enjoys nature on a deeper and sublime level. He enjoys nature on a spiritual level. The childhood self thus teaches and prepares the adult self for life. The adult self is born from the childhood self.
A similar concept is suggested in the seventh line of
“My Heart Leaps Up” and is explored at a far deeper level in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.”
The term ode comes from the classical age of Rome and is usually described as a lyrical poem having a high or exalted style. The form of the ode often employs a rise and fall of emotional power. During the Classical Age, odes were frequently sung at public festivals or in drama.
Not surprisingly, Wordworth's own “Ode” has been set to music three times. Arthur Somervell's version appeared in 1907. Gerald Finzi's cantata Intimations of Immortality premiered in 1950. It was also recorded by Ron Perlman on a 1989 album entitled Of Love & Hope, inspired by the television show Beauty & the Beast, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STRUCTURE
Wordsworth divides his “Ode” into eleven stanzas of varying length.
(1) In the first stanza, the speaker notes how, as a youth, earth possessed a celestial or heavenly quality.
(2) But in the second stanza, the speaker notes how, as he became older, that celestial quality began to disappear.
(3) In the third stanza, the speaker, as an adult, experiences conflicting emotions – grief and joy.
(4) In the fourth stanza, the speaker employs his memory to recall the past experience of youth. And he wonders what has happened to that lost vision of childhood.
(5) In stanza five, the speaker elaborates on how the heavenly vision of childhood dies away.
(6) In the next stanza, the poet then comes back to the adult and his experience on earth.
(7) But in the seventh stanza, he returns to the topic of childhood and refers to the child as an actor and imitator.
(8) And in the eighth stanza the speaker also notes how, rather ironically, the child is all too anxious to grow up.
(9) In the ninth stanza the poet uses the word benediction to indicate that the adult can experience the pleasures of the past.
(10) In the tenth stanza, the speaker philosophically accepts the change in how he experiences nature as a child and adult.
(11) And in the final stanza the speaker becomes reconciled to the relationship between mankind and nature.
In Stanza One, the speaker begins with “there was a time.” He is referring to his time of youth. He is referring to his childhood.
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light.
The word appareled means dressed or covered. Everything in nature appears to be bathed or infused with a celestial or heavenly presence. Nature possesses a spiritual quality. It possesses a wonderful or marvelous quality that is more like a dream than reality.
The poet then uses the simile “of a dream” (in line 5). The experience of Nature is a marvelous and enchanting dream for the youth. But for the adult, the experience is not the same:
It is not now as it hath been of yore.
The word yore refers to the time of the past. Here, specifically, it refers to the time of childhood. But the word now refers to the time of adulthood. The adult experience of nature is different from that of the child.
The stanza concludes with this line: The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth The adult cannot feel or experience the celestial presence of nature. The adult does not have that direct spiritual connection to nature that he once had as a child. There is a tone of regret or sadness regarding this loss.
In Stanza Two, the speaker notes that, as an adult, he can still appreciate and marvel at the beauty of nature. He still is pleased with the loveliness of the rainbow and the rose and the moon. He still enjoys the reflection of the stars on a lake at night. He still loves the shining sun.
However, the speaker regrets losing the celestial experience with nature that he had as a child: But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.
The speaker is sad that he can no longer experience that glorious heavenly connection to nature.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 3
The poet begins the third stanza with the word now.
He is referring to the present time when he is now an adult.
Despite the beauty of nature, the speaker feels regret and sadness:
To me alone there came a thought of grief.
The youthful connection to nature that he has lost fills him with grief. However, the speaker quickly thinks about something to alleviate and remove his sadness: A timely utterance gave that thought relief.
The word utterance simply means something said or uttered. Some critics interpret this word to suggest a specific poem, such as “My Heart Leaps Up.” But more likely the word utterance refers to a concept or idea. It refers to the idea that is expressed in the following lines of the stanza. And that idea, simply expressed, is the joy of nature. And this joy in nature is so powerful that it brings relief to the speaker. It makes him strong (as mentioned in line 24). In fact, he feels so strong that he vows that his sadness will never return:
No more shall grief of mine the season wrong.
As noted earlier, traditionally the ode has the form of rising and falling emotional power or intensity. In Wordsworth’s “Ode,” the poet has taken his readers through the celestial exuberance of youth and the regret of the adult in the first two stanzas. And in the third stanza the poet has quickly moved from grief to joy.
The remaining lines of the third stanza are much like a simple song: the speaker delights in the glories and pleasures of nature. It is a song about the joy one can find in nature.
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 shepherd boy mentioned in the last line of the stanza refers literally to boys who work as shepherds and who are thus more closely connected to nature. But the shepherd boy is also symbolic of any child who is connected to nature, including the speaker himself when he was a child.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 4
The song of the joy in nature continues into the fourth stanza. The adult speaker witnesses the joy around him.
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 word creatures can refer directly to the shepherd boys mentioned previously. They are like wild animals in nature, enjoying it, fully part of it. The word coronal refers to a crown of flowers. Shepherds might wear such crowns or circlets of flowers during festivals and holidays. Of course, it is a naturally-made crown. It is a crown symbolizing the beauty of nature. In stanza four, the adult speaker states that he is wearing such a crown. He is indicating that he feels the beauty of nature within himself.
Thus, the speaker shares the joy and the bliss that the younger boys experience. He declares the following: I feel--I feel it all.
Their joy rubs off on him. The speaker then suggests that feeling grief – feeling sad or sudden – is wrong or perhaps even evil when there is so much joy going on all around him:
Oh evil day! if I were sullen.
No one should be sad, the speaker is saying, when the pleasures of nature surround him every day. The speaker even uses the word joy directly a few lines later: I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
Nature still provides the adult with pleasures and joy.
However, a change or shift occurs in line 51
(beginning with the word but). There is a shift in both tone and direction. There is also, once again, a shift in emotional intensity. The emotion moves from joy to regret.
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?
In looking at nature, the adult speaker realizes that something is different. Nature no longer appears the same to him. Nature no longer produces the same feelings or emotions within him. He has looked at the tree and the field before, as a child. Then such objects in nature produced marvelous sensations and remarkable passions within him. The adult speaker wonders why he can no longer feel the same way.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth The words glory and dream (in line 57) connect the poem back to line 5, back to the first stanza. The speaker is wondering how that celestial or heavenly experience and connection with nature that he had as a child could disappear. “Where did it go?” he is asking. The speaker wants to feel the full joy of nature; he wants to be like the shepherd boys. But the bliss he feels is only temporary. It begins to disappear.
The speaker ponders the memories of his childhood experience with nature. He wishes he could enjoy nature as he did then. He would like to be fully integrated with nature, to be one with nature once more. But as an adult, that is impossible.
Thus, the speaker feels a sense of regret. He also feels a sense of longing for the past. He wants to be a child once again. He would like to have that special dream-like magic that a child has in his connection to nature.
In the fifth stanza, William Wordsworth becomes metaphysical. Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that covers, among other topics, the study of being – the study of existence.
In the beginning of the fifth stanza, Wordsworth is no longer talking about the relationship between man and child. Rather, he is talking about the nature of the soul.
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.
Departing from Christian beliefs, the poet is stating that the soul exists long before the birth of the body. The soul exists long before we are born, even before we are conceived.
Thus, when Wordsworth states that “birth is but a sleep,” he is suggesting that the soul itself has been asleep.
At birth, the soul wakes up. But it has forgotten its earlier existence.
Wordsworth also uses the metaphor of the star to describe the soul. The soul is a bright heavenly light that has been in existence for thousands of years. When we are born, according to Wordsworth, this bright heavenly light –
our soul – travels down from the heavens, from its place near God, and enters our body.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth Yet, the soul has not completely forgotten everything about its earlier, heavenly existence. The soul still has vague memories of its earlier existence when it was a light up in the sky, without a body.
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home.
Thus, the soul still remembers its spiritual or heavenly nature, and the mind of the young child shares that memory. And, so, the poet declares …
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Our physical or earthly existence is still connected to that heavenly spark, the soul. And when we are infants, Wordsworth is declaring, we are closest to that heavenly part of the soul.
But as we get older, the connection diminishes and eventually disappears. A shift in stanza 5 then occurs (at line 67):
Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing Boy.
Earth, and especially the human body, is a prison of the soul. The soul is trapped in the body and is unable to ascend into the heavens where it came from.
Yet, in our childhood, we are still able to see the heavenly light that is shining within us. The child is still connected to his soul and is able to see or feel the heavenly light of that soul. And the light of that soul fills the child with joy (as noted in line 70).
Wordsworth then uses a metaphor to describe the process of growing up:
The Youth, who daily farther from the east Must travel …
The poet metaphorically describes growing up as a journey that everyone must take – a journey from the east to the west. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The east thus symbolizes the beginning of the day, and the west symbolizes the end of the day. And, by extension, the east can symbolically represent the beginning of life, and the west can symbolize the end of life or death.
The sun is, of course, an extremely appropriate symbol for this particular poem since it is, after all, a heavenly light.
At the end of the fifth stanza, Wordsworth notes how the heavenly light of the soul disappears as a child grows into manhood.
At length the Man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 6
In the short sixth stanza, the poet now focuses on the adult. Although the heavenly light of the soul is gone, although the adult can no longer experience the heavenly pleasure and joy of the soul, he has earthly pleasures to take their place.
The earth is described metaphorically as a gentle mother and a friendly nurse. Yet earth is not the true mother. She is only a foster mother. Man’s true essence is his soul, and the soul is born in the heavens, not on earth.
But since the adult man no longer can remember his heavenly existence, the earth comforts him and helps him to …
Forget the glories he hath known, And that imperial palace whence he came.
The speaker returns to the child again in stanza seven. Even as early as age 6, the child begins to move away from his spiritual or heavenly self and move into his earthly existence. Wordsworth describes the child as being …
Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses, With light upon him from his father's eyes!
The mother here is Mother Earth, the father is the Heaven. The earth troubles or disturbs the spiritual nature of the child. The heavenly light of the soul thus begins to fade at an early age.
And so, from about age six, the child begins to adapt to his new earthly environment. The child begins to plan and shape his life. He becomes involved with earthly concerns, and his spiritual nature becomes unused and forgotten.
Wordsworth describes human existence as a series of events:
A wedding or a festival,
A mourning or a funeral.
Life is just an ongoing series of events that everyone becomes involved or enmeshed in. The activities of life are merely ones of “business, love, or strife.” Every life is similar, Wordsworth suggests. The lives of the present are not unlike the lives of the past.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth Wordsworth uses the metaphor of the actor on a stage to describe life. The stage as a metaphor for life in the world was often used by William Shakespeare. In his comedy As You Like It, for example, one of the characters asserts the following:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
Shakespeare suggests that life is extremely short, not unlike the length of time that it takes for a play to be presented on stage. On stage the actor speaks his lines, expresses emotions such as grief or joy, and acts according to the directions set in the play. Then the play ends. The character exists no more. Similarly, all of us in life express the same kinds of emotions, act according to the pattern set by life, and then pass away.
In Wordsworth’s poem, a child is an actor. He imitates the adults around him, expressing the same emotions, acting in ways that are the same or similar to that of the adult. But as the child becomes an adult, he is still an actor. He is still going through the same kinds of emotions and engaging in the same kinds of activities that have gone on before for countless generations.
Wordsworth compares life, earthly existence, to an actor playing his part on the humorous stage. Here, the word humorous does not mean funny, even though there may be a certain ironic humor about life. Rather, Wordsworth is referring to bodily fluids called the humors.
During the Middle Ages, people believed that there were four dangerous fluids – sanguine, phlegm, choler, and
melancholy – that somehow entered the blood and caused people to act in highly emotional and negative ways.
Too much sanguine would cause a person to be bloodthirsty or violent; too much choler would make him angry or bad-tempered; too much melancholy would make him depressed or gloomy; and too much phlegm would make him lazy, sluggish, and unemotional.
During the Renaissance writers of plays would often utilize this concept in their comedies where they had overly emotional characters. Such plays were simply called Humor Comedies. The playwright Ben Jonson is especially noteworthy for writing several of these plays and even wrote one such play in 1598 entitled Every Man in his Humour.
Perhaps, then, Wordsworth is comparing life to a comedy of the humours. Life is full of strong and violent emotions. But the Renaissance comedy always had a happy ending. And, so, by extending the metaphor, Wordsworth might also see life as having a happy ending.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth STANZA 8
In Stanza 8, the poet describes the other side of the child’s nature. In the previous stanza, the child is an actor or imitator. But in stanza eight, he is a philosopher and prophet.
The child thus has a dual nature, an earthly side and a heavenly side. He is equally both body and soul.
The stanza begins by addressing the child with these lines: Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie Thy Soul's immensity.
The young child’s exterior semblance, his human body, is quite small. This size is in startling contrast to the size of the soul, which is immense. The soul is, metaphorically speaking, much larger than the body that contains it.
The speaker also notes how the child retains his heritage (in line 111). The word heritage indicates what the child has been able to keep within himself regarding his true heavenly nature. The child knows and innately understands that he is connected with the infinite. The child is fully aware of his spiritual existence. The speaker then refers to the child as …
Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
The child naturally sees and understands the truth about human life and existence. The poet uses the word truths, in the plural (at line 115), to indicate the answers to the many questions which men continuously ask regarding the nature of life and the soul and our relationship to the infinite. The
child knows or inwardly senses the answers to all of these questions. But men, adults, have forgotten these answers, these truths.
Regarding these truths, the speaker tells us that adults may constantly struggle or toil to find the answers, but such answers are lost in the darkness.
Which we are toiling all our lives to find, In darkness lost.
Adults are just not capable of seeing these truths.
But for the child, the truth is always present. His immortality always surrounds him: Thou, over whom thy Immortality
Broods like the Day.
The word broods means to surround and envelop.
Immortality wraps around the child like a blanket. It is always with him. The child understands that he has a spiritual nature, and he realizes that this spirit is immortal.
The speaker then asks a question of the child: Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke The years to bring the inevitable yoke, Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
The question is rhetorical: there is no answer. A yoke is literally a device used by farmers. It is a leather or wooden harness that is placed over a horse or ox to pull a plow or wagon. Wordsworth uses the word yoke as a metaphor for
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth life. All people, like the animal pulling the plow, struggle and sweat in life. Life is a struggle. Life is difficult.
So, the speaker in the poem is questioning why the child is in such a hurry to grow up. Because, once he does grow up, his life will be difficult. His life will be a struggle.
This is the puzzle or mystery of life. The adult has only hardships and problems to contend with. But the child has a blessed and highly spiritual life.
So, the speaker cannot understand why the child –
why any of us – wants to give up his blessed and spiritual happiness and replace it with hardship and toil.
The eighth stanza ends with several metaphors to describe the burden of adulthood. One of these is
“earthly freight.” Freight more generally refers to heavy goods carried by a ship or train. Thus, it symbolizes something heavy and burdensome. Life is also heavy and burdensome. It is a burden that is extremely difficult to carry.
Wordsworth also describes life as a “weight, heavy as frost.” Thus, adult life is not only a heavy burden, but it is also cold and cruel, like an icy frost that shocks us and chills us.
Although the eighth stanza ends on a negative note, the ninth stanza quickly raises our emotions back up to a positive one. As noted earlier, in the ode there is a rise and fall of emotional power. In stanza eight there is a definite fall, but the emotions quickly rise in the ninth stanza.
The cause of that joy is the vague or distant memory of what we once were. Somehow there is still a faint memory of our spiritual essence. That spiritual essence has not entirely disappeared as we become adults.
Even though the memory or thought of that spiritual essence is very small or slight, the speaker asserts that it gives him a perpetual or everlasting benediction.
A benediction is a blessing. Like a blessing from God, the memory or thought of his childhood spirituality brings him comfort and solace. It calms him even though he faces the struggles of life everyday.
The speaker clarifies his position. He states that it is not the simple pleasures of childhood that he is referring to. These pleasures, delight and liberty, are important and wonderful. They are “worthy to be blest.” But the speaker is referring to something far deeper. He tells us …
Not for these I raise
The song of thanks and praise.
Instead, the speaker is referring to the faint memory of our childhood past that raises “obstinate questionings” and
“blank misgivings” within us.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth The questions he asks are obstinate or stubborn because he never stops asking them. These questions about life are always within him. They are part of his spirit.
A misgiving is a feeling of uncertainty. And the speaker’s feelings of uncertainty are blank because there is no answer to be seen. The uncertainty remains uncertain.
The feeling never goes away.
Yet these doubts, these questions, and these misgivings bring joy to the speaker. The speaker describes himself as a “creature” who is …
Moving about in worlds not realised.
An unrealized world means here an unreal world. Because of our shadowy memory of our spiritual nature, the physical world around us does not quite seem quite real.
We sense that there is something more, something greater, beyond the mere physical world.
By contrast, the real world is the world of spirit.
Even though it is beyond our physical comprehension, it is there. And that spiritual world is the true world for all of us.
The poet also refers to the memory or thought of childhood spirituality as instinct. He states that our memories or thoughts are …
High instincts before which our mortal Nature Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised.
There is something deep, internal, and instinctive within all of us – a spark of our spiritual nature – which surprises or
frightens our mortal nature. It frightens or surprises us because we are not sure what it is.
Nevertheless, this memory or instinct is a positive quality. These memories or instincts …
Are yet the fountain light of all our day, Are yet a master light of all our seeing.
Like a fountain of water, there is a nourishing and cleansing quality to these instincts that are continually bubbling forward without ceasing. Like a master light or, perhaps, like a sun, these instincts illuminate what is otherwise dark. They help us to see or understand life.
They help to clarify what is otherwise confusing or unclear.
Thus, the instincts or memories of our childhood …
Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make Our noisy years seem moments in the being Of the eternal Silence.
The instincts provide us with strength and courage. Our instincts help us to realize that the “noisy years” of adulthood are brief and matter little when one sets them along side of the millions and billions of years that make up all eternity.
Wordsworth then adds that the truth or reality of these instincts, the truth of our spiritual essence, will never perish. It will never end. Nothing can abolish or destroy this truth.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth Stanza Nine ends with the following lines: 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.
The season of calm weather is a metaphor for those times when we are feeling calm and at peace with nature and everything around us. At such times our spirits or souls can then get a glimpse, a sight of the spiritual world.
For a very brief moment our souls or spirits can travel upward from earth to the heavens and get a look at the children, the bodiless souls, that frolic and play in those heavens, in that spiritual world.
In other words, for an extremely brief moment we can, as adults, connect to that spirit world and experience the delight and joy that, as children, we had constantly enjoyed.
The joy of that connection, the joy described in stanza nine, continues into stanza ten. In fact, the entire stanza is a simple one wherein the speaker rejoices for his connection to the spiritual world.
The pastoral imagery indicated earlier in the poem also occurs here. Lambs are frolicking and birds are chirping amidst the grass and flowers on a beautiful spring day.
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!
The adult speaker has not forgotten that his connection to his own spiritual nature is less than that of the child. But he is not sad about that or feels any regret.
What though the radiance which was once so bright Be now for ever taken from my sight.
For the speaker, the loss of that childhood pleasure is not something to be sad about. He will not grieve about it.
Instead, the speaker notes three other gifts or pleasures that the adult retains because of his spiritual connection:
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth (1) The first gift is the strength from “primal sympathy.” Primal indicates or means first. The poet is referring to that first connection we have with the spirit when we are children. Even though that connection seems lost to the adult, he still receives strength from it. Because the connection was once with us, the speaker indicates that it has never completely left us. The connection “must ever be” – it continues into our adulthood.
(2) The second gift is “soothing thoughts.” As adults we suffer the turmoil and tribulations of life; we suffer many rough moments. But our spiritual connection provides us with an ability to calm or soothe ourselves during those rough times.
(3) And the third gift is “faith.” This is a faith in our own spiritual essence. It is a faith in our own immortality. And because we do have such a strong faith, we are able to look upon death with a “philosophic mind.”
In other words, we are able to look upon death without fear. Our bodies will die, but we know that our spirit will live forever.
In the final section, stanza eleven, the poet returns to the adult’s earthly connection, his physical connection, to nature.
And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves, Forebode not any severing of our loves!
The word forebode means to predict or foretell. The speaker is directly addressing nature. In a way, he is making a request of nature. The speaker is asking nature not to predict or suggest any break in the love he has for nature. Even though the speaker no longer has the spiritual connection to nature that he once did as a child, he still loves nature nevertheless. The love for nature remains in the adult.
Furthermore, as an adult, the speaker can still feel the power of nature.
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might.
And, so the speaker still loves nature. In fact, he even adds that his love for nature is stronger now than it was when he was boy.
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.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth But the brightness of that day is darkened by a heavy cloud (in line 196). The cloud symbolizes our own mortality. It suggests the death of our physical beings. But even this dark cloud is part of nature. Even death is part of the natural process.
The poets adds that …
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Other people have lived before us. Other people have died before us. It is all part of the progression. It is all part of nature. The word palms refers to a branch or wreath made from a palm tree. Such a branch was traditionally given to the winners of foot races in ancient Greek times. The palm symbolizes the prizes or goals that all of us aspire to or hope to achieve in life. All of us are after a “palm” of one sort or another.
But whether we achieve those goals or not, life goes on. And death comes for all of us. One race or people disappear, and another race takes its place. Such is the cycle of life, the cycle of nature.
Toward the end of the stanza, the speaker gives thanks to nature:
Thanks to the human heart by which we live, Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears.
By “human heart” Wordsworth is referring to human nature and human understanding. Our human nature, our physical or bodily presence, allows us to have a greater understanding and appreciation of our spiritual selves.
Our humanity, our physical being, allows us to recognize and value both nature and the spiritual connection that we have to it.
The child is connected to the spiritual essence, but does not fully appreciate it. But as adults, we can more fully appreciate the connection. And that is why Wordsworth, through his speaker, gives thanks to nature.
In the last two lines of the poem, the speaker connects nature to his thoughts regarding the spirit of man.
To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
By “meanest flower” Wordsworth is suggesting that even the simplest or most common object in nature stirs within him deep thoughts. Those thoughts are the subject matter of this entire “Ode.” Those thoughts are about man’s spiritual essence. And those thoughts are about our own spiritual connection to nature.
The word intimations in the title of this poem suggests subtle signs or clues. Wordsworth, in this “Ode,”
ponders over or wonders about the signs or evidence in our lives that indicate our spiritual core, that reveal the true nature of our beings.
In conclusion, in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,”
Wordsworth examines memories of his early childhood and the relationship of those memories to adult life. The relationship formulates his philosophy of life.
Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth According to Wordsworth himself, he was inspired significantly by Platonic philosophy. The Classical Greek philopher taught pre-existence. Plato believed that the soul existed in a perfect spiritual state before entering a human body. He further believed that the soul will return to that perfect state after the body's death.
Thus, in the title, “Intimations of Immortality,”
Wordsworth declares his focus on the immortality of the soul. Wordsworth asserts that there are signs or indications in nature that allow us to perceive and understand our spiritual nature and that prove to us the existence of our immortal souls.
“Tintern Abbey” and the “Intimations Ode” are only two of Wordsworth’s many great poems. Readers who appreciate these two poems may also find poems like
“Michael” or “The Ruined Cottage” to be equally delightful and enchanting. There is no shortage to the delight that Wordsworth has left his readers.
After his death in 1850, another work by Wordsworth appeared in print. This long work, simply entitled The Prelude, is an autobiographical poem that Wordsworth actually began in the beginning of his career, back in 1798. Many critics consider The Prelude to be his magnum opus, his greatest work, the crowning achievement in a brilliant career.
In The Prelude Wordsworth examines the connection and interaction between the mind and nature.
This connection is similar to what appears in the
“Intimations Ode.” However, in The Prelude the poet develops the idea even further and extends it into a discussion of the creative imagination.
Yet, even if The Prelude did not exist, literary critics and all lovers of poetry owe Wordsworth a debt of gratitude for his many fine contributions to the art.
William Wordsworth changed the direction of poetry and influenced all other poets who came afterwards. Poetry would not have been the same without him.
LINES COMPOSED A FEW MILES ABOVE TINTERN
ABBEY, ON REVISITING THE BANKS OF THE WYE
DURING A TOUR. JULY 13, 1798
[Stanza 1, Lines 1-22]
FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length Of five long winters! and again I hear These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs With a soft inland murmur.--Once again Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, That on a wild secluded scene impress Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose Here, under this dark sycamore, and view These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts, Which at this season, with their unripe fruits, Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms, Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods, Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire The Hermit sits alone.
[Stanza 2, Lines 22-49]
These beauteous forms, Through a long absence, have not been to me As is a landscape to a blind man's eye: But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din Of towns and cities, I have owed to them In hours of weariness, sensations sweet, Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart; And passing even into my purer mind, With tranquil restoration:--feelings too Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps, As have no slight or trivial influence On that best portion of a good man's life, His little, nameless, unremembered, acts Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust, To them I may have owed another gift, Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood, In which the burthen of the mystery, In which the heavy and the weary weight Of all this unintelligible world, Is lightened:--that serene and blessed mood, In which the affections gently lead us on,--
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul: While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things.