Analysis and Interpretation of Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode

Drawing upon the personal experiences of his own life and the Platonic
theory of anamnesis, Wordsworth in his ode “On Intimations of
Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” presents such a typical
theme, which can easily be generalized as a Romantic cry over the loss of
innocence, and of the splendour that goes with the vision of innocence.
Wordsworth’s originality lies in the poetic transformation of the theme, and
the poetic treatment also gives human touch to a deep philosophical problem.
While discussing the process of the birth of Particular (human) Soul from the
Universal Soul, Plato said that the human soul undergoes a change, and that
there occurs the forgetting (anamnesis) of the Supreme Beauty and Goodness and
Truth of the Universal Idea, which it descends from.
Wordsworth’s approach to the problem is, however, different. He begins in
a tone of profound regret at the loss of visionary splendour, which seemed, in
retrospect, to have invested so many scenes of nature in his childhood. He says
that during his childhood the world appeared to him,
          “Apparelled in celestial
          The glory and freshness of
a dream.”
Here it should be remembered that dreams are precious evidence of an
activity, which is now impossible in the normal condition of adult wakefulness.
Wordsworth’s insight here is in complete accord with Freudian and Jungian
psychological theories of the mind. They insisted that in the waking state the
ego’s censorship of fantasy takes over there a cognisance of space and time, of
probability and of cause and effect. According to Freud, dreams can involve a
considerable degree of “primary process of thinking”. This kind of mental
activity can be found in the babies who are not where their own selves end and
the outer world begins. As he develops into an infant and changes to “secondary
process of thinking”, the small child still has the regression into “primary
process of thinking”, taking refuge in fantasy form the realities of the
world.   Gradually the attention to the
outside world comes to dominate the conscious waking mind in a process exactly
traced by Wordsworth:
          “Shades of prison-house
begin to close upon the growing Boy…”
          At the time Wordsworth
began the Ode, he had on several occasions recalled “that Golden past”. But
instead of wishing to “travel back”, like Vaughan in the ‘Retreat’ , he
had accepted his lot philosophically. Reflections showed him that his childhood
experiences were not lost, and that his imagination had developed from the
dreamlike and visionary state to a philosophical stage. He could now feel,
          “My heart is at your
          My head hath its
But the problem was profound one and until it was solved Wordsworth could
not resume the ‘Recluse’ confidently, as the main idea in planning it had
been the belief that man could be redeemed only by holding “fit converse with
the spiritual world” through Nature. After writing the first four stanzas he
left the remaining part unfinished nearly for two years. It seems that for
quite sometime he groped for the answers to the agonising questions:
“Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is now, the glory and the dream?”
Wordsworth found the answer in Plato’s theory of transmutation of the
soul. Platonic theory of pre-existence is, however, fanciful and possibly a
borrowing from Coleridge. According to this theory, the soul can vividly
remember its prenatal existence in heaven during childhood because its
separation from heaven is a comparatively recent phenomenon. The best that can
be said about this Platonic theory is that it provides a logical explanation
that integrates the poem, and that he gave great imaginative appeal to it. But
he was never happy with it and said, “It is far too shadowy”. The mundane
answer that follows is reasonable though rather commonplace. It suggests that
the child gradually becomes part of the world as a foster nurse slowly but
surely wean him away from heaven. The child travels the further from heaven the
more he begins to imitate the elders. But Wordsworth, while criticising the
child’s habit of imitating and thereby inviting the weight of custom, “Heavy as
frost, and deep almost as life”—also asserts that in moments of calm even the
mind of an adult can in imagination travel back to childhood, the fountainhead
of all our light, and
          “…see the Children sport
upon the shore
          And hear the mighty waters
rolling evermore.”
          But this is not the
recompense, which reconciles Wordsworth to the loss of childhood vision. The
recompense that he speaks of is two-fold: recollection of childhood, which
proves that man’s life is all of a piece, and that “The Child is father of the
Man”; and the “philosophical mind”, which can look on Nature with an awareness
of human life, especially its tragedies. That is why he finally pronounces:
          “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.”

Wordsworth means that to a mature and philosophic mind actually conscious
of the transience of earthly realities even the slightest object becomes a
precious and cherished possession.      

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