Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ode on Intimations of Immortality: The World through Wordsworth Colored Glasses

William Wordsworth

Literary Analysis by Dana McClellan 

Imagine yourself a young child rolling down a grassy hill. Finally, you come to a stop and position yourself comfortably on your back in order to look up at the sky. It’s a beautiful spring day with a bright-blue backdrop and big, billowy-white clouds. In these clouds you begin to see faces and animal shapes while listening to the birds as they frolic forefront of your view. Now as you turn onto your stomach, you look down at the grass and into the microcosm of a miniature world full of tiny bugs making their way out of their hiding places and into the warmth of spring. You are a part of this magical world as you imagine yourself climbing blades of grass and maneuvering yourself over tiny pebbles shaded by what could very-well-be the beginnings of a dandelion. The wonder you are experiencing feels tingly inside and as you turn to look and appreciate the rest of the world around you, you notice that a policeman and park ranger have congregated where your car was once parked and you watch as the front-end of your car gets smaller and smaller as it makes its way to the outskirts of the parking lot and finally out of view. Damn-it! You knew you shouldn’t have parked there! But spaces were limited and the park crawling with tourists and families with screaming children running around cussing at each other and blasting gang-banger music.

So much for that tingly feeling.

I believe this to be a modern-day visual similar to what William Wordsworth was trying to convey in his Ode on Intimations of Immortality. In the end Wordsworth does something I find surprising. For those of us who are familiar with the more negative side of reality as an adult, we can relate to the “thought of grief” (Wordsworth 796) all too well. Without giving any particular negative instances (making it timeless) we are reminded of the void we regularly feel as we grow older. I call it a void because that’s exactly what it is. A space inside that cannot be replaced by anything on the earth. All we have is a dim memory of the place and the magic of the “immortal sea” (799). Finally, we are relieved to find that there can be a bright side. It’s a good thing we’ve held onto those dim memories, because one day, through all of our yearning and pondering; we will find a way to see the good things in life. It’s been right there the whole time; we’ve just allowed our tainted physical perception to cloud our spiritual one. 

In the first and second stanza of Ode on Intimations of Immortality, Wordsworth gives us the first few glimpses of where this poem might be heading. Each stanza begins with a reminiscent longing for his childlike perspective. For example, 

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparelled in celestial light… (Wordsworth 795). 

But then ends from more of a realists’ point of view, “The things which I have seen I now can see no more” (796). To this, a mature audience can relate. 

In the third and fourth stanza Wordsworth spares himself of his grief-stricken thoughts as he turns his focus back to nature, but his bliss is short-lived as we can see in the last line “Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” (Wordsworth 797). As he ponders the origins of humanity in the first line of the fifth stanza, Wordsworth states “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” (797). But not entirely; we still have ties to our Creator and access to the light even if it’s hard for us to see it in our daily lives. 

In my first couple of readings of stanza six I misunderstood the author’s intention. I took it to mean that the earth with all of its sinful pleasures, was constantly trying to pull humanity away from its Creator. Upon further discernment, I realize Wordsworth wasn’t saying that at all. He respects Mother Earth and her pleasures, and is fond of the fact that she does all she can to lessen the pain of our yearning to be back with God in His “imperial palace” (Wordsworth 797). Ultimately, God is the Creator of all things, and thus created this “Mother” earth to offer us some comfort in life. 

This leads us into stanza seven where Wordsworth addresses our desire to grow up as quickly as possible when we are young and the various roles we’ll play as we mature. He speaks to a young child in stanza eight; a character “…six years’ Darling of pigmy size” (Wordsworth 797) and looks upon him as sort of a guru; one which is still in a position to access the world he so desperately would like to experience again. He admires this child but is perplexed as to why he would want to provoke “the inevitable yoke” (798) and the heaviness of life as an adult. This is just before Wordsworth begins to see the world from another perspective; likened to a seed that has to be planted before it can experience life again. 

In stanza nine and ten, the beauty of life and the world take on a whole new meaning, “O joy! that in our embers / Is something that doth live / That nature yet remembers / What was so fugitive! (Wordsworth 798-799). Then Wordsworth wraps up the poem in Stanza eleven with a beaming ray of hope and sense of fulfillment. We see there is solace in the human heart and in “Thoughts that do often lie to deep for tears” (800). He has finally come to grips with the fact that he will never again see the world through the eyes of a child, but that doesn’t mean it can no longer be beautiful. Our memories and our appreciation of nature in all of its glory will keep us connected to our source and help to bring about a more profound understanding of what’s important in life. 

Ode on Intimations of Immortality is an absolute masterpiece. It conjures thoughts and feelings that are familiar in a spiritual kind of way. Wordsworth takes us back to our youth and reminds us of the way we perceived the world when we were young and how important it is to hold onto that aspect of ourselves. As we move through the rest of the poem we are inundated with more familiarity, but it doesn’t feel quite as comfortable and nice. It is the jaded perception we inevitably clothe ourselves in that colors the world around us. The world is no longer magical. 

I take comfort in the fact that my perception of life is very similar to that of Wordsworth, and the fact that there is hope for me yet. In the end I am always an idealist, but in those quiet moments when I am alone and remembering the emotion and the other-worldliness I use to experience during certain times—such as Christmas; not just the presents, but the love that I felt all around me, and the way I would feel when I’d walk into church with my grandma and aunt; with the chanting of the monks and the hundreds of candles emanating their “celestial light.” 

I grieve . . . 

I miss the family I had when I was a child. I miss the tingling feeling I would get when good things would happen and there was nothing standing in the way stealing my joy. Those moments lived much longer then. Wordsworth makes me realize I must consider myself blessed that I can remember it at all—in all of its bitter-sweetness. These memories aren’t of the physical realm, they are spiritual. These memories lie far “too deep for tears” and are seen through my own version of Wordsworth colored glasses. 

Work Cited 

Wordsworth, William. “Ode on Intimations of Immortality.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Second Edition Volume E. Ed. Peter Simon. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009. 795-800. Print.


  1. Dana, very personal and very powerful. I found myself thinking of my own childhood and the happy moments - even grieving for losses along the way. Do you think that as we grow older and have left those powerful childhood memories behind, we are continually searching to try to re-create them? Great post.

    1. Yes, I do. I think we spend most of our lives looking for that, unless we're fortunate enough to learn that the present moment is where we should be doing our living :)