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5/23/2019

"Immortality ode" by Wordsworth: Critical summary.


Introduction
"Intimation of Immortality from Recollections of early childhood", was written partly in 1803 and partly in 1806 at Townend. It was published in 1807. According to Wordsworth "two years at least passed between the writing of the first four stanzas and the remaining parts."

An Ode
This poem is an Ode, that is to say, a lyric, in the form of an address, dignified in style, feeling, and tone. This poem is an irregular Ode because it is marked by lack of uniformity in metre and in the length of its stanzas. This is to say it is not written in the same metre throughout and that all of its stanzas do not consist of the same numbers of lines. The length of the stanzas varies from 9 to 38 lines. Thus stanzas I, II and VI consist of 9 lines each, whereas stanza XI consists of 38 lines.
It is written mainly in the iambic metre. Some lines, however, are in anapaestic (metre in which each foot consists of three syllables, the first two of which are unaccented, and the third
accented) and trochaic (metre in which each foot consists of two syllables, the first of which is accented and the second unaccented).

All Familiar Objects of Nature Seemed to be Invested with Heavenly Beauty and Charm
The poet begins by saying that all familiar objects of nature like the meadows, the grove, and the stream, appeared to be invested with heavenly beauty and charm in his childhood. He regrets that they are no longer so beautiful, now that he has grown up. The rainbow, the rose, the moon, the starry sky, and the sunshine all appear to suggest that old glory has vanished from the world. Thus, of all birds, animals and creatures who are making merry in the spring season, the poet alone feels sad. He throws himself whole heartedly into the general spirit of the spring season. Certain objects of nature, however remind him that he as lost the vision of childhood. Among such objects are, a particular field, and a particular flower which he had known in his childhood.

Doctrine of Pre-existence of the Soul.
The poet next gives expression to his belief in the doctrine of pre-existence of the human soul. He feels that the child has a more glorious vision than man, because the former has recently come from heaven. The poet believes that the human soul leads and existence in ven before it comes to earth. Man brings along with him heavenly glory or a heavenly light, when he is born into this world. This heavenly glory becomes fainter and fainter as the child grows into the boy, the boy into the youth, and the youth into man.

The Earth Tries to Lure Man Away from Heaven
The earth, by offering earthly pleasure and comforts to man, tries to lure him away from heaven. The earth, which may be called as the nurse of man, who may be described its foster child lavishes the love and affection of a mother upon the growing child.

The Child Tries to Imitate the Actions of his Elders
Even while the child plays with his toys, he tries to imitate the action of his elders. He arranges his toys in order to imitate happy and sad scenes of life. When, he will grow up, he would learn the language which is used by businessman, a lover or a fighter.

The Child is the Best Philosopher and a Seer Blest
According to the poet, the child is the best philosopher and a seer blest, because he understands those spiritual truths which evade
grown-up persons. The child is also aware of his immortality. It is therefore, very strange that the child should lose sight of his spiritual heritage, and try to anticipate the slavery of social conventions, by desiring to grow up.

The Poet is Thankful to the Memories of Childhood
The poet is thankful to the memories of childhood, not so much for the innocence, delights and freedom that is enjoyed by the child, but for those persistent doubts concerning the reality of the external world. These persistent doubts make man see through the veil of objective relity. This is to say that man is able to realize that all external or objective reality is a mere illusion (that is to say, it does not exist). The poet feels happy to think that even in manhood, in calm moments, we can realize that we come from heaven, which is our real home.

Compensation for the Loss
The poet thinks that his loss has been great, but that his compensation has been even greater. Thus though he has lost the vision of childhood he has gained inhumanity and maturity. (That is he has become more human and more mature than before). In addition to this gain, he has developed a sympathy for his fellow men. He also feels sure that there is life beyond this life, and that as he grows, he will develop a philosophical outlook.

The Poet Appreciates Nature now in a Different Mood
The poet appreciates nature in a different mood. Instead of the rapturous vision of childhood, his vision of nature now is marked by sobriety. He feels that he can.perceive something nobler and wiserneven in the humble and commonplace objects of nature.

The Doctrine of Pre-existence of the Human Soul
There is no doubt that the poet seems to have borrowed the doctrine of pre-existence of the human soul from Greek philosophers like Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato. It is well known that Pythagoras propounded the theory of the transmigration of soul. Plato in Phaedo dealt with the nature of death and the question of the immortality of the soul. Socrates is also supposed to have believed in the doctrine ofnpre-existence of human soul.

Wordsworth himself has remarked in the preface to this poem "Accordingly, a pre-existent state has entered into popular creeds of many nations, and among all persons, acquainted with class in literature, is known as an ingredient in Platonic philosophy. When I was impelled to write a poem on the "Immortality of the Soul." I took hold of the notion of pre-existence as having sufficient
foundations in humanity for authorizing me to make for my purpose the best use of it I could as a Poet".

The Poet Might have Borrowed the Idea of the Poem from The Retreat by Henry Vaughan
It is also possible that the poet might have borrowed the idea of the poem from The Retreat by Henry Vaughan (1622 to 1695). In
this poem Henry Vaughan gives expression to the same thoughts concerning the pre-existence of the soul, and expresses the same
views about the vision of childhood.

Happy those early days, when I
Shin 'd in my angel infancy:
Before i understood this place
Appointed for my second race
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a while celestial thought
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love
And looking back at that short space
Could see a glimpse of His bright face.

The Meaning of the Doctrine
The doctrine of pre-existence suggests that human souls are in existence, possibly in a higher and better state, before they become
united with the bodies, to which they are attached in this life. Further, that much of the best knowledge that a man attains is but recollection of truths known by the soul in its pre-existent state, or of the spiritual light of that heavenly home which we forsake at birth and to which we shall return at death.

The Poem gives Expression to this Doctrine in Stanzas V to VIII
The poem gives expression to the doctrine of pre-existence of the human soul in stanzas fifth to eighth. In the fifth stanza, the poet says:

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 trailling clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.

In the fifth stanza, the poet suggests how the earth tries to attract man away from heaven. In the seventh and eighth stanzas the poet refers to the fact of the child's anxiety to the poet which implies the child is a mighty prophet and a blest seer because he has recently because he understands those spiritual truths
come from heaven, and which evade grown-up persons.

The poet thus tries to explain why the child has a more glorious vision than a grown-up person. The poet's argument seems to be as follows:

The human soul had a pre-natal existence in heaven. At that time it had a close contact with God. Memories of this heavenly contact
invest everything, that the child sees on the earth, with a heavenly light; but as child advances in years he loses sight of his spiritual heritage. He gets so much absorbed in the common activities of life that he almost forgets completely that his real home is heaven and not earth.

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