Ode: Intimations of Immortality, Wordsworth: Summary, Analysis & Themes

William Wordsworth originally published "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" in his 1807 collection Poems, in Two Volumes. This poem is often regarded as one of Wordsworth's most significant works, as it delves into themes that remained central throughout his career, such as childhood, memory, nature, and the human soul. The speaker in the poem reflects on his childhood perception of the world, which he saw as filled with divine beauty. As an adult, he laments the loss of this vision but finds solace in the belief that he can still rely on his memories of it. He suggests that the way children see the world hints at the heavenly origin of the human soul, which will ultimately return to its divine source.

The ode consists of 11 stanzas divided into three parts. The first part, four stanzas in length, talks about how the narrator cannot see the divine beauty of nature, which is the main issue of the poem. The second part, also four stanzas, expresses a negative reaction to this issue. The third part, three stanzas, presents a positive response. The ode starts by comparing how the narrator saw the world as a child versus as an adult, with the sense of a life once connected to the divine gradually disappearing.
Poem Text

The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
(Wordsworth, "My Heart Leaps Up")


  1. There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
  2. The earth, and every common sight,
  3. To me did seem
  4. Apparelled in celestial light,
  5. The glory and the freshness of a dream.
  6. It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
  7. Turn wheresoe'er I may,
  8. By night or day.
  9. The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
  10. 2
  11. The Rainbow comes and goes,
  12. And lovely is the Rose,
  13. The Moon doth with delight
  14. Look round her when the heavens are bare,
  15. Waters on a starry night
  16. Are beautiful and fair;
  17. The sunshine is a glorious birth;
  18. But yet I know, where'er I go,
  19. That there hath past away a glory from the earth.
  20. 3
  21. Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
  22. And while the young lambs bound
  23. As to the tabor's sound,
  24. To me alone there came a thought of grief:
  25. A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
  26. And I again am strong:
  27. The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;
  28. No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;
  29. I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
  30. The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
  31. And all the earth is gay;
  32. Land and sea
  33. Give themselves up to jollity,
  34. And with the heart of May
  35. Doth every Beast keep holiday;—
  36. Thou Child of Joy,
  37. Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy Shepherd-boy.
  38. 4
  39. Ye blessèd creatures, I have heard the call
  40. Ye to each other make; I see
  41. The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
  42. My heart is at your festival,
  43. My head hath its coronal,
  44. The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all.
  45. Oh evil day! if I were sullen
  46. While Earth herself is adorning,
  47. This sweet May-morning,
  48. And the Children are culling
  49. On every side,
  50. In a thousand valleys far and wide,
  51. Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,
  52. And the Babe leaps up on his Mother's arm:—
  53. I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
  54. —But there's a Tree, of many, one,
  55. A single field which I have looked upon,
  56. Both of them speak of something that is gone;
  57. The Pansy at my feet
  58. Doth the same tale repeat:
  59. Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
  60. Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
  61. 5
  62. Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
  63. The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
  64. Hath had elsewhere its setting,
  65. And cometh from afar:
  66. Not in entire forgetfulness,
  67. And not in utter nakedness,
  68. But trailing clouds of glory do we come
  69. From God, who is our home:
  70. Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
  71. Shades of the prison-house begin to close
  72. Upon the growing Boy,
  73. But he
  74. Beholds the light, and whence it flows,
  75. He sees it in his joy;
  76. The Youth, who daily farther from the east
  77. Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
  78. And by the vision splendid
  79. Is on his way attended;
  80. At length the Man perceives it die away,
  81. And fade into the light of common day.
  82. 6
  83. Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
  84. Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
  85. And, even with something of a Mother's mind,
  86. And no unworthy aim,
  87. The homely Nurse doth all she can
  88. To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man,
  89. Forget the glories he hath known,
  90. And that imperial palace whence he came.
  91. 7
  92. Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
  93. A six years' Darling of a pigmy size!
  94. See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies,
  95. Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses,
  96. With light upon him from his father's eyes!
  97. See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,
  98. Some fragment from his dream of human life,
  99. Shaped by himself with newly-learn{e}d art
  100. A wedding or a festival,
  101. A mourning or a funeral;
  102. And this hath now his heart,
  103. And unto this he frames his song:
  104. Then will he fit his tongue
  105. To dialogues of business, love, or strife;
  106. But it will not be long
  107. Ere this be thrown aside,
  108. And with new joy and pride
  109. The little Actor cons another part;
  110. Filling from time to time his "humorous stage"
  111. With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,
  112. That Life brings with her in her equipage;
  113. As if his whole vocation
  114. Were endless imitation.
  115. 8
  116. Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
  117. Thy Soul's immensity;
  118. Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
  119. Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
  120. That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,
  121. Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,—
  122. Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
  123. On whom those truths do rest,
  124. Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
  125. In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;
  126. Thou, over whom thy Immortality
  127. Broods like the Day, a Master o'er a Slave,
  128. A Presence which is not to be put by;
  129. Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
  130. Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height,
  131. Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
  132. The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
  133. Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
  134. Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
  135. And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
  136. Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
  137. 9
  138. O joy! that in our embers
  139. Is something that doth live,
  140. That Nature yet remembers
  141. What was so fugitive!
  142. The thought of our past years in me doth breed
  143. Perpetual benediction: not indeed
  144. For that which is most worthy to be blest;
  145. Delight and liberty, the simple creed
  146. Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
  147. With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:—
  148. Not for these I raise
  149. The song of thanks and praise
  150. But for those obstinate questionings
  151. Of sense and outward things,
  152. Fallings from us, vanishings;
  153. Blank misgivings of a Creature
  154. Moving about in worlds not realised,
  155. High instincts before which our mortal Nature
  156. Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:
  157. But for those first affections,
  158. Those shadowy recollections,
  159. Which, be they what they may
  160. Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,
  161. Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;
  162. Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
  163. Our noisy years seem moments in the being
  164. Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
  165. To perish never;
  166. Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
  167. Nor Man nor Boy,
  168. Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
  169. Can utterly abolish or destroy!
  170. Hence in a season of calm weather
  171. Though inland far we be,
  172. Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
  173. Which brought us hither,
  174. Can in a moment travel thither,
  175. And see the Children sport upon the shore,
  176. And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
  177. 10
  178. Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
  179. And let the young Lambs bound
  180. As to the tabor's sound!
  181. We in thought will join your throng,
  182. Ye that pipe and ye that play,
  183. Ye that through your hearts to-day
  184. Feel the gladness of the May!
  185. What though the radiance which was once so bright
  186. Be now for ever taken from my sight,
  187. Though nothing can bring back the hour
  188. Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
  189. We will grieve not, rather find
  190. Strength in what remains behind;
  191. In the primal sympathy
  192. Which having been must ever be;
  193. In the soothing thoughts that spring
  194. Out of human suffering;
  195. In the faith that looks through death,
  196. In years that bring the philosophic mind.
  197. 11
  198. And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
  199. Forebode not any severing of our loves!
  200. Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
  201. I only have relinquished one delight
  202. To live beneath your more habitual sway.
  203. I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
  204. Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
  205. The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
  206. Is lovely yet;
  207. The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
  208. Do take a sober colouring from an eye
  209. That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
  210. Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
  211. Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
  212. Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
  213. To me the meanest flower that blows can give
  214. Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.


A reader should also make sure to take note of the epigraph that appears before the first stanza of the poem. It reads:
The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

These three lines are actually the final three lines of Wordsworth’s own poem ‘The Rainbow,’ or ‘My Heart Leaps Up’. They were inserted before the poem when it was published in Poems, in 1815. The poem speaks on very similar themes to those contained within ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’. These include coming of age, death, and nature.

Analysis in Nutshell

"Intimations of Immortality" is like a sequel to Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," focusing on how childhood memories of nature affect adults. The poem suggests that life on earth is a shadow of a purer existence remembered from childhood. While you might not agree with its ideas, the poem's language is brilliant. Wordsworth contrasts the speaker's sorrow with the joyful nature around him. The speaker tries to be cheerful but only finds true happiness when he sees nature as a guide for human life. Unlike his other works, this poem has a structured, rhythmic style. It jumps between ideas but stays centered on childhood memories. The language is complex, with nature described in joyful ways when the speaker is sad, and more subtle descriptions when he gains insight. Ultimately, the poem shows how mature minds can find human qualities in nature, connecting memories of childhood with the wisdom of adulthood.

Explanation in Nutshell

- The poem is divided into three parts with a total of 11 stanzas.
- The first part (four stanzas) discusses the narrator's struggle to perceive the divine beauty of nature.
- The second part (four stanzas) expresses a negative response to this struggle.
- The third part (three stanzas) offers a positive response.
- The narrator compares how he saw the world as a child versus as an adult, noting the loss of a deeply connected life with the divine.
- The narrator describes various aspects of nature that no longer evoke the same feelings, feeling disconnected until a moment of joy overcomes his despair.
- The joy fades again, leaving a sense of loss.
- The second part describes a Platonic idea of pre-existence, where humans begin in an ideal world that fades into a less perfect life.
- The narrator praises the child's experience before the light of childhood fades, emphasizing the greatness of childhood.
- By stanza VIII, the child is depicted as remarkable, and the stanza takes the form of a prayer praising children's attributes.
- The wonders of nature are remembered as existing in the past, and children's awareness of mortality causes them to lose their previous perceptions.
- The third part expresses joy, affirming life and faith without directly addressing what has been lost.
- It describes how children see things that adults do not, as they do not fully grasp mortality.
- Imagination allows adults to sense immortality and connect with others.
- The children in the poem represent the narrator's memories of childhood, allowing him to imagine returning to that state of mind.
- Stanza XI suggests that imagination helps one understand the limits of the world while also enabling a return to a state of harmony with the world, free from doubts or worries.
- The poem ends with an affirmation that, despite changes over time, the narrator remains the same person he once was.

Stanza-wise Summary

Part 1

Once upon a time, I had the impression that the entire natural world—even its most commonplace features—shone with heavenly light, seeming as vivid, lovely, and unfamiliar as a dream. However, that is no longer the case for me. I can no longer see the sights I used to see wherever I look, day or night.

Part 2

The moon glances around joyfully in a clear sky; rainbows come and go; roses are beautiful; the waterways reflecting the stars are deeply wonderful; and every daybreak is a glorious new beginning. And yet I know that somewhere in this globe, some bright light has vanished.

Part 3

I was struck with a melancholy notion today as I observed the newborn lambs jumping around as if they were dancing to the beat of a drum and listened to the joyful singing of the spring birds. I felt better after I quickly communicated that notion, and I've since regained my strength. The waterfalls sound like trumpets up on the mountains; I'll stop ruining this magnificent springtime by being depressed. The world is joyful, the mountains are resonating, and the breezes seem to be coming directly from the country of dreams. Both the sea and the land are cheerful, and May brings happiness to all living things. You, happy youngster, shout with delight and allow me to hear you yelling, you gleeful young shepherd!

Part 4

I can see heaven laughing with you as you celebrate; I have heard you calling to each other, you fortunate, pure living things. I feel your delight all the way through, my head feeling crowned with your gladness as my heart rejoices with you. If I were to pout on this lovely May morning when the world is all dolled up, and kids are picking flowers in thousands of valleys across the globe, and the sun is shining and infants are bouncing in their mothers' arms, then that would be a very bad thing. I am delighted to hear all of this celebration! However, there is one tree in the entire globe and one field that I once saw, and both of these serve as a constant reminder that something is missing from my life. That's what the small flower at my feet is trying to tell me. That ultimate enlightenment I once saw—where has it gone? Now where is that bright, dreamy vision?

Part 5

It feels like we fall asleep and forget our origins when we are born since our souls, which rise like tiny suns at birth, are from a distant, other realm. When we leave our original home with God and travel to this planet, we don't arrive as empty vessels or completely forget our past. Rather, we bring with us clouds of holy light. Babies perceive the world as a paradise! However, as kids become older, the prison-like spectres of familiarity and habit start to encircle them. However, for a short period, they are still able to perceive the delight and see the brightness of heaven and its source. A youthful guy is still a sort of holy man of nature's religion and is accompanied by his heavenly visions even as he grows older and travels further away from his origin in heaven. But when he finally reaches adulthood, that unique brightness disappears, and everything becomes ordinary and normal.

Part 6

The planet has its own inherent desires and is full of delights of its own. The loving earth tries her hardest to make people, who are simultaneously her offspring and her prisoners, forget the beauty they once could see and the heaven they came from, much like a well-meaning adoptive mother.

Part 7

Take a peek at the beautiful six-year-old boy enjoying his newest hobbies. He is so little and adorable. Look at him sitting amid his toys, his dad staring at him lovingly, his face smothered in kisses from his mother. Look at the game he's organising on the floor; it's a semblance of his naive conception of life that he's using his newfound abilities to act out. He's acting out weddings, parties, funerals, and other scenarios while playing pretend. He gets sucked into one and then sings of another. He'll play games later on that deal with the business, romantic, or military realms. But that won't last for long; he'll soon put those games down as well and, with the pride of an actor, adopt a new character, acting out every stage of human existence, from childhood to old age. It seems like his only goal is to mimic every action taken by adults.

Part 8

You wisest of scholars, who still has a connection to heaven and can see what adults are blind to, you silently gaze into the deep mysteries all around you, always under the shadow of God's presence: you powerful truth-teller, you holy prophet! You, little child, whose small body doesn't reveal the vastness of your soul! You see everything that we adults search for our entire lives just to lose ourselves in a deathly darkness. But you, little child, still glowing with the power that heaven shines down into your soul; why on earth do you play all these games about adulthood, hurrying to grow up and lose all that you have now? You are still so connected to the beginnings of your soul that immortality hovers over you like the sun, or like a master over a servant, a mighty presence that cannot be ignored. Why do you inadvertently destroy your precious good fortune in this way? Soon enough, the things of this world will drag your soul down, and habit will crush you like a thick layer of freezing frost, becoming more and more entrenched with each passing day.

Part 9

Thank god, a tiny light still burns in the charred remains of our old childhood vision, and the beauty of nature helps us to recall those brief but glorious times. I'm always grateful when I think back on my early years—and not just for the positive and hopeful aspects of childhood, or for the good and deserving characteristics like play and freedom. No, it's not these emotions that make me sing my song of thanks; rather, it's the way I used to obstinately question the world around me; the feeling that certainties were vanishing; and the fact that, even as a young child, I was still able to see beyond the ordinary and explore a world of mysteries. My daily convictions used to tremble with my innate sense of holiness, like a creature caught red-handed striving to evade capture. I am thankful for humanity's first love for the world and our dim recollections of that love; however dim now, those recollections remain a source of radiant happiness and the lighthouse by which we make sense of what we see in the present. The years seem little in compared to eternity because of those memories, which provide us with support, care, and a way to put all the chaos of daily life into perspective. When we first experience eternity as children, its reality remains with us and never fades. Our first recollections of heaven cannot be entirely erased by anything that resists joy, not even boredom, effort, maturity, or childhood. As a result, in quiet times, even when we're distant from the world of our youth, we can still view the ocean of eternity that transported our souls to this place; we can instantly journey there, where we may see kids having fun on the shores and hear the unending thunder of its waves.

Part 10

So, birds, go ahead and sing joyfully! Lambs, feel free to hop around as though you're dancing to the sound of drums! We adults too will mentally join in with all of you who play and sing and are still genuinely engrossed in the joys of spring. What does it matter if I will never again be able to glimpse the divine light that I once saw in everything? We won't cry since nothing can ever bring back the moment when, as grownups, we could see the grass and flowers gleaming with glorious beauty. Rather, we will find strength in what we already have: in our innate bond with nature, which never truly fades; in the comforts we find in suffering; from our conviction that the soul is immortal and from the many years of our existence, which have shaped the way we think.

Part 11

Oh, you hills, forests, meadows, and springs—may God forbid that our love for one another ever end! Your strength is still felt in the purest recesses of my being. Really, the only thing I've given up on is constantly sensing that strength. Even more than I loved the coursing streams when I could dance with such ease and joy as they do now. Even now, I find the first light of dawn to be rather lovely. And now that I'm aware of death, the clouds at dusk seem even more significant. Now that I'm an adult, I'm playing a different game with other goals in mind. Thanks to the intense emotions that guide everyone's life—thanks to the heart's attachments, its joys and its fears—even now, I can be deeply moved by the most commonplace tiny flower.

Themes of "Intimations on Immortality" by Wordsworth:

  1. The Passing of Time and Childhood Innocence: The poem reflects on the loss of the pure, joyful perception of the world that accompanies childhood, as the speaker laments that he can no longer experience nature with the same unspoiled wonder as he did in his youth.
  2. The Persistence of Memory and Imagination: Despite the speaker's acknowledgment of the fading of childhood memories and sensations, there is a suggestion that these experiences leave an indelible mark on the individual, shaping their perspective and understanding of the world.
  3. The Transience of Human Life and the Eternal: The poem contemplates the fleeting nature of human existence and contrasts it with the enduring beauty and cycles of nature, suggesting that while human life is transient, there is a sense of continuity and eternity in the natural world.
  4. The Search for Meaning and Spiritual Growth: Through his reflections on nature and childhood, the speaker seeks to find meaning and purpose in life, suggesting that the appreciation of beauty and the contemplation of the natural world can lead to spiritual growth and a deeper understanding of existence.

Critical Analysis

If "Tintern Abbey" represents Wordsworth's initial profound reflection on how childhood memories of nature influence adult perspectives, then "Intimations of Immortality" stands as his pinnacle work on this theme. The poem, titled "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood," explicitly expresses Wordsworth's belief that earthly life is a faint reflection of a prior, purer existence, dimly remembered from childhood and subsequently forgotten with age. In the fifth stanza, he writes, "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.../Not in entire forgetfulness, / And not in utter nakedness, /But trailing clouds of glory do we come / From God, who is our home...."

While one might dispute the poem's metaphysical assertions, its language's genius is undeniable. Wordsworth purposefully contrasts his speaker's melancholy state with the joyful natural surroundings, a rare divergence for a poet so typically unified with nature. Recognizing that his sorrow stems from his inability to perceive the May morning as he did in childhood, the speaker tries to force himself into a cheerful state; however, genuine happiness eludes him until he realizes that his "philosophic mind" enables him to see nature in deeper, more human terms—as a source of metaphor and guidance for human life. This mirrors the pattern in "Tintern Abbey," where Wordsworth made himself joyful and briefly referred to the "music of humanity," but in "Intimations of Immortality," he explicitly states that this music is the cure for his mature grief.

The poem's structure is also distinctive in Wordsworth's oeuvre; unlike his typically flowing, conversational monologues, the Ode employs a rhythmic, songlike cadence with frequent changes in rhyme scheme and rhythm. Rather than systematically exploring a single idea from start to finish, the Ode moves from one idea to another, always tethered to the central theme but often making unexpected transitions, such as when the speaker starts addressing the "Mighty Prophet" in the eighth stanza—only to reveal halfway through that the mighty prophet is a six-year-old boy.

Wordsworth's use of language in this Ode is exceedingly sophisticated and intricate. When the speaker is grieving, the poem primarily presents joyful, pastoral nature images, often personified—the lambs dancing as if to a drum, the moon surveying the sky. However, when the poet attains the philosophic mind and his fullest understanding of memory and imagination, he begins to employ more subtle descriptions of nature that draw human characteristics out of their natural presence, recalling human qualities mentioned earlier in the poem.

In the final stanza, for example, the brooks "fret" down their channels, mirroring how the child's mother "fretted" him with kisses earlier in the poem; they trip lightly, just as the speaker "tripped lightly" as a child; the Day is new-born, innocent, and bright, much like a child would be; the clouds "gather round the setting sun" and "take a sober coloring," similar to mourners at a funeral gathering soberly around a grave (recalling the child's play with some fragment from "a mourning or a funeral" earlier in the poem). This technique illustrates how, through the imaginative creativity afforded to the mature mind, human shapes can be found in nature and vice versa. A flower can evoke thoughts too profound for tears because a flower can embody the shape of human life, and it is the combination of a mature mind and childhood memory that enables the poet to make that vital and moving connection. Course Home

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