Intimations of Immortality: Questions & Answers

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Q. 1. It has been said that in the Immortality Ode, Wordsworth “convinces us of the loss, but the gains are merely asserted”.
Wordsworth’s attitude to nature underwent a change as he attained maturity. Consider the Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhoods expressing the difference in attitude of the poet as a child and as a mature man.
The Immortality Ode treats of a vital loss. Analyse what it is and what compensates for it.
Is it correct to regard the Immortality Ode as a farewell to poetic power?

      Ans. (i) Wordsworth’s Immorality Ode clearly conveys a difference of attitude towards Nature in the poet as he grew up.

      (ii) As a child all the natural objects and every common sight seemed to him as if bathed in a dream-like divine splendor.

      (iii) In his maturity, however, Wordsworth felt a loss he missed the “glory and the dream” because he had lost “the visionary gleam” which invested Nature with a radiance.

      (iv) The child comes to earth with a vivid memory of his prenatal existence close to God in heaven. This helps him to invest a divine glory in Nature and experience a pure joy in meadows, tree and flowers.

      (v) As he grows up, earthly pleasures and material concerns drew his attention and the visionary gleam fades “into the light of common day”.

      (vi) As an adult, the poet is aware of Nature’s beauty, but he can no longer experience the element of divine splendor in it. (cf. Stanzas iv and vii).

      (vii) A haunting tone of wistfulness marks the poet’s expression of his loss of perception which he possessed as a child.

      (viii) A child is instinctively conscious of a truth which grown up people are struggling to find but are unable to do so—a child is aware of the soul’s immortality because he has memories of his heavenly existence.

      (ix) But the poet does not sink into despair at the loss. Nature has now achieved a new significance for him—that is his consolation and compensation for the loss of his early vision.

      (x) The observation of humanity’s suffering has developed in him a philosophic attitude which has helped him to perceive a profound meaning in Nature. The clouds, the brooks, the sunset, indeed the meanest flower that blows gives him “thoughts that lie too deep for tears”. They have assumed significance from an eye that “hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality”.

      (xi) The poet’s new vision has been born out of the “human heart by which we live”, its tenderness joys and tears.

      (xii) The sorrow in the Ode is the inevitable one of giving up one habit of vision for a new one. The center of interest has changed— from Nature to Man—as Wordsworth grew up. There is now the consciousness of a relationship not only between Man and Nature, but between man and man in this world of difficulty and sorrow.

      (xiii) The “philosophic mind” is not a decrease in the power to feel, but an increase of sensitivity and responsiveness. The knowledge of man’s mortality replaces the “glory” as the agency which makes things significant.

      (xiv) The Ode is thus about growing, but it is about growing up and not growing old. The term “immortality” means “death negated”: One vision is lost, but another, of equal greatness, compensates for the loss.

Q. 2. What view of childhood is expressed in Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality?

      Ans. (i) Wordsworth compares childhood to a theatre-stage on which different roles are enacted. A child is imitative, and acts out whatever he observes or hears. Wordsworth’s idea here is psychologically valid.

      (ii) Wordsworth regards the child in the light of the doctrine of reminiscences. The child comes “trailing clouds of glory” with vivid memories of his pre-natal existence close to God. “Heaven lies about us in our infancy”, says Wordsworth; thus the child perceives a divine glow in nature and realizes the soul’s immortality.

      (iii) There is a double vision of childhood in the Ode. There is a “visible childhood” and an “invisible childhood’. The former is lived openly for the reader in the factual language of Stanza vii; the latter is presented in Stanza viii where metaphor and myth are used and the child becomes best philosopher, “seer blest” and “eye among the blind”.

      (iv) The child is spiritually greater than the adult man. He is as yet not caught up in worldly pleasures which would make him forget “that imperial palace whence he came”.

      (v) Wordsworth speaks of his personal experience as a child when he felt the unreality of the external world which we are aware of through our senses.

      (vi) Wordsworth presents an idealized picture of child, calling him “Mighty Prophet”, “seer blest” etc. It is a romantic trait to idealize the child’s innocent and pure joy.

Q. 3. Discuss the main ideas presented in Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, and consider if they have sufficient foundation in humanity.
Analyse the thought development in Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality and discuss their truthfulness to the human situation.

      Ans. (i) The central idea of the Immortality Ode is the doctrine of reminiscence. It begins with recollections of childhood when everything was bathed in “celestial light’. This was so because of the child’s memory of his pre-natural existence in heaven.

      (ii) With maturity, the visionary gleam is lost because of earthly attractions. But at moments, even in maturity, he remembers his childhood experiences and gets vague intimations of immortality from these recollections.

      (iii) The memories of childhood serve the mature man in the same manner as the recollection of a pre-natal existence served the child—to get an idea of soul’s immortality. We perceive here traces of Platonic thought.

      (iv) Wordsworth considers the child as an actor, imitating all that he sees and hears.

      (v) Wordsworth brings out the change in attitude to Nature as one grows tip. One habit of vision is irretrievably lost, but another compensates for it.

      (vi) Maturity does not mean loss of feeling for Nature. Observation and experience of human suffering has, in fact, given a greater significance to Nature. Just as any change of attitude is bound to be unsettling, this change too brings unrest and sorrow. But it is merely a shift in the center of interest.

      (vii) Inborn human sympathy never dies out, and out of his consciousness of man’s mortality, the poet has developed a “philosophic mind”, able to reflect upon suffering and reach significant conclusions.

      (viii) Childhood is, of course, idealized by Wordsworth in the poem.

      (ix) The poet feels that the material world as perceived by the senses is unreal, and speaks of his own experience as a child when the flesh melted and he was a “living soul”.

      (x) The ideas presented in the Ode were not credible to the ordinary reader. Wordsworth was aware of this. But he defended his ideas by saying that they had “sufficient foundation in humanity and therein would lie their appeal to readers.”

      (xi) The implication is that these ideas could not be proven to be true, but they were based on man’s deepest feeling and emotion.

      (xii) If we examine the ideas, the doctrine of reminiscence appears fantastic.

      (xiii) The idealization of childhood also seems exaggerated to people who have observed children. But the idea of the child’s innocence is widely accepted, and it is only one step ahead to believe in the child’s nearness to God—that is, if one believes in the soul’s immortality and such religious theories at all.

      (xiv)  As for the child’s doubts about the reality of the material world, and the capacity of grown-up man to derive a significance from Nature—these are personal experiences of the poet and their genuineness cannot be questioned. But their universality to humanity can be debated.

      (xv) There is poetic truth in the Ode. Average humanity may not respond in the way Wordsworth did, but on another level, the poem is about growing up, and changing one habit of vision for another.

      (xvi) On a general level, the poem celebrates an episode central to the story of mankind. First comes the archetypal childhood fresh and unburdened with perplexity. The mature man can only regret the lost bliss. But neither mankind nor the individual can turn back. “Though his archetype stays within his mind, it is the image of a home, a heaven, a glory, to be perpetually discovered in another way by resolutely going on”.

      (xvii) The imitative aspect of children is psychologically true. It is a universal fact that children practice their adult lives-to-be, never content to remain in their heaven-born freedom. The radiant vision of childhood is lost in the trammels of custom. Creative lives toil all their lives to rediscover this insight weighted with the passion, knowledge and love that is possible to a mature mind.

      (xviii) The Ode on the Intimations of Immortality is magnificent poetry, in any case, whether its theory is sound, unsound, or even nonsense according to some critics.

      (xix) The Ode presents the vision of life victorious over death. Like Shakespeare’s Petioles and Shelley’s Prometheus, it is a vision of immortality.

      (xx) The Ode is a vision of essential, all conquering life. The symbols which carry this over to us are flowers, spring-time joy, bird music, all young life, and, pre-eminently, the child.

Q. 4. In the Ode: Intimations of Immortality “for all the clarity with which Wordsworth evokes them, the experience of natural objects appealed to here, are all generalized: the subtle and sensitive detail of the intimate personal encounter is absent.” Discuss.

      Ans. The Ode on Intimations of Immortality is piece of spiritual autobiography, like so much of Wordsworth’s poetry. The three parts deal in turn with a crisis, an explanation, and a consolation. As a child, he was able to live in “the glory and freshness” of the senses. But now he cannot see what he once saw. He has lost that “vision”. Indeed, the lament is that the tree and the field “both of them speak of something that is gone”. Everything is as it was—the rainbow, the rose, the moon, the waters, and the sunshine—but the poet’s response has changed. He can no longer “feel” the glory, the joy and the radiant happiness he once felt in the contemplation of natural objects. The language in these lines receives a rhetorical heightening, precisely because the poet is forcing a joy which he does not feel:

The cataracts blow their trumpets to the steep,
The heavens laugh with you in their jubilee
My head hath its coronal—

      The poem expresses a change of attitude. Its lyric intensity cannot be missed. It is personal, and the philosophical generalizations are all part of the poet’s personal experience. Growing up is not enough; it must be linked to the renewal of earlier feelings, to joy in nature. Thus Wordsworth is upset that on that gay May morning, his heart responds with a thought of grief instead of equal gaiety. The other participants in nature’s jubilee are “blessed creatures”, for they respond to joy with joy. He can see the natural objects clearly, but the subtle sensitivity with which he once responded to the tree and field is gone for ever. And it is for that loss that he laments. Each failure of joy, each feeling of indifference or alienation, newly accuses the poet. Nothing, it has to be admitted, can now bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower. He finds consolation, of course, in the maturity of vision brought by his knowledge of human suffering, but that is a different kind of vision.

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