Wordsworth’s Ode: Pre-Existence and Childhood
In William Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, the speaker equates the experience of a being a young child with the existence of nature itself. By moving from pre-existent state with God, to childhood, and ultimately adulthood is a process of methodical separation from the Divine.
Beginning with the fifth stanza, which Wordsworth did not begin writing until two years after he finished the fourth, he argues that young children are inherently closer to nature than adults.“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.” Wordsworth spends much of the poem lamenting the increasing pressure of the real world, and that as we grow older, we move further and further away from God. In the speaker’s cosmology, we exist before birth with God, and birth itself is a process by which we both slowly become separated. He likens this process to a “prison-house beginning to close upon the growing boy.” The speaker also hints that this process is intentional, because the nurse who helps his mother birth him “to make her Foster-child … Forget the glories he hath known.” The nurse, whose job is to help take humans from a preexisting state with God and place them into the world, could represent the working adult world that sets out to pluck the human from nature and place them into a hustling, bustling workplace.
However, it’s important to note that in the same stanza, Wordsworth refers to God as both a person and a place: “From God, who is our home.” In this poem, God is a place where a person can be. The speaker laments, that as children grow into adulthood, they move further away from God, and thus become less connected to nature. To the speaker of the poem, being in nature is the closest imitation of God that could exist.
This is what causes the poem’s speaker so much anguish. The speaker’s return to nature is a reminder of what he has lost in adulthood. The nostalgia the speaker feels by returning to nature is painful. In Imitations, Wordsworth puts equal stock in the magic of childhood, and the sanctity of nature. They are connected like opposite sides of the same coin. A child experiences nature with a sense of wonder and excitement that an adult cannot. An adult carries the heavy burden of responsibility, and of mortality. The world that the adult experiences is nothing like the heaven like existence a child experiences when in nature.
Wordsworth, William. “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th Ed. David Damrosch & Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson, 2012. pp 553-557. Print.